I ONCE promised myself I would never become the sort of person who quotes Monty Python sketches. But, you know. Last on Match of the Day? Last on Match of the Day?! I remember when there were 160 of us living in a small shoebox in the middle of the road.
Birmingham Mail columnist and Midlands local radio big cheese Tom Ross had a pop at the MOTD pecking order a couple of weeks ago.
“Is it me, or is BBC’s Match of the Day biased against West Midland clubs?” he asked rhetorically, before going on to argue that Aston Villa, Wolves, Birmingham or West Brom are invariably last on.
In response, I might say: “Come on, Tom. I know you make a living being forthright and all that. And you were right to have a pop at MOTD2 in the same article for drawing the running order out of a bag two weeks ago. (Out of a bag, for Christ’s sake! Like a fricking game show.) But you’ve been around long enough to know that TV football coverage used to be much, much worse than this.”
And then I’d say three little words: Granada Goals Extra.
In the Premier League era, there has always been a networked Saturday night highlights programme showing all the day’s goals. But in the four years before 1992, ITV held the exclusive Football League rights – and generally didn’t bother.
They seemed to have bought those rights primarily so they could show Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham live half-a-dozen times each a season. Highlights were confined to Midweek Sports Special and whatever the various regions felt like putting together.
Even after Italia 90, even as Gazzamania took hold of the nation, highlights were intermittent. Some regions bothered, some didn’t. Here in the North West, Granada came up with a bizarre compromise in the late summer of 1991 that resulted in possibly the most shambolic sports programme ever broadcast on terrestrial television.
Goals Extra went out just after 5pm on a Saturday, was around 15 minutes long and was intended as a round-up of the afternoon’s goals – a kind of televisual Football Pink. But the scheduling caused two problems: 1) If you’d been to a game and didn’t live next door to the ground, you had no chance of getting home in time to see it; and 2) The tightness of the editing deadlines frequently led to missed goals and technical mishaps.
I’ve still got a bit of the first Goals Extra show on an old VHS excavated from one of the darker corners of my home. It’s car crash television – ITV4 should repeat it sometime on a double bill with Police, Camera, Action!
The show begins with highlights of that day’s game between Liverpool and Oldham, filmed with one camera, featuring Clive Tyldesley commentating from a studio. You can tell he’s commentating from a studio, because halfway through the action, the crowd noise disappears, but Tyldesley carries on.
Presenter Bob Greaves, an experienced local news anchorman, then has to do a live voiceover on a Manchester City win at Coventry. The pictures have clearly come in at the last minute, and Greaves hasn’t seen them beforehand. It’s a situation which requires calm authority and enough football knowledge to wing it. Greaves shows he possesses neither, telling us that City’s winner was sidefooted home by Micky Gynn just as the pictures show Niall Quinn scoring with a header.
Later on, highlights of a game between Stockport and Swansea cut out abruptly before the final goal. No explanation, just a brief shot of an edit clock before cutting back to a bemused Greaves, who now exudes the air of a local council leader whose Christmas party has been gatecrashed by angry geese.
Greaves lasted three weeks as host before being put out of his misery and replaced by a pre-Sky Rob McCaffrey. The show secured a sponsorship deal with Elf Petrols and Oils, complete with naff graphic that showed the company logo juggling a football, and acquired a horrible theme tune that sounded like a malfunctioning boiler.
There continued to be hitches. When Stockport beat Birmingham on the final day of the season to ensure a Third Division play-off place, Tyldesley – scrabbling round for his abacus – excitedly declared they had been automatically promoted, prompting some hasty back-tracking from McCaffrey.
Manchester United and Liverpool usually got shown wherever they were playing; anyone else generally had to be playing at home or they were relegated to the results round-up.
When ITV lost the Premier League rights to Sky and the BBC in 1992, Goals Extra continued as a Football League highlights show, with a dizzying array of unmemorable theme tunes, until it was wrapped up at Christmas 1996.
The final edition ended with a montage of classic moments from the show’s run, which included someone forgetting to run the opening titles one week and Elton Welsby doing an impression of Brian Clough. Seriously.
The weird thing about Goals Extra is that, for all its foul-ups, most of the people involved went on to better things. Tyldesley can be heard these days yelping over Manchester United’s Champions League exits, often accompanied by another Goals Extra regular in Jim Beglin. McCaffrey went on to become Chris Kamara’s Sunday morning straight man and Rob Palmer now spends his Saturday afternoons being told to fuck off by Harry Redknapp.
Another early Goals Extra contributor was a young commentator called Alistair Mann. And he’s not doing too badly these days either.
It says ‘brief history’ in the title of this blog post, doesn’t it? Sorry.
Last night’s final match: Wigan 1 Sunderland 1
Commentator: Alistair Mann
I shall tell you my Alistair Mann story. About nine years ago, I was covering a match at Turf Moor between Burnley and Stockport, which Mann was commentating on for the short-lived ITV Sport Channel.
Right at the end, Stockport were awarded a penalty, and no one in the press box knew why. Mann, on the TV gantry, had access to a monitor with replays, so once it was clear he had finished commentating, I decided to go and ask him.
“Excuse me,” I ventured. “Do you know why the Stockport penalty was given?”
“Yes,” he replied, and then started to walk off, apparently satisfied he had answered my question.
Luckily, my journalistic training had prepared me for such an eventuality, and I had a supplementary question prepared, which Mann did at least answer.
No dodgy penalties for Mann to describe at the DW Stadium yesterday. Even the sending off of Sunderland’s incredibly clumsy former Wigan midfielder Lee Cattermole for two bookable offences drew no complaints from Steve Bruce.
It was a good day for Premier League newbies fresh from the World Cup. Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan scored his first Sunderland goal, with Wigan’s Paraguayan defender Antonio Alcaraz equalising so late that he might not have made it into a Granada Goals Extra edit.
A programme such as Goals Extra would never get made now. It began in an era when it was still common for every weekend game to kick off at 3pm on a Saturday. These days, Saturday tea-times are for live matches, not hastily-compiled goals round-ups.
And Saturday nights are for complaining that your team is last on Match of the Day, rather than complaining that your team is not on TV at all because they were away at Scarborough and no one could get hold of the pictures in time.
Tom Ross, though, will probably still grumble about the fact that West Brom were on second last.
1. Wolves: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2=. Everton: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
2=. Sunderland: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
4=. Bolton: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
4=. Fulham: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
4=. Newcastle: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
4=. Wigan: 1 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
8. West Brom: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
9. Blackburn: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
10. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
11=. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
11=. Tottenham: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
13=. Birmingham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13=. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
13=. West Ham: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
17=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
17=. Aston Villa: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
17=. Blackpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
17=. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
2L=On second last (West Brom 1 Tottenham 1)
3L=On third last (Manchester City 1 Blackburn 1)
(Teams are awarded one point every time they appear last on Match of the Day. Teams level on points are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. Teams still level at the end of the season will be separated by the drawing of lots at a glittering ceremony in Betws-y-Coed, hosted by Sepp Blatter, Bryn Terfel, Tony Gubba and Windsor Davies, with music from a Charlotte Church tribute act.)