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Channel Four Sport down the ages

IN THE BEGINNING there was AMERICAN FOOTBALL on a Sunday teatime, so you could annoy your mum by switching over halfway through SONGS OF PRAISE to catch a glimpse of the 49ers versus the Redskins, presented by crap diminutive ex-DJ NICKY HORNE. “They’re all pansies, look at them helmets,” said your dad, and he was right, except not everyone agreed, leading to spurious media-led mid-80s fascination with “gridiron” and a rash of nasty silky NFL bomber jackets and Miami Dolphins baseball caps in the high street and (probably non-existant) pointless fake “Superbowl parties”, where everyone ate ‘nachos’ and drank ‘Bud’ till quarter to four on a Monday morning despite no-one having a clue, or indeed really caring what was going on: “But it’s what they do in America.” So? Popularity of sport plummeted when C4 handed presentation gig to shite alternative cabaret double act THE VICIOUS BOYS: “So the quarterback’s been sacked there”, “What, he’s lost his job?”, and even the dullest kids realising how terrible it was. Also there from the start was Monday night BASKETBALL presented by Oliver’s bro SIMON REED, except the teams changed every year, constantly switching from Milton Keynes (home of the naff minority sport, as many an international hockey player will testify) to Birmingham to Reading, so no-one knew who was who, and the whole thing died on its arse. Other try-outs included the slightly unpleasant SCHOOLBOY BOXING with Henry Cooper urging on the puppyfat poundings, AUSSIE RULES FOOTBALL (“an oval pitch! Umpires dressed like ice-cream vendors!), SUBBUTEO (best one yet), the TOUR DE FRANCE presented by Nick Owen and later Richard Keys from a bike shop window (with no drugs, and therefore no interest), extended coverage of the highly-prestigious WORLD GAMES which included dancing and bodybuilding, the legendary (but rubbish) SUMO WRESTLING (“It’s like a chess match you know”) and Indian rip-off of British Bulldog KABADDI (“Sogoody!”) Later attempts to smarten up output foundered on inclusion of “humorously” hursuite misogynist and wavy-hands bloke JOHN McCRIRICK in horse racing coverage and “for God’s sake why?” participation of BARRY NORMAN on late night duty for 1988 Olympics. Other horrors included minority showcase EVER THOUGHT OF SPORT? with Gary Crowley, a man who offered all the encouragement needed to get away from the TV set and climb halfway up a Welsh mountain, THE SPORTS QUIZ presented by Steve Davis (he’s a big soul music fan you know) and 7SPORT, extremely unnecessary cross-pollination of NETWORK 7 and GRANDSTAND, which famously included a “play” about Burnley FC.



  1. Glenn Aylett

    June 19, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Well football was in such a bad way after Heysel and Bradford that we were trying to find something to replace the national game which seemed to be in its death throes. Except kabbadi and Sumo were hardly likely to take its place and, guess what, football reinvented itself in the early nineties and everyone stopped watching either the American version or kabbadi, which was hardly the most talked about sport of its day. However, fair play to Jeremy Isaacs for trying even if by 1992 everyone was back in love with the beautiful game.

  2. David Pascoe

    June 20, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I must have spent about ooh… three consecutive weekends watching Australian Rules Football on Saturday nights around about 1987. It looked like the most dangerous game ever invented and I was fascinated by the whole dual posts setup. Nowadays the only memorable thing about Australian Rules Football comes from Simon Hughes’s cricketing memoir “A Hard Lot of Yakka”. During a winter spent playing grade cricket in Australia, Hughes attended several Aussie Rules matches and the crowd, without fail would always shout, when a goal had been scored and the umpire would place his hands 18 inches apart to signify the goal, “How big’s your dick?”

    The irony about Channel 4’s sport coverage was that their greatest achievement was in their cricket coverage. I don’t know who to feel angrier at though. The ECB for sacrificing mass coverage in pursuit of Sky’s money or Channel 4 for concentrating so hard on protecting their Big Brother rights that they sidelined the cricket. We’ll always remember Andrew Flintoff consoling Brett Lee or Kevin Pietersen smashing a century to secure the Ashes. Who won Big Brother in 2005? Who the fuck cares or remembers. And it serves the ECB right that England haven’t been quite so good as they were since becoming a satellite only concern. Fucking boneheads!

  3. Glenn Aylett

    June 20, 2009 at 4:40 pm

    While I am not a cricket fan, you’re right, sacrifice a sport that has a devoted following and whose supporters will gladly watch DVDs of the final Ashes test for years to come in favour of a stupid reality show that can never be repeated and generates nothing in DVD sales or memories. Luckily Big Bore seems to be on its last legs now and we might see decent programmes and quirky sports on Channel 4 again. Time Channel 4 ditched reality shows and Hollyoaks and became a little bit eccentric like it was 20 years ago.

  4. David Pascoe

    June 20, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Cheers for the comment, Glenn. You’re absolutely right as well.

    Simon Hughes’s book is of course called, “A Lot of Hard Yakka”. Apologies to the Analyst, who summed up the whole rights-losing schemozzle rather well in his TV memoir, “Morning Everyone.”

  5. Glenn Aylett

    June 23, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    Channel 4’s racing coverage, originally shared with ITV, continues to go from strength to strength and is the only sport they show now, but lest we forget women’s karate( yes honestly a tournament was shown in 1985), real tennis hosted by Prince Edward( again very anti-diluvian as he seemed to be the only person who knew about it), and not forgetting disabled basketball, which I think had the title of Out on Blue Six or something. So much better than the teen oriented twaddle Channel 4 churns out now which is little different to its rivals.

  6. ciaran

    June 19, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    As a worshipper of TVC I hate to pull you up on your knowledge of UK TV but I think you may have left out Channel 4 covering the Irish game of Hurling sometime in the late 80s/early 90s – deemed a bat-s”’ crazy sport by non-irish folk.correct at times they may be.

    Although footage was imported from RTE it was still shown I think on saturday mornings confusing all and sundry with its helmet wearing faceless players and almost golf sized ball making it hard for people to view what was going on.more so if a goal chance was on in front of a crowded terrace.

    Those days also had the added bonus of ice-hockey like fights if a hurley connected with a player.early 90s was before the games imperial phase of the mid to late 90s when man utd like domination by 2/3 teams was temporarily halted by Stoke city/Norwich city like upstarts which when ended saw the revenge of the big teams which still persists to this day.

  7. Des E

    June 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I too remember when C4 showed hurling and Gaelic football on Saturday mornings – they used one of Enya’s songs as the theme tune.

    Ciaran, I take it that those Stoke City/Norwich City-like upstarts included Clare (All-Ireland champions in ’95 and ’97) and Wexford (champions in ’96)?

  8. ciaran

    June 19, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Indeed so Des. Don’t forget Offaly who won the 1994 and 1998 finals in spite of lifestyles and fitness levels of some of their players which would have shamed those on ITV’s indoor league with the sheer hurling genius and skill seeing them through.Hard for a limerick man like myself after losing both 1994 and 1996 finals.

    Also worth recalling the barmy 1998 championship for the scenes in the Offaly/Clare 1998 semi final that saw a massive pitch invasion by Offaly fans as the ref ended the game 3/4 minutes early in a scene that almost outdid Kuwait in the 1982 world cup in terms of absurdity.

    Must also give a mention to Gaelic Football which was enjoying a high profile in the early 90s not least because of the province of ulsters domination of the all ireland between 1991-94, with a seemingly unbeatable in finals Down side bridging a 23 year gap in 91, coming as it did after the horrors of the northern ireland troubles in the 70s and 80s.

    praise is also be due to the meath side of the late 80s/early 90s possessing tyson level toughness that was hated by almost everyone.of course gaelic footballs second heyday (after the 70s) was still a decade and a half away.

    cant finish without remembering GAA’s move to sky in 1997.very little promotion and disappeared altogether around 2000 despite being better than most of skys other sports.its one thing up against the premiership but given sky hyped up the meetings of aussie and english rugby sides that summer in 97 in what was some of the most embarrasingly one sided games ever in favour of the aussies surely GAA could have got a better deal.

    A disastrous move from terrestrial tv to satellite overall.The sports equivalent of Harry Enfield maybe.

  9. DeltaBlues

    September 7, 2013 at 10:34 am

    Am I making it up or did C4 show Series A (Italian premier league) football matches for a while in the late 80s/early 90s?

  10. Richard16378

    September 13, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    The Italian football was on C4 from about 1990 to about 1998.

    After Italia 90 it was very popular, especially as a few English players were with Italian teams at the time. Channel 5 did have it later in the 1990s IIRC.

    I’ve been told it was a moneyspinner for C4 as the Italian FA let them have the coverage really cheaply.

    • Glenn A

      January 20, 2018 at 1:58 pm

      Yes, all there was at the time was infrequent live football on ITV on Sundays and the game hadn’t quite reinvented itself again in England. The football coverage had a distinctly Italiahouse theme tune, also popular in 1990( though not thereafter), with a sampled Italian commentator shouting, ” goal, Lazio!”.

  11. Joanne Gray

    February 8, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned that gruelling challenge for tough guys – the noble art, that fight to the death that separated the men from the boys, that most macho of pursuits …. er … chess.

    Unless I’m mistaken, didn’t the Alternative Channel (that is 4) put this strenuous display of physical fitness under their “sport” umbrella some time in the late 80s or early 90s?

  12. Glenn A

    February 16, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Trans World Sport, the Saturday morning review of slightly off beat sports from the eighties, this week the All Japan Karate Championship, followed by wrestling from India. Certainly beat watching Saint and Greavsie.

    • fuz

      August 9, 2018 at 10:46 pm

      a weekly appointment with the tones of Bruce Hammal, rounding up the tennis rankings and the latest from the PPG IndyCar Series

  13. Glenn A

    July 16, 2017 at 11:20 am

    I do recall Barry Norman’s only stint as a sports presenter, hosting Channel 4’s coverage of the 1988 Olympics, and looking bemused at sports like freestyle wrestling, while the BBC got all the big events. Mind you, not quite as embarassing as Channel 5 hiring racing presenter Brough Scott to present an England football match and clearly being totally clueless about the sport.

  14. Glenn Aylett

    April 21, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    I don’t think the modern Channel 4 is bothered about sport, or maybe their budget isn’t big enough to bid for major events. However, they really did push the envelope for unusual sports events at one time, considering chess to be a sport and promoting kabbadi.

    • richardpd

      April 21, 2019 at 8:05 pm

      C4 does has the Rugby Union European Champions Cup so there’s some money available.

  15. Glenn Aylett

    April 22, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    @ richadpd, probably the only sport they show now, and probably in keeping with the older middle class audience they like to attract in the afternoons( dinner parties, buying chateaus, etc). However, go back to the eighties and you had everything from wheelchair basketball to women’s karate, an even more uhusual mix than that found on World Of Sport when there was no significant sport available.
    I’m sure I speak for many, who wish Channel 4 would go back to its offbeat, alternative schedule that delighted several million viewers.

    • richardpd

      October 16, 2019 at 11:29 pm

      Yes it would be nice for C4 to go back to it’s roots in terms of programming, but with so many special interest digital channels these days it’s hard to assemble such an off-beat schedule.

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