MIKE Summerbee’s autobiography contains the best part of a chapter on Escape To Victory as well as passing references to Ronnie Corbett, Jimmy Tarbuck and Brian Horton. It’s disappointing, then, to find no mention of his cameo appearance in a 1989 episode of Challenge Anneka.
Summerbee, the only man ever to achieve the twin feats of managing Stockport County and starring in a film with Sylvester Stallone, was one of a team of a team of ex-footballers corralled together by Denis Law to take part in a charity match in Hazel Grove.
I remember it well for two reasons. Firstly, the match took place at Norbury Athletic, a club just across the road from my school, and the great buzz of excitement in the first-year classes (that’s Year 7 to any youngsters reading) was tempered when we found out that the fourth and fifth years had snaffled almost all the tickets.
The second reason I remember the show is that I’ve got a recording of it. And there’s Anneka Rice, whizzing around in a blue and yellow buggy, flirting with some firemen or clutching a mobile phone the size of War And Peace, imploring various local businesses and celebrities to help her complete an absurd challenge by an impossible deadline.
(Sometimes, the deadline really was impossible. An attempt to restore a picture of a horse carved into a Dorset hillside ended up creating such a mess that a project to do the whole job again has been set up.)
Generally, though, Anneka managed to meet her deadline. The famous and the not-so-famous were willing to drop everything on the whim of a jolly woman in a jumpsuit introducing herself as “Anneka from the Challenge programme”. So willing, in fact, that even back then there were suspicions among more cynical viewers that some of the participants had been pre-warned to expect Anneka’s call.
Certainly, watching Anneka and Denis Law phone up a host of former footballers, almost all of whom are miraculously available to play in a game 24 hours later, it’s hard not to stroke your chin and go: “Hmmm.”
But anyway, the match went ahead and Summerbee played in it, setting up a goal for Gordon Hill as a team of All Stars beat Norbury 3-1.
Bizarrely, in addition to getting the match on, Anneka also had to get the pitch relaid and organise television coverage, complete with a presenter and commentator.
As a result, Dickie Davies, four years on from the end of World Of Sport and his little streak of white hair starting to spread out, ends up perched on top of the Challenge Anneka truck to do a 30-second handover to the commentator: “My son, Barry.” (A friend of my mum’s, watching the show, asked if Barry Davies really was Dickie’s son. What a sporting dynasty that would have been.)
Even for a presenter who regularly spent his Saturday afternoons introducing Canadian log rolling and a commentator willing to turn his hand to whatever sport the BBC decided to throw at him, this must have marked a career low point.
But the brilliant thing about it is that Barry Davies – like his pretend dad – is actually there, beside this field on the outskirts of Stockport, even though it would have been much easier for him to dub on the commentary in a London studio afterwards. There are two or three occasions when he can clearly be seen on the edge of shot, microphone in hand, sounding genuinely enthusiastic. What a pro.
Challenge Anneka was a bit more difficult to edit than its predecessor, Treasure Hunt, because it was generally filmed over a couple of days. When Anneka was chasing treasure in a helicopter and her cameraman filmed copious shots of her bottom, the timer in the corner of the screen always told us how long was left. (Perhaps this was where Sky got the idea to stick a clock on the screen for Premier League matches in 1992.)
That wasn’t really possible on “the Challenge programme”. So every so often, the producers would have to stick a caption on the screen telling us what time it was and how long Anneka had left. It worked as a kind of visual shorthand, I suppose, because it was used sparingly. In the wrong context, though, it’s the sort of thing that could start to get quite annoying. Yes, Match of the Day, I’m looking at you.
MOTD’s final match: Wigan 0 Tottenham 0
Commentator: Steve Bower
On-screen graphics for football coverage were far less prominent when Barry Davies was in his pomp. This was largely for technological reasons, I suspect. Watch extended highlights of any game from the 1970s, and even putting the team line-ups on screen appears to have been a monumental effort involving several sheets of acetate and some kind of screen projector.
But now, you can’t watch a game of football on TV without all sorts of text creeping on to screen. Even the old matches don’t escape. ESPN Classic can’t show, say, a Tottenham match from 1974 in its original state. No, they have to stick a scorebar in the corner, just in case someone from 2011 wanders in halfway through, can’t figure out what’s going on and has a mental meltdown. You want a sign that Britain is dumbing down? There it is, right there.
We’ve had scorebars on live games in this country for nearly 20 years, and scorebars on highlights for around a decade. Over the last couple of months, MOTD has taken things a step further. They’ve started doing a Challenge Anneka-style on-screen clock during highlights. At the start of each incident during a game, a little message will flash up beside the scorebar, such as: “28 MINS.”
I’m guessing this is part of some honourable BBC Sport initiative to be as transparent as possible about the editing of live games. But do you know what? It’s bloody distracting. And what’s more, it looks an absolute pain in the arse to put together.
This extra bit of work for the match editors and graphics people seems to be leading to more mistakes in the show. Sometimes the clock will appear, and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes, as happened with the highlights of Birmingham v West Brom about a month ago, the person in charge of the scorebar will accidentally change it about 30 seconds before a goal goes in, somewhat ruining any suspense.
It doesn’t help when there are other errors in the show as well, as there were last night. In the Goal of the Month segment towards the end of the show, a caption displayed Jermain Defoe scoring two of the contenders against a team called “Wolverhampton Wanders”. Perhaps someone’s overstretched mind was wanderering.
And in the build-up to the penultimate game, Gary Lineker told us that Wolves’ last win at Newcastle had come on the day manager Mick McCarthy was born. A good stat, but one that was then repeated during the highlights by the commentator. It was as if the person editing the game and the person writing the links had never met each other. It felt like a Challenge Anneka job – completed on time but rushed.
Perhaps that’s what it was. We don’t get end credits on MOTD any more, just a montage of contorted faces and disorientating camera angles. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anneka Rice turned out to be the producer, though.
But if she is looking to take on football-related challenges again, 22 years after organising that match near my school, perhaps she ought to set about finding Wigan a goalscorer.
Wigan have scored fewer than any other Premier League team this season, which is the main reason they are bottom of the table. Against a Tottenham side who appeared to have minds on a Champions League meeting with Real Madrid. Spurs were perhaps there for the taking. And in the closing moments, Wigan should have taken them, but Conor Sammon fluffed a late chance – and what might have been three points turned out as one.
When she filmed that episode of Challenge Anneka in 1989, the eponymous hero admitted she didn’t know anything about football, but still managed to sort everything out. I think she might steer clear of trying to solve Wigan’s goalscoring problem, though. After all, Mike Summerbee and Denis Law are a bit old to help out now.
1. Fulham: 10 (2L: 5, 3L: 1)
2. Wigan: 9 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. Stoke: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 7)
4. Bolton: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
5. Everton: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 4)
6. West Brom: 4 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
7. Blackburn: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 8)
8. Birmingham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
9. Newcastle: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
10. West Ham: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
11. Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
12. Sunderland: 2 (2L: 6, 3L: 1)
13. Tottenham: 2 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
14. Blackpool: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 3)
15. Aston Villa: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
16. Manchester City: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 2)
17. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
18=. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
20. Liverpool: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L=On second last (Newcastle 4 Wolves 1)
3L=On third last (Birmingham 2 Bolton 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 1985, hosted by Kenneth Kendall, Sepp Blatter, Wincey Willis and Tony Gubba, with music from that fella on The Crystal Maze who was always playing his harmonica while the contestants were in the Aztec Zone getting themselves locked in.)