Faces of ’66 – Hugh Johns

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This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Hugh Johns, the man who commentated for ITV on the 1966 World Cup final. But there was far more to his career than simply being the answer to a pub quiz question…

On the afternoon of July 30, 1966, Hugh Johns completed his live commentary for ITV on England’s World Cup final win over West Germany. It had been job done. ITV were heavily beaten by the BBC in the ratings but Johns – so exhausted from describing the drama that he retired to bed early after a few gins – could feel satisfied at having described such a famous and dramatic occasion.

And then, at some point in due course, Johns would be made aware of what the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme had said in the dying seconds of extra-time. “They think it’s all over. It is now…” would become immortalised and known by generations to come. It meant that whatever Johns had said during the afternoon became totally’ overshadowed by Wolstenholme’s words as Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick. But not that Johns’ description of the moment has been ignored. A certain intrigue has built up over what was being said on ITV. And here it is:

“Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has, he has… so that’s it. That is IT!”

While the line may have lacked the impact of Wolstenholme’s, it still told the viewer what they needed to know (save for mentioning that fans thought the final whistle had already sounded) in just a few words. Simplicity and repetition – helping to emphasise the significance of what was happening – would be two of Johns’ trademarks and he utilised both to describe the much-recalled moment .

Hugh Johns in later years.

In the BBC’s shadow

ITV’s football coverage has, rightly or wrongly, come in for its fair share of stick down the years and in 1966 it was certainly not winning many plaudits. In 1962 they opted not to cover the World Cup in Chile at all – in fairness they could only have shown delayed coverage a couple of days later, but this did not deter the BBC – and then in October 1965 the channel missed Austria’s winning goal over England at Wembley, an error compounded by commentator Gerry Loftus offering the double entente of “Alf Ramsey will need to get his chopper out” when summing up the game. Then come the World Cup in England the commercial channel would allow the BBC to steal a match in securing viewers as ITV often joined big matches either later than their rivals or didn’t show them live at all – possibly fearful of alienating the non-football audience in the days when viewers had just the BBC and ITV to choose from. There was little to persuade football fans to switch over to ITV during the tournament.

But for the minority who did opt to watch the World Cup on ITV, Johns would become the most familiar voice over the three weeks. He was joined by Wales manager Dave Bowen as summariser (co-commentator in today’s money) to cover the opening match against Uruguay and the same partnership would remain in place for the rest of the tournament. It was one compensation for Welshmen after seeing their country fail to qualify.

Over on the ‘other side’, Wolstenholme was the lead voice and synonymous with football coverage. Johns knew that trying to directly take on the broadcasting great by mimicking him would not work; he would have to develop his own distinctive style. “There’s no doubt about it, he was great. And so if you were going to do it you had to find a way of beating Ken, or doing something Ken hadn’t thought of,” Johns said many years later. He would offer affectionate respect rather than resentment towards his BBC counterpart, despite the national obsession with Wolstenholme and his “they think it’s all over” line.

Over the years, when the BBC and ITV have gone head-to-head and shared live coverage the latter has usually come off well-beaten in the ratings war. As a result, the nation tends to recall more readily Barry Davies describing Argentina against England in 1986 than Martin Tyler; John Motson’s on England’s Italia ’90 semi-final against West Germany more than Brian Moore; and Davies describing the epic Euro ’96 semi-final between England and Germany instead of Moore. It generally applied in the days they both showed the FA Cup final live too. For example, Motson’s description of Ricky Villa’s amazing goal in the 1981 replay for Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City is still regularly recalled. Few seem to reel off Moore’s words at the same moment.

And so in that respect Johns – whose name led to him being affectionately known as  ‘Huge Ones’ – was always going to struggle to make a lasting impact with his commentary on the 1966 World Cup final. Indeed, hypothetically speaking had Johns been the one to come out with the “they think it’s all over line” it’s questionable if it would have passed into national folklore like it has thanks to Wolstenholme. We will never know. But watching the 1966 final with ITV commentary is a bit like seeing a film remade – the outcome is the same, but yet it also feels very different to what you are used to. A fair chunk of the nation can recite at least a couple of Wolstenholme’s lines from that day; sadly, the same does not apply to the work of poor old Johns.

So good he said it twice

It has to be said Johns did not give a faultless display on the final. Prior to kick-off he said England had won the cup when he meant the coin toss (he chuckled on air over that one); he bemusingly spoke of “Harold Ramsey” as England’s manager came into view ahead of extra-time; and he erroneously identified the England player bearing down on goal in the dying seconds as Martin Peters, but quickly corrected himself as he realised it was Geoff Hurst. It wouldn’t be the last time in his career he mixed up the duo.

One trademark of Johns’ commentary on the final was to repeat himself, stressing the significance of what had just happened.  “A goal. A goal,” was the simplistic description of West Germany’s opener; “It’s there. It’s there,” he roared as Hurst equalised: “It’s Martin Peters. Martin Peters,” came the cry as Peters put England 2-1 up. “It IS a goal. It IS a goal,” he proclaimed as the third England goal was eventually given. And so on, including his description of Hurst completing his hat-trick (“He has. He has.”). It was parodied when Martin Peters appeared on Fantasy Football during Euro 2004 in a Phoenix from the Flames sketch. “He said bloody everything twice,” joked Peters.

For all the differences with Wolstenholme’s commentary, there were similarities too. The words offered by Johns over Hurst’s ‘did it cross the line?’ goal followed the same pattern as those of Wolstenholme, switching between it being a goal to not being so and back again before it was finally awarded. And Johns would also refer to the Jules Rimet Trophy as being “only 12 inches high” as Bobby Moore went up to collect it from The Queen.

Covering the decline

Despite his strong Welsh heritage, war veteran Johns was actually born in England and like many of his contemporaries served as a print journalist before landing his broadcasting opportunity. The nation of his birth would continue to feature prominently in his TV career beyond 1966.

Unlike Wolstenholme, Johns would commentate on England matches at the 1970 World Cup – a tournament where he enjoyed increased exposure thanks to ITV unusually winning the ratings war amid the popular studio panel back home. Johns seemed to have grown as a commentator in the four years since 1966, although the tournament saw him again confuse Hurst and Peters – this time crediting the former with putting England 2-0 up against West Germany before quickly realising it was Peters! Johns was left to describe England’s shock collapse in the same game, a week after covering the iconic match against Brazil. “And that’s a fantastic save by Banks,” he proclaimed after that unforgettable save was made.

Three years later, Johns found himself covering the antithesis of the 1966 World Cup final. England had to beat Poland to qualify for the World Cup and it was being shown live on ITV. As is well-known. England were held to a 1-1 draw and failed to make it. Johns was left to provide the words as the nation watched with disbelief when the final whistle sounded. “It’s over. It’s all over,” he uttered, as he again used repetition to emphasise the significance of what was happening. “And for England, one of the blackest days they’ve ever had.” In a broadcast best remembered for the comments of Brian Clough about Jan Tomaszewski, Johns had also played his part.

With lead commentator Brian Moore continuing to stay at home to present the tournaments, Johns remained ITV’s choice to cover the World Cup Final in 1974 and 1978 – competitions which England were sadly absent from. They were there in 1982 but by then Johns had made way for Tyler as lead commentator at the finals and he was restricted to just covering highlights on a few games, as he slipped well down the pecking order.

1982 also saw Johns turn 60 and make way for Peter Brackley as ITV’s man in the Midlands, but the ensuing years saw him still regularly hold the microphone. He would work for more than a decade for HTV Wales and in the mid-1990s he was still regularly covering matches involving Cardiff City, Swansea and Wrexham for the station’s Soccer Sunday programme, with the nation catching glimpses of the veteran’s efforts on Football League Extra – a show which broadcast the delightful feature below about him. In an era where Sky Sports, the Premier League and “a whole new ball game” were taking hold, it was refreshing to hear there was still room on our screens for an old-school commentator who could utter an “oh, good gracious me” after a goal was scored.

And in September 1994. Johns was called upon to commentate on highlights for regions including Central and Granada on Port Vale hosting Manchester United in the League Cup. It was a night that saw a new generation of English players really start to come to the fore, with youngster Paul Scholes scoring twice and others including David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville all starting. Having Johns covering it seemed as much an unlikely generational crossover as it would be to hear Clive Tyldesley commenting on members of England’s 1966 side in action. But on a night otherside about the future, Johns was rolling back the years with the disctinctive and charming style still there. It was a bit like watching football with your grandad – one who freely admitted to smoking more than 20 fags a day for decades and who loved drinking Banks’s Bitter. He even managed a trademark “one-nothing” when Vale took the lead that night. Memories of his heyday came rushing back.

Johns was now in his 70s and would end his commentary duties later in the decade, but he had left a fine legacy. Dismissing him as simply the ‘other’ commentator on the 1966 World Cup final would be unfair. He covered the next three as well and his years working for ATV (and briefly Central) coincided with Midlands football thriving, with Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa being First Division champions and the latter two lifting the European Cup – plus such characters as Brian Clough and Derek Dougan were operating in the region and there was the celebrated West Bromwich Albion side under Ron Atkinson. It was certainly a far greater era for the region than the ensuing 35 years.

Johns provided the soundtrack for that and other famous moments in that era such as Manchester United winning the European Cup in 1968. He wasn’t Wolstenholme, he didn’t claim to be. He was Hugh Johns and he had the honour of describing England winning the World Cup for ITV (something to elude successors such as Moore, Tyldesley and Tyler). He did. He did.

England on TV – The Brian Moore Years

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Next week will sadly mark the 15th anniversary of the death of football broadcasting great Brian Moore. His long career would include covering England on many occasions and it is that element of his work we will focus on today…

Like just about ever commentator, Brian Moore attracted the odd critic who did not like the style of his commentary. However, he had a much higher number of admirers. And Moore the man was almost universally appreciated. His affable manner and dignity meant he was well-liked by ITV colleagues; BBC counterparts Barry Davies and John Motson appreciated that Moore was supportive rather than competitive (Motson was handed a ‘good luck’ note by Moore before his first FA Cup final in 1977, despite him commentating in direct competition); the public found him a friendly face and voice who was a part of their lives for many years; and people in football appreciated his respectful manner. In Moore’s obituary in The Guardian in 2001, Brian Glanville wrote: “He remained modest, affable and unaffected, well-liked not only by his colleagues in the media but by football players themselves. Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that he remained a fan at heart.”

Although Moore may be synonymous with ITV’s football coverage, he was employed by the BBC as a radio commentator before he moved into television. During the 1966 World Cup final he was one of the radio commentators, being behind the microphone for Geoff Hurst’s controversial ‘did it cross the line?’ goal. Two years later he moved to ITV, helping front London Weekend Television’s football coverage on The Big Match as well as commentating for it.

The panel is born

The first major tournament for Moore with ITV was the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. But he would be staying in London, hosting the coverage rather than commentating. If he felt any disappointment at not doing commentary then it would be softened by the rave reviews the station received for its revolutionary panel. Jimmy Hill took much of the credit for the concept, but Moore fully played his part as Malcolm Allison, Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan and Bob McNab debated matters in entertaining fashion with ITV unusually winning the ratings war against the BBC.

For Moore, it set the trend. When World Cups came along he would stay at home, posing the questions to resident motormouths such as Brian Clough while Hugh Johns and then Martin Tyler voiced the biggest games instead of him. And the pattern would spread into other football coverage, particularly for midweek matches. When England played Poland in their never-to-be-forgotten qualifier at Wembley in October 1973, Moore was presenting the programme live on-site as the nation watched Sir Alf Ramsey’s side agonisingly fall short. Clough was one of the pundits and Moore eventually ran out of patience with him continually labelling Poland’s Jan Tomaszewski a “clown”, pointing his pen towards him as he reminded the outspoken panelist how the goalkeeper had made several vital saves to keep his side in the game. Clough didn’t agree, but the two Brians made for a good pairing. They may have seemed quite different as people but they worked well together and, by all accounts, enjoyed each other’s company.

Brian Moore takes Brian Clough to task over calling Poland goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown”.

For Moore, England commentaries were a treat as his presenting duties quite often denied him the opportunity to perform the role. He did though usually get to describe the annual jousts with Scotland (shown in World of Sport hosted by Dickie Davies) among other matches each year. It was puzzling though that if Moore could be freed from presenting to go and commentate on the 1980 European Championship in Italy, why couldn’t he do so for at least part of the 1982 World Cup? And if he was allowed to fly out to Mexico to commentate on the 1986 World Cup final, then why wasn’t he able to do so a week earlier for England’s huge match against Argentina?

Perils of broadcasting abroad

When Moore did get to commentate on England, he would occasionally get a match to remember. One that would stand out was the great 2-0 win away to Brazil in June 1984, but it would be tinged with disappointment. ITV would only start showing the match at half-time, meaning the incredible goal John Barnes scored in the dying seconds of the first-half was not seen live. But Moore’s commentary of the goal for brief highlights shown at half-time has become well known. “John Barnes now… He might go all the way for England… Barnes… He’s scored and England, amazingly, are into the lead.” How cruel it wasn’t seen as it happened.

Foreign ventures could at times prove fraught. In 1985 Moore was in Mexico to see England play Italy as part of preparations for the World Cup a year later. But as his commentary began he sounded like a man commentating from deep inside a cave, eventually being cut off for 20 minutes as Martin Tyler filled in from London while attempts were made to solve the problems. Moore was then left to commentate down a telephone from the back of the commentary box. Sometimes a commentator’s life isn’t as glamorous as it’s cracked up to be!

Focusing on commentating

Moore was relieved of his presenting duties with Midweek Sports Special in the summer of 1986 and he was now free to focus on commentating (a reduction in his workload which he believed may have helped save his live after he was diagnosed with heart trouble). For the next two years he regularly described England matches – ITV tended to alternate games with the BBC – including the 4-1 win away to Yugoslavia that took them through to Euro ’88. While there, England flopped and Moore was commentating live for their opening defeat by the Republic of Ireland.

Two years later, the only England match ITV exclusively showed live at Italia ’90 was a poor 1-1 draw against the Irish with Moore commentating. But he would also commentate live on England’s three nerve-jangling knockout matches, hailing the “fantastic finale” as David Platt volleyed in a dramatic late winner against Belgium before telling us that “England sad, sad, sadly are out” after Chris Waddle’s penalty was missed against West Germany. In between he would try to talk Ron Atkinson out of trouble when his regular co-commentator made a remark that some might have considered racist during England’s win over Cameroon. Although Moore’s work had gone unappreciated by many due to England’s knockout matches also being live on the BBC, he could feel pride that he had finally commentated on them for ITV at a World Cup – and it had been their most epic adventure since 1966.

“He’s gonna flick one”

In October 1993 England visited the Netherlands for a vital World Cup qualifier. With Norway out in front, one of the two traditional heavyweights in the group would fail to make the finals as runners-up. ITV had secured the rights to the match, arguably the biggest England had played since the Italia ’90 semi-final. For ITV it was a rare opportunity to show England outside of a major tournament, the BBC having secured the exclusive terrestrial rights to the FA Cup and most England matches in 1988.

Moore and Ron Atkinson described the gripping and controversial contest, being adamant Ronald Koeman should have been red carded when the Dutchman hauled back David Platt. A few minutes later the Dutch were awarded a free-kick at the opposite end, to be taken by Koeman. “What an irony it would be if he scored with this when he should have been off the field,” said Moore. If that seemed perceptive given what was to follow, then his line as Koeman strode up for a retake (after his initial effort was charged down) has gone into legend.

Sensing Koeman was lining up differently to how he struck his trademark powerful free-kicks, Moore told viewers: “He’s gonna flick one now. He’s gonna flick one. He’s gonna flick one. And it’s in.” It was a moment of despair for England, but one of pride for Moore. He had been confident over what Koeman was about to do, so much so he said it three times. As an England fan he hadn’t wanted the ball to go in (he said “come on England, let’s see if we can hold it up again” just seconds beforehand), but the line would recalled for years to come. “He was breaking all the rules of broadcasting in anticipating something that might not happen,” wrote ITV colleague Clive Tyldesley after Moore died in 2001. “But he was spot on.”

Moore next commentated on England during Euro ’96, covering all their five matches including two ITV showed exclusively live. The following year ITV took over the contract for terrestrial coverage of England and the FA Cup, with Moore commentating for delayed coverage on England’s famous 0-0 draw with Italy that took them through to the 1998 World Cup. The tournament would mark the end for Moore after three decades with ITV as he prepared to hang up his microphone.

A dramatic ending

Although the 1998 World Cup final would be his last match, perhaps his true finale would be the momentous second round match between Argentina and England. Unlike the final this was exclusively live on ITV and it attracted a huge audience, with the watching millions experiencing a night of high emotion. He provided fitting words for Michael Owen’s brilliant goal (“it’s a great run by Michael Owen and he might finish it off… It’s a wonderful goal”) and summed up the agony over David Beckham’s sending off with a simple “oh no”.

Unfortunately Moore’s last act commentating on England would see him come in for some criticism. David Batty stepped forward to take England’s fifth kick in the shoot-out, needing to score to force sudden death with Moore sounding anxious about the fact Batty had never netted for his country. Connecting that his co-commentator Kevin Keegan had managed Batty at Newcastle United, he decided to put him on the spot just seconds before the penalty was taken as he sought reassurance. “Now you know him better than anyone, probably. Do you back him to score? Quickly, yes or no?” Keegan said yes, but he’d been backed into a corner where it was the only answer he could really give (imagine the slagging off he’d have got if he had said no and Batty then scored). Almost instantly Batty saw his effort saved as Moore described England’s third shoot-out exit from a major tournament in the 1990s. Moore’s England years were over, but it was an enthralling match to end with.

Sadly, Moore would not get long to enjoy his semi-retirement (he continued to perform some broadcasting duties but was no longer commentating). He died on September 1, 2001, the day when England memorably beat Germany 5-1. Tributes poured in for Moore and many would reflect on how much he would have enjoyed the match. One could certainly imagine him giving it the trademark “and it’s in there” as Michael Owen equalised; saying “and England go into the lead and what a way to do it” when Steven Gerrard drove in the second goal; and proclaiming it as “a truly wonderful night for England fans everywhere” as the goals continued in the second half.

While with ITV, Moore endured 30 years of hurt so far as covering England was concerned as they failed to win a major trophy or even reach a final. But there had been plenty of memorable moments along the way, getting to commentate on two epic semi-finals. His successor Clive Tyldesley has never even got to do that. Moore was a friend of the people and is sadly missed by many.

TV Memories of Mexico ’86 (part two)

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Last week we looked back at British TV coverage during the opening stages of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico 30 years ago. Today we focus on the knockout rounds, including a match involving England that will never be forgotten…


The 1986 World Cup was the first to introduce a last 16 knockout phase and every match from this point on – bar the third place play-off – was shown live on British television. Highlights in the second round included an epic 4-3 win for Belgium over the Soviet Union, the Euro ’84 winners France beating World Cup holders Italy 2-0 and the much-fancied Denmark being surprisingly crushed 5-1 by Spain.

But the standout moment arguably involved the hosts, as Mexico defeated Bulgaria 2-0 and Manuel Negrete scored with a spectacular scissors kick. BBC commentator Barry Davies was so in awe of the goal that he would cry “Negrete-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e”, prolonging the final syllable of the player’s name. “I gave a passable imitation of a Latin American commentator,” he wrote rather proudly in his autobiography.

The generic caption shown around the world after Manuel Negrete scored for Mexico against Bulgaria.

Despite failing to win their group, England were up against one of the weaker surviving nations in the last 16 in Paraguay and duly beat them 3-0 as excitement grew about their chances. The match was screened live by both the BBC and ITV, the latter enjoying unusually high ratings in a head-to-head fight after going on air straight after a high-profile episode of Coronation Street in which the Rovers Return burnt down.

But attention quickly turned to what next lay in store for England – a Sunday showdown with Argentina. Just four years on from the Falklands War, the political connotations of the fixture would be frequently raised at press conferences. England’s new goalscoring hero Gary Lineker simply said in a TV interview: “We’re footballers, not politicians.” But there was no doubting this match would attract a particularly high level of interest.

They’re appealing for offside”

On June 22, England met Argentina in the Azteca Stadium for a match that would never be forgotten. Once again the BBC and ITV were both showing it live, as millions back home tuned in for the 7pm kick-off (BST). There wasn’t much to get excited about in the first half, but in the infancy of the second period the game turned on Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal. Davies spotted England players protesting and jumped to the wrong conclusion over why they were complaining.

How the team line-ups were presented during Mexico ’86, with this being England’s side against Argentina.

“They’re appealing for offside,” he told viewers, still concluding that was the source of England’s annoyance until action replays showed it wasn’t. ITV’s commentary team were quicker on the uptake. “Everyone knows,” said co-commentator David Pleat. “HE certainly knows,” responded Martin Tyler, as Maradona celebrated the goal being given.

In his autobiography, Davies held his hands up for calling it wrong and reminded us of the lack of technology he had at his disposal in the stadium. He wrote: “It was a match of magnificence and malevolence, marred for me not only by the manner of the first goal but by the fact that, like the referee and linesman, I didn’t spot the handball. Some of the replays were cut in, unseen by me, for me to commentate, with the voice from London in my ear saying ‘They’re going up for the ball now, there’s the hand’, and so on’.” Viewers were certainly given plenty of chances to see it again, this being a World Cup where the goals would be replayed from three different angles (this was considered quite an advanced move at the time).

TV replays helped confirm Diego Maradona had handled the ball.

Within minutes, Maradona scored another unforgettable goal after a mesmerising dribble that began in his own half. Davies redeemed himself with his celebrated line of “you have to say that’s magnificent”. Few would argue with that, as Davies proclaimed the goal as “pure football genius” to emphasise the contrast from Maradona’s first. Over on ‘the other side’ (as people would still say at the time), Tyler was immediately proclaiming it as one of the World Cup’s great goals.

After this the game threatened to fizzle out until substitute John Barnes provided a perfect cross for Lineker to score. But it would be a near-replica move with time ticking away that stuck in the mind more. As Barnes won the ball, Davies said: “Every Englishman will surely be saying ‘go on, run at them’.” Barnes whipped the perfect cross into the box where Lineker lay in waiting. Davies and Tyler both instinctively proclaimed it was a goal before abruptly realising Argentina had somehow kept the ball out. And that was just about that, those painful words we hear every four years of “and England are out of the World Cup” duly uttered by Davies at full-time.

Graphics shown at the final whistle as England were eliminated.

For Bobby Robson the World Cup dream was over, as he digested Maradona’s first goal being given when he believed he had clearly seen a hand used. “Maradona handled the ball into the goal, didn’t he?” he asked rhetorically during a televised press conference, as his anger grew. “DIDN’T HE?” It was a debate that would continue for years. But England departed after a quarter-final weekend in which the match between France and Brazil had proved particularly enthralling.

An awkward ending

The quarter-finals were generally more memorable than the semi-finals, which were less dramatic than in some World Cups. West Germany’s 2-0 win over France lacked the sparkle of their classic meeting four years earlier and Argentina were fairly untroubled in beating Belgium 2-0. But Maradona’s two goals again got everyone talking, particularly about another superbly taken second. “Fantastic goal. Unbelievable. World class,” purred John Motson, commentating live for the BBC.

ITV bill the 1986 World Cup final.

The final was as usual screened live by both the BBC and ITV, with Brian Moore at last commentating for ITV on a World Cup match from the stadium as he went out to Mexico just for the final. It was a bit of an odd idea. Moore had stayed in London due to being the lead presenter but it seemed he could be spared this role for the showpiece occasion of the final, yet not for the Argentina-England match a week earlier. It also meant Tyler, who commentated on the final four years earlier and had covered England’s matches during the finals, was denied the opportunity to describe the 1986 final. For Moore it was a taste of things to come, as he was axed from his role as host of Midweek Sports Special this year and he was now left to focus on commentating.

There was also the delicate situation for ITV of having both Bobby Robson and Kevin Keegan on their final coverage at the stadium after they infamously fell out shortly after Robson became England manager. Moore recalled in his autobiography that the pair were based in different parts of the ground, meaning they would not have any contact during the broadcast (Robson claimed in his World Cup Diary the pair had shaken hands a few days earlier when they bumped into each other, perhaps suggesting they could have worked together on the final).

No such problems over on the BBC, where John Motson was commentating with Jimmy Hill accompanying him in the commentary box. Des Lynam was joined by regular pundits Lawrie McMenemy and Terry Venables along with Lineker, who was hoping to end the night as top scorer in the World Cup. Prior to kick-off, viewers could enjoy the top 20 goals from the finals with Maradona’s second against England topping the bill.

The final saw Argentina lead 2-0, be pegged back to 2-2 before Jorge Burruchaga scored a late winner as they won the World Cup for the second time. “The world’s greatest player receives the world’s most important football prize,” said Motson as Maradona collected the trophy. It was a tournament Maradona had owned, although his failure to score in the final meant Lineker won the Golden Boot.

Lineker’s stock was rapidly growing and there was increasing speculation he would be off to Barcelona, managed by Venables. With both men in the studio, Lynam couldn’t resist asking if the deal would be going ahead. After Venables had expressed his hopes for the move proceeding, McMenemy grumpily told the others “I think you’re all out of order” for bringing the subject up – telling Lynam he should have been asking Everton manager Howard Kendall instead. 

McMenemy’s outburst meant the conversation now felt pretty awkward and any Evertonians watching would have not felt assured that Lineker planned to stick around when he simply told Lynam: “I shall be playing for the team I want to be playing for next season.” To the surprise of few, Lineker duly completed his move to Barcelona. It had been a life-changing tournament for him, setting him on the way to later hosting Match of the Day.

Do you have any favourite memories of the TV coverage from the 1986 World Cup? If so, please feel free to share them below.

TV Memories of Mexico ’86 (part one)

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The end of this month will mark the 30th anniversary of the start of the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. In the first of a few blog posts recalling that tournament, we reflect on the TV coverage as seen in England during the early stages of the competition…

Striking (Aztec) Gold

There seems to be something about World Cups in Mexico that brings out the best in ITV. In 1970 they famously enjoyed great popularity with their celebrated expert panel and now, 16 years later, their theme tune would be a winner. A good measure of how successful ITV’s tournament theme tunes were in this period was how much they were heard thereafter. If that is the barometer then Aztec Gold by Silsoe was certainly a winner. The catchy tune went on to be used by ITV for their live domestic coverage in the next two years and again during Euro ’88, before serving the opening titles of Saint & Greavsie until 1992. But its main association would always be with where it all began – Mexico ’86.

ITV’s opening titles for the Mexico ’86 coverage.

The BBC went for a similar title for their theme tune, with Aztec Lightning by Heads. The song would fail to make the impact Nessun Dorma did four years later, although the opening titles seemed quite advanced at the time. This was the first major football tournament hosted by Des Lynam, whose laid-back style had already won admirers on Grandstand. He presented from London in a studio surrounded by pot plants, with Emlyn Hughes, Lawrie McMenemy and Terry Venables among the regular summarisers plus a pre-Sky Sports Andy Gray. George Best was billed as a pundit, bus alas was a no-show.

Des Lynam was the host of BBC’s live coverage of Mexico ’86.

Not getting off to a sound start

As England prepared to begin their World Cup campaign against Portugal on June 3, there was hysteria in the press that the match could go untelevised back home. This wasn’t due to a contractual dispute like the one that had led to a blackout of Football League action in the first half of the 1985-86 season, but because of serious transmission problems that blighted the opening couple of days of the competition.

“We can only keep our fingers crossed,” said BBC editor Bob Abrahams, no doubt fearing the barrage of calls to the switchboard if there was a loss of picture or sound when England played. The match between Brazil and Spain on the second day had brought the most noticeable technical problems, to the extent that Brian Moore and Brian Clough ended up commentating for ITV from the London studio in place of the on-site commentators. But the UK could be grateful for small mercies. We could at least see the pictures, for some other countries the consequences of the technical problems were such that viewers couldn’t even enjoy that luxury.

Terry Wogan’s chat show was considered a bigger ratings winner than live World Cup action.

The England match went on air as planned and soon enough the coverage of the tournament was resolved for everyone to enjoy. However, it would not quite be a case of wall-to-wall football. In the early stages of the competition there were usually two matches played simultaneously at 7pm (BST), yet British audiences were frequently afforded just live coverage of the second half of one and brief highlights of the other. Shows such as Wogan (BBC) and Coronation Street (ITV) took precedence over the first half of these matches, with exceptions such as when UK sides played at that time. The 11pm kick-offs proved less of a burden to programme controllers, World Cup action probably seen as a welcome audience puller at that time of night. But less than half the group stage matches were shown live in full in the UK, which perhaps reminds us where football stood in its dark days of the mid-1980s.

Chortling with delight

England’s participation in the group stage proved fraught, as the millions of viewers who stayed up for three matches at 11pm – only one of the games being at a weekend – went through a wide range of emotions. They lost 1-0 in the first match against Portugal, prompting BBC pundit Emlyn Hughes to be very critical in his post-match analysis and sparking a war of words with England manager Bobby Robson.

The second match against Morocco brought more disappointment with a 0-0 draw and the loss within minutes of injured captain Bryan Robson and red carded vice-captain Ray Wilkins. “It’s problems upon problems for England,” said ITV commentator Martin Tyler, cutting off co-commentator David Pleat in full flow as he saw Wilkins receive his marching orders. The BBC’s Barry Davies typically ramped up the melodrama at that moment in his highlights commentary, describing it as “disaster upon disaster for England”. Whatever the scale of one’s concern, England were in trouble.

Things certainly looked bleak, but England could still make the last 16 as long as they achieved a result against Poland in their final group game. It was the BBC’s turn to show it live and in the opening minutes Davies was castigating England’s defending as they almost fell behind. But soon that would be forgotten as Gary Lineker gave them the breakthrough, accompanied by millions of viewers hearing co-commentator Jimmy Hill chortling with delight. It was a pivotal moment as England’s campaign at last got into swing. Hill could be heard again celebrating as Lineker put England 2-0 up, with his hat-trick completed before half-time as they won 3-0. Davies had been on form, save for his corny line of “never mind the sunshine and the altitude, it’s raining goals” as Steve Hodge put the ball in the net – only for the goal to be disallowed. But England were finally up and running.

“Even educated bees do it”

ITV employed a decent range of pundits for the tournament in their London studio, including former England colleagues Mick Channon and Kevin Keegan. Channon would leave his mark on the competition with his amusing inability to say Lineker correctly. “Linacre” was one effort; “Lyneacre” was another. It seemed almost as if he had been hypnotised into not being able to say the player’s name correctly! “We’ve got a month to get you to say Lineker properly for a start,” joked host Brian Moore during ITV’s preview show. It became a running joke during the coverage.

Mick Channon (right), pictured with Kevin Keegan.

Channon would also feature during another memorable moment in ITV’s tournament coverage. Brian Clough was again on the panel during this World Cup and as unpredictable as ever. During one discussion, Channon was offering his view that: “The Irish have done it. The French do it. The West Germans do it. We don’t.” The opportunity was too good for Clough to miss. “Even educated bees do it,” he quipped, to great laughter from Moore.

St John gets the blues

Scotland had the misfortune to be placed in a group with 1982 runners-up West Germany, highly-rated Denmark and Uruguay, who were tipped by some beforehand as a potential winner. The Scots, under caretaker boss Alex Ferguson after Jock Stein sadly died suddenly the previous year, lost to both the Danes and Germans but the new format of the competition meant they still stood a chance of progression going into their match against the Uruguayans. A win would do it.

Hopes that Scotland could get the win intensified when Uruguay were reduced to 10 men within the opening minute, setting the trend for a physical 90 minutes. Scotland had the numerical advantage but couldn’t make the breakthrough, leaving ITV pundit Ian St John a frustrated man as he watched in in the studio. Secretly he was being recorded and clips showing his anguish were played for the amusement of viewers a few days later to Elton John’s I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues. At least the footage reminded us that many pundits are in essence just like us while the match is on, feeling the same emotions and frustrations if things don’t go the way they want.

The Scots once more went out after falling just short in their final group game, with Uruguay a new enemy for those north of the border. One particularly despondent fan told a TV interviewer: “I hate England. But if England get to play Uruguay I’ll support England, because that’s how much I hate Uruguay.” The Scot was no doubt cheered up in the next round when Uruguay lost to Argentina, saving him from having to cheer on the Sassenachs in the quarter-finals!

Also sadly making an early exit with Scotland were Northern Ireland, unable to repeat their heroics of four years earlier but still putting up a decent fight in the Mexican heat. Their World Cup was probably best remembered for Pat Jennings (on his 41st birthday) conceding a stunning goal to Brazil’s Josimar. “Oh what a goal,” screamed BBC commentator John Motson, as the world briefly got all excited about Josimar before he faded into obscurity.

When we return to this subject shortly, we will recall TV coverage of the knockout rounds including that unforgettable match between England and Argentina.

England on TV – the Brian Clough Years

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Brian Clough may be forever dubbed “the greatest manager England never had”, but he retained a close association with the national team. For the best part of two decades he could be heard offering – often controversial – thoughts on England and other international matches in his capacity as an ITV pundit.

Clough and television was a rather contradictory relationship. He would bang on in interviews about how there was too much football on the box and bemoaned an excessive amount of talking about the game. “I suggest you shut up and show more football,” he told John Motson at the height of Clough’s Nottingham Forest success. Yet Clough regularly supplemented his income by appearing as a pundit, proving pretty knowledgeable, unpredictable and outspoken. And his services were certainly in demand.

Clough was a man who plenty believed should be managing England, as he enjoyed widespread success at club level. For most of the 1970s and 1980s he had sections of the sporting press repeatedly calling for him to replace the serving England boss, although the role would elude him despite being interviewed for it (more on that in a future blog post). Analysing England matches would have to do as the next best thing and he wasn’t afraid to hold back. His distinct and often-imitated voice was heard a lot by TV viewers in the 1970s and 1980s, meaning he became well-known by people with limited interest in football. Even Muhammad Ali had a message for him!

Clough’s confidence in telling it as he saw it was his big selling point. There was no dodging the question or trying to be polite to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. And that made him an asset to ITV’s coverage. They liked employing straight-talking motormouths such as Malcolm Allison, but Clough was unique and things he said both on television and in newspaper columns would be quoted for years to come – his soundbite that Trevor Brooking “floats like a butterfly and he stings like one too” being one such example. 


Clough during the 1982 World Cup with ITV.

Of course, there were also comments made that could be interpreted as xenophobic and would probably have left the FA convinced they did the right thing not appointing him as manager, fearing he would have lacked the necessary diplomacy. As West Germany reached the latter stages of the 1982 World Cup, Clough found it necessary to tell millions of viewers that “they’re murder the Germans” if you spend time on holiday with them – pointing out Peter Taylor had a German son-in-law as if it made his Basil Fawlty-esque view more justifiable. “Can you imagine spending three weeks with them in Palma if they win the World Cup? They’re bad enough as it is.” One wonders if he would have lasted as long in punditry in today’s more cosmopolitan and politically correct world.

But Old Big ‘Ead was a one-off and one particular punditry contribution from more than 40 years ago would never be forgotten and is still talked about today…

Clowning Around

Clough, who won two England caps in his injury-curtailed career, was a BBC analyst during the 1970 World Cup – a tournament when their coverage was unusually overshadowed by ITV and their straight-talking panel. But in 1973 Clough switched channels, in an indirect station swap with the similarly opinionated Jimmy Hill, who moved to the BBC as Match of the Day presenter. Soon Clough was popping up regularly on The Big Match as a summariser. Two months into the season came arguably his most memorable contribution in many years of punditry.

England were in a do-or-die World Cup qualifier at home to Poland. If they won they would make the finals in West Germany, if they didn’t then the 1966 winners wouldn’t qualify. It was a major occasion, with ITV showing the match live. Clough – who had just left Derby County – was a studio panelist, beginning the show in rather odd fashion by saying he had a nail that would be going in either Poland’s coffin or England manager Sir Alf Ramsey’s. He seemed keen to allay the nation’s fears by branding Poland’s goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski a “clown” and giving strong assurances England would easily get the win they needed.

Brian Moore runs out of patience with Brian Clough after Poland prevented England from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

As everybody knows, Tomaszewski continually kept England at bay as chance after chance went begging and the Poles drew 1-1. Would Clough now be gracious enough to accept labelling the goalkeeper as a clown was unfair? In a word, no. During the post-match analysis, Clough still used the term to describe Tomaszewski (who would later carve out a Clough-style reputation in his homeland for making outspoken statements). Eventually, host Brian Moore snapped like a dad running out of patience with his kids making trumping noises in the back of the car. “You keep calling him a clown but that fellow has made some fantastic saves,” Moore told Clough, pointing his finger towards him. But this was a view Clough refused to go along with. Fellow pundit Derek Dougan also weighed in and defended the Polish goalkeeper, but Clough would have none of it. If anything, he seemed even more keen to show he had been right all along. 

The man Cloughie labelled a “clown” stopped England qualifying for the 1974 World Cup.

Clough wouldn’t let the matter drop, declaring on TV a few days later that Tomaszewski would be found out in the World Cup the following summer and saying he was the weak link in the Polish side. He was wrong on that, as the goalkeeper twice saved penalties in the tournament and helped them to an impressive third place. Clough spent the competition offering his thoughts in the ITV studio – a panel that basically followed the lead of 1970 in containing colourful football personalities with strong views. 


Clough took his place on ITV’s 1974 World Cup panel – sadly without England matches to analyse.

He fitted in perfectly on the panel, which couldn’t be said of his infamous brief spell at Leeds United in the weeks that followed. It ended after just 44 days with an often-recalled TV head-to-head with his great rival Don Revie, who was now in charge of England. The mutual dislike couldn’t have been more obvious.

The two Brians

While Clough and Peter Taylor may be the partnership most frequently recalled, there was another enduring double act Cloughie enjoyed. Brian Moore would regularly be alongside him as presenter of The Big Match or as lead commentator on occasions when Clough was deployed as co-commentator. It was an unlikely friendship between two men who appeared to have contrasting personalities, but they complemented each other well and appeared genuinely fond of each other. 


Brian Moore and Brian Clough preparing for an episode of The Big Match.

But the aforementioned Poland game was probably not the only time Moore grew irritated with Clough and his rather unpredictable nature. In September 1983 England hosted Denmark in a vital qualifier for Euro ’84 that was live on ITV. With the game less than a minute old, teenager Michael Laudrup missed a chance to put the Danes ahead. “The wonderboy is human after all,” exclaimed Moore. Co-commentator Clough pedantically shot back: “I’ve never seen a 19-year-old wonderboy in my life.” 

Moore did see the funny side during the 1986 World Cup, when Clough again joined him in the London studio. During a discussion with Clough’s new punditry sparring partner Mike  Channon, the former Southampton star said: “The Irish have done it, the French do it, the West Germans do it…” Clough seized his moment. “Even educated bees do it,” he quipped, to raucous laughter from Moore. 

McCarthy has the last laugh

Clough was one of ITV’s leading pundits during Euro ’88 in West Germany. This tournament really represented his last hurrah in terms of international punditry, as he was absent from their Italia ’90 coverage (his choice according to newspaper reports of the time) and the BBC had exclusive terrestrial rights to most England matches for several years after this. In a warm-up for Euro ’88 Clough was in the studio with Nick Owen for England’s trip to Hungary – oddly calling Gary Pallister “McAllister” – and he cast doubt upon captain Bryan Robson’s position in the side after “an indifferent season”. Again, Clough certainly wasn’t going to sit on the fence or just go along with what the nation at large may have thought about their footballing heroes.

Fifteen years on from the Poland game, it seemed Clough still wasn’t afraid to make controversial statements that had the potential to backfire – and duly did. Prior to England’s tournament opener against the Republic of Ireland, Clough decided to dismiss the credentials of Irish defender Mick McCarthy who had passed a fitness test to play. “I’m glad from an English point of view that the Irish centre half’s fit… because I don’t think he’s international class for a start and I would have thought [Peter] Beardsley and [Gary] Lineker will be rubbing their hands. In fact if they could have got him a few Deutschmarks to get him even fitter still so there’d be no doubt I think they would have slipped him a few.”

Brian Clough during ITV’s coverage of Euro ’88 – his last major tournament as a pundit.

Clough knew he was being witty with the last bit but he was also pretty damning about a player who was about to appear against England. But McCarthy would have the last laugh as the Irish won 1-0 and England crashed out with three successive defeats. If Clough hoped this might at last give him he chance to manage his country, then it wouldn’t happen for him as Bobby Robson kept his job and – despite still having his fans in the media – Clough was realistically never in the running when Robson did leave in 1990.

Not being a pundit on England matches in this period was perhaps for the best, given Clough’s son Nigel was first capped in 1989 and deserved his chance without having his father being constantly asked about him in the studio (it was difficult enough a few years later when Ian Wright was on the BBC panel when Shaun Wright-Phillips was playing for England). Some later appearances as a pundit such as when Derby County met Tottenham Hotspur in 1991 sadly did not go particularly well, Clough almost seeming like a parody of his past self and lacking the insight he once had. But after retiring from football management in 1993 he still remained in demand for his views, continuing to write opinion columns in the media until shortly before he died in 2004. And his death opened the floodgates to a never-ending steam of documentaries, films and books about the man, ensuring the many views he shared at his peak are still heard today.

When he reached that peak, Clough was revered like no other TV football pundit. He was witty, very opinionated, knowledgeable (if not always on the money with his predictions) and entertaining, certainly not a nodding dog who didn’t really want to be sat in front of the cameras. In such respects he was quite like the Formula One world champion turned co-commentator James Hunt – minus the playboy lifestyle – as you could never be sure just what he would say next. Clough was made for both football management and television and he relished both roles, it’s fair to say.

England on TV – Watching with Jimmy Hill

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In the latest in our occasional series looking back at past TV coverage of England matches, we recall the contribution of one man who became an almost ever-present fixture when the BBC broadcast the Three Lions from 1973 to 1998. Whether it be provoking angry reactions from the manager, howling with joy as Gary Lineker scored in the World Cup, arguing with punditry partner Terry Venables or wearing a bow tie containing the cross of St George, there was rarely a dull moment when Jimmy Hill was on our screens when England played. Whatever you thought of Hill, you couldn’t really ignore him…

Always something to say

The most common tribute paid to Hill today is “he wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but…” There were plenty of people who couldn’t stand him in the days when he presented Match of the Day and he often seemed to attract impersonations which portrayed him as a rather tedious bore with a big chin. But hindsight at least has generally earned him greater respect in terms of having had courage in his convictions and trying to give a proper assessment of what he had seen. If many football experts are criticised for not appearing to truly tell it like it is, it was not a charge that could be made against Hill. It wasn’t his worry if most viewers were going to disagree with his opinion as he believed he was right anyway.

Although he had never been good enough to play for his country, Hill’s later career in television saw him cover many England matches from the mid-1960s through to the late 1990s and he was seen as a leading voice on their fortunes. In the same way as he performed multiple roles within football, Hill also proved a utility man in television. Provided the BBC had the rights to an England match – and ITV in the few years before he switched channels in 1973 – you could almost guarantee Hill would be putting in an appearance as a presenter, pundit or co-commentator (sometimes doing more than one role on the same broadcast!). He was never short of an opinion, nor was he afraid of who he might upset by making it.

Covering England – and the other home nations – is just about the one instance where pundits can be forgiven for showing clear bias in favour of one team or for looking at things purely from that side’s perspective. Hill was not afraid to show pride in being English – but he would also willingly express his frustration as he witnessed the 30 years of hurt (and more) after 1966 at close quarters.

The birth of the panel

The 1960s saw Hill grow in national prominence, successfully fighting for the abolition of the maximum wage in his capacity as PFA chairman and then enjoying a successful stint as manager of Coventry City. Hill had – by his standards – a fairly minor role in the BBC’s 1966 World Cup coverage. When England met Argentina in the quarter-finals, Hill was alongside Kenneth Wolstenholme as ‘summariser’ (co-commentator in today’s money). The infamous moment when Argentine captain Antonio Rattin was sent off and all hell broke loose saw Wolstenholme quip to Hill: “Well they don’t get this at Coventry City, do they Jim?” Many would have simply chuckled but Hill wasn’t going to miss his chance to share a bit of expert knowledge and instantly replied: “Well as a matter of fact, an Argentine team did once play at Coventry City which ended at half-time because they walked off under similar circumstances…” Alas,such insights did not earn him a similar role for England’s semi-final and final.

Jimmy Hill and the famous ITV panel in 1970.

The following year he surprisingly quit Coventry after winning promotion and joined London Weekend Television full-time. He helped develop The Big Match as a strong competitor to Match of the Day and in 1970 took much of the credit for devising ‘the panel’. It was seen as revolutionary during that World Cup in Mexico to have experts debating the match in the studio at half-time (with things often getting quite heated), with Malcolm Allison, Pat Crerand, Derek Dougan and Bob McNab playing their part in ITV unusually beating the BBC in the ratings. The concept perhaps cemented Hill’s reputation as an innovator (he would later claim credit for the introduction of three points for a win).

Three years later, Hill was lured across to the BBC as MOTD host – becoming synonymous with the show. This role saw him continue to offer his views on England matches, although he would have to wait until 1982 to cover them at a World Cup while with the Beeb. Hill was in the presenting chair at Wembley the night they finally made it by beating Hungary in November 1981. “We’re so grateful we didn’t have to end off this programme saying England didn’t qualify,” he said with relief at the end of an emotional night. 


Jimmy Hill was Mr Match of the Day for many years.

Talking of trouble

One unfortunate issue during the Hill years was the frequency of crowd trouble, often rearing its ugly head when England travelled abroad. Where some pundits may have not seen it as their duty to provide an analysis of the problem and would have wanted to simply discuss the football, Hill assessed it to a great extent – and would look at it from beyond just a footballing perspective. He would express his disgust but you could almost guarantee he would be describing it as “a society problem” and coming up with what steps he thought should be taken to help resolve it. For example, his analysis of England’s match in Ireland in 1995 due to crowd trouble saw him call for identity cards to be worn by everyone.

Not that such views were always appreciated by viewers of course. Thirty years on from the event, Hill has been receiving retrospective criticism lately in the letters pages of When Saturday Comes for his line of questioning when hosting the BBC’s live coverage of the Heysel Disaster as he probed Graeme Souness and Terry Venables on whether national service should be reintroduced. Controversy was something never far away from Hill in his broadcasting years and you could fill several blogs on the subject, including how some Scotland fans have never forgiven him for describing David Narey’s goal against Brazil in 1982 as a “toe poke”. But let’s keep reminiscing about his England years instead.

Taking the mic

Hill was never an out and out presenter. Even during his 15 years hosting MOTD he would usually appear only as a pundit on Sportsnight, often popping up to analyse England matches (imagine Gary Lineker appearing as an analyst on another BBC show today?). He also frequently took on the role of co-commentator, usually performing that role at major tournaments until the late 1980s rather than hosting from the London studio. Probably his most memorable contribution as a co-commentator came when England took on Poland in a do-or-die match in the 1986 World Cup and it did not involve any pearls of wisdom or controversial views. 

As Gary Lineker put England into a crucial early lead, Hill could be heard chortling with delight as he sat alongside Barry Davies. His reaction fitted the mood of the English nation at that moment and showed that for whatever criticisms he aired, deep down he wanted his country – and his old mate Bobby Robson – to succeed.

Lineker scores and Jimmy howls with joy.

Although Hill stopped short of becoming a lead commentator, he came pretty close to it when England took on Scotland in the Home Internationals at Wembley in June 1983. While analysing a previous incident, England bore down on goal. Rather than follow the usual protocol of handing the mic back to John Motson, Hill decided to keep talking and describe what was happening. “And here’s Trevor Francis now on the edge of the box… He shoots… And he’s scored….” Motson sounded almost relieved the goal was disallowed, pointing out “the whistle definitely went while Jimmy was talking” as if to stress his irritation that he hadn’t been able to perform his usual role. Like so many others, he found trying to shut up Jimmy Hill wasn’t the easiest task in the world.

No quarter given with El Tel

From 1988-89, a beardless, bespectacled and greying Hill was now just a pundit as he ended his presenting and co-commentary duties. In some respects punditry suited him more naturally than presenting as it meant he could express his views without being responsible for making sure the show finished on time or rushing to the next link. Hill just loved talking about the game and England’s fortunes were central to this. And he had good company. Over the next five years or so he would often be joined for England matches by Terry Venables, a man who was not afraid to disagree with Hill. Although they would occasionally be together for domestic games, Venables’ club commitments meant he was more frequently available for internationals and that was when their partnership thrived.

They were the proverbial old married couple, seemingly unable to agree on anything and almost not wanting to either. This half-time analysis of England away to Sweden in 1989 is an example of that, as the pair disagreed over whether Gary Lineker was at fault for missing a chance and then about if England should look for a winner or take the draw – Hill going against his usual stance of wanting to see flair from England by declaring he didn’t care what they did as long as they kept it at 0-0. There was less warmth on show when analysing England’s 6-0 win over San Marino in February 1993, with Hill visibly annoyed by how Venables had taken his contributions and looking willing to start a proper row while on air.

Hill and Venables – a disagreement was never far away.

It all made for good television and there was a crucial third player in helping the double act thrive. Des Lynam, who had replaced Hill as MOTD presenter and then also took over on Sportsnight, seemed to relish the fact that the pair would argue. He knew what questions to ask to get them going. His laid back manner complemented the duo well. Not that it was always easy for him. On several occasions he had to cut Hill off in full flow so they could finish the broadcast on time. And one sensed Lynam wasn’t overjoyed when Hill pointed out to millions of viewers during live coverage of England against the Republic of Ireland in 1991 that Des was born in Ireland, with all the subtlety of a young boy telling his parents where he had found his big brother’s dirty magazines.

But this was a fun time and, for me at least, probably the last era where the BBC’s football coverage really stood out with an aura about it. Recalling the Hill v Venables arguments in an interview earlier this year, Lynam said: “They actually liked each other very much off screen, but on screen they very often did have opposing points of view and it wasn’t something that we set up. They just did not see eye to eye on a lot of footballing matters. Consequently, it made compelling television. My job really was just to start them off and sit back to watch the argument.”

One distinctive element of the Lynam/Hill/Venables era was they would award marks out of 10 to England’s performance at the end of each analysis. This wasn’t particularly important, but Hill took it most seriously. Whereas Venables would swiftly give a response of say eight, for Hill it was literally a case of no quarter given. Ratings such as “seven and three quarters” would be aired, along with other more convulted responses such as “I was going to say seven out of 10 but now I wouldn’t go above five and a half for that performance” as he reconsidered his view live on air. 

Bigmouth strikes again

Jimmy Hill had played at club level with both Ron Greenwood and Bobby Robson and retained a good rapport with them. This didn’t though prevent Hill from criticising England and their management when he thought it necessary. But one sensed Hill felt far more affection for these managers than Graham Taylor, who replaced Robson in 1990. Despite England rarely losing in Taylor’s first two years in charge, Hill raised concern over the performances he was seeing and some of the players being selected (his attitude probably not helped by Peter Beardsley, a player he hugely admired, being axed).

Graham Taylor: Not a member of the Jimmy Hill fan club.

Hill’s opinions eventually prompted an angry reaction from Taylor. After England’s disappointing opening match against Denmark at Euro ’92, Hill expressed his view it was a case of players being paid a lot of money to show they were not masters of their craft. In the days that followed, Taylor gave it back with both barrels. “If it’s that kind of monster, what was your part in the early 60s in creating it?” snapped Taylor in reference to Hill having fought for the abolition of the maximum wage that paved the way for big earnings. Taylor then went on to ask of Hill, who was Fulham’s chairman: “Are you making sure your club are not paying players more money than they should, and making sure your players are going out, morning and afternoon, to work on the basics? Because if they’re not, you’ve got no right to be making this kind of comment.”

It wasn’t the first or last time Hill had talked his way into controversy, but Taylor’s reaction was over the top and summed up his tetchy mood during Euro ’92. One assumes Hill did not shed too many tears for Taylor when he lost his job the following year after failing to qualify for the World Cup – which paved the way for someone he knew very well to lead his country.

The double act ends

In November 1993, England’s slim hopes of making the World Cup finals ended after their 7-1 win over San Marino proved academic. On Sportsnight that night it was time for a proper analysis by Hill and Venables of England’s failure to get there, as Taylor faced the axe. They did a good job, Hill making perceptive comments that still rang true many years later about the problems with the set-up of youth football in England and the lack of real talent available. Venables put his shift in too, while fellow pundit John Toshack was never asked for his opinion and didn’t dare to offer one. Venables was non-committal about whether he would want the England job if offered, but by the time England next took to the field four months later he would be in charge.

And so that proved the end of the Hill-Venables years when covering England, with Hill’s old sparring partner soon moving to ITV to end their double act altogether. Alan Hansen stepped up to the role for England matches and in many respects was a good replacement for Venables, not being afraid to express views which differed from Hill. But it was never quite the same. The age gap was bigger than between Hill and Venables, there seemed a bit less natural chemistry and Scotsman Hansen understandably did not share Hill’s passion for England. 

Jimmy Hill wears his infamous England bow tie alongside a new breed of pundits – Ruud Gullit and Alan Hansen.

Hill soon found his powers on the wane as a young generation of pundits emerged, effectively being relegated to third choice behind Hansen and Ruud Gullit at Euro ’96. At least when England played live on the BBC during the tournament he had a place on the panel, including for the semi-final against Germany. To the surprise of the watching millions, they tuned in to find Hill wearing a bow tie containing the cross of St George. No doubt Gok Wan wouldn’t have recommended such attire but Hill certainly couldn’t be accused of being unpatriotic – and he remained perceptive. “I think it’s 50-50 – you could toss a coin,” he said Hill prior to the semi-final and he was spot on, given just how close the match would be.

The sky’s the limit


The last hurrah: Hill and the other key BBC men from the 1998 World Cup.

Hill remained with the BBC for two more years, a period which included the corporation losing the rights to highlights of most England matches to ITV. By France ’98 he was clearly on the way out. But he finished his 25-year stint with a flourish by arguing with Martin O’Neill over a clearly unfit Ronaldo being picked to play for Brazil in the final, having earlier in the tournament extolled the virtues of Romania all playing with blond hair. It’s testament to Hill that Sky Sports then offered him a role as he turned 70, spending a few years presenting the Sunday Supplement show. When Malta played England shortly before Euro 2000, it was a nostalgic surprise to find Sky using Hill as their studio analyst – showing much the same enthusiasm for the role as he had years before. If only Des and Terry had been with him…

Sorry this has been a long blog but it seems fitting when writing about Jimmy Hill, a man renowned for talking away at length. During his many years in the media Hill, who sadly now has Alzheimer’s, certainly was not universally loved. But he was synonymous with football and television in this country and, by association, with the England team. He joined the BBC while Sir Alf Ramsey was still managing England and left it while Glenn Hoddle was at the helm, working on countless games they played. England matches seemed to bring out the best of him as a football analyst. Although he wasn’t afraid to be very critical of what he saw from England – even having a moan sometimes if they ground out a decent-looking result if he felt they had looked inferior technically – he cared about them. I can’t really think of an equivalent to him in today’s football in England. He certainly was something of a one-off, proving a jack of all trades by performing so many different roles within the game. Hill probably considered himself a master of many of them too – and who are we to argue?

TV Memories of Italia ’90 (Part One)

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There’s currently a fair bit of nostalgia around for Italia ’90 as the tournament took place this time 25 years ago. Our next few blog posts will focus upon that competition and we begin by recalling what it was like to watch ‘on the box’ in the UK, focusing mainly today on the early stages of the competition.

“You’ll be humming it soon”

Mention Italia ’90 to anyone who watched it in the UK and there’s a fair chance Nessun Dorma will soon crop up in nostalgic discussion. The BBC made a fairly bold choice to start each broadcast with Luciano Pavarotti’s operatic recording – there was a risk the stereotypical football fan would loathe it, while the opera buff could resent seeing it used for a sport which had developed a poor image in recent times – but it couldn’t have worked out better all-round. Pavarotti developed a new-found success, the BBC’s coverage was lauded thanks to the tune and there was now a greater and wider appreciation for opera thanks to millions hearing it every day. Given the simultaneous success of World in Motion, football and music have rarely seen so intrinsically linked as they were in the summer of 1990.

Presenter Des Lynam certainly could see the potential in Nessun Dorma. “You’ll be humming it soon – you’ll know the words to it by July 8,” he said as the first BBC broadcast began on June 8. And he was right. The situation was parodied in an early episode of the Channel 4 comedy Drop the Dead Donkey a few weeks later, where the equivalent of a swearbox was installed in the newsroom for anyone humming it. You couldn’t go far without hearing Nessun Dorma that summer and Pavarotti would soon be presented with a platinum disc by the BBC’s Bobby Charlton as sales rocketed.

Pavarotti could forever be grateful for what the BBC had done to further enhance his career and popularity. Reaching number two in the British singles chart in 1990 probably wasn’t something he anticipated when he recorded Nessun Dorma 18 years earlier anyway! In a tournament that was defined more by memorable images than classic matches, the song fitted perfectly over any montage of Italia 90’s standout moments.

But the song’s association with the competition could easily have never happened had BBC’s senior sports editor Brian Barwick not stuck to his guns. In his book Are You Watching the Match Tonight? Barwick recalled being called by a bigwig from the record label a couple of days before the tournament began, informing him they were having second thoughts about the song’s use. Barwick made clear they would not be backing down and stressed they would soon see the success of the song being heard day after day. How right he was.

A summer with Des

By 1990, Lynam was peaking as a broadcaster and he was in his element hosting the BBC’s coverage from the London studio. He had fronted the BBC’s coverage of Mexico ’86 and Euro ’88 and his reputation in football circles had grown further by presenting Match of the Day from 1988-89 onwards. His mixture of charm and confidence and a laid-back manner proved a winning formula with both male and female viewers and he was helping bring the best out of his pundits. They included Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables, who were starting to develop their routine as the proverbial old married couple who would constantly argue. One thing they did reach agreement on was they believed John Barnes had correctly been flagged offside when he scored for England against Belgium, with Lynam taking great delight in presenting television evidence which he believed showed they were wrong.

Des Lynam at home in the BBC studio, joined by sparring partners Jimmy Hill and Terry Venables and the injured England skipper Bryan Robson.

Others to grace the BBC studio included Kenny Dalglish and Ray Wilkins (plus Bryan Robson after flying home injured after the group stage), while Bob Wilson was the patient understudy to Lynam and mainly hosted highlights shows. He would even end up appearing as a pundit on occasions. This would become a decade in which Wilson would have further cause to curse Lynam, who seemed right at the heart of Italia ’90 despite being based in London. But even for Des there was no guarantee that every broadcast would run smoothly, as we will see in the next blog post on this subject…

Two heads aren’t better than one

Apart from Lynam venturing to the stadium for the BBC’s live coverage of England against the Dutch, the BBC presented its coverage of the group stage and second round from London. But ITV seemed caught between wanting to be there and the comfort of presenting from back home and they came up with an awkward mix. Nick Owen was in the London studio and Elton Welsby was in the stadium, without an on-site studio to protect him from the noise around him. Often Welsby seemed to be quite frantically pressing his finger against his earpiece to catch whatever was being said from London.



The two-man ITV presenting team of Nick Owen (top) and Elton Welsby.

Both men would suffer by comparison with Lynam and struggle to match his on-screen authority, although the pair got off lightly compared to Matt Lorenzo four years later. In keeping with the rather ‘Marmite’ nature of the 1990 World Cup, ITV’s theme tune and opening titles divided opinion. Some loved it, others felt what they saw and heard had no right to compete with the BBC’s Nessun Dorma. Again, what the Beeb did was ITV’s main undoing. Although not without faults, this wasn’t so much a tournament when ITV’s coverage was hideously bad but more one when it was never going to come close to matching a rampant BBC.

Brian Moore was finally commentating on a full World Cup tournament, bravely carrying on describing West Germany’s 5-1 win over the United Arab Emirates amid fears he and co-commentator Trevor Francis could be electrocuted as a thunderstorm took hold in the San Siro. But Moore’s presence was missed a bit in the studio. Indeed, ITV’s coverage was perhaps most defined by who wasn’t there rather than who was. The ever-opinionated Brian Clough was the most notable absentee from the punditry team, while Martin Tyler – who had commentated on every England match at the last two World Cups – had been lured away to satellite television where he remains today. 

Jimmy Greaves spells it out.

ITV had brought in Emlyn Hughes and Rodney Marsh as opinionated pundits and England manager-in-waiting Graham Taylor played a fairly prominent role. But right in the middle of the coverage sat Jimmy Greaves, who in each broadcast would wear T-shirts containing ‘witty’ slogans such as ‘Better Leighton Never’. In this episode of Saint & Greavsie he even changed shirts at half-time as if to press home the value of the plays on words. Whoever’s decision it was, the fashion statement for Greaves that summer did little for the credibility of ITV’s reputation as a serious football broadcaster (but this blogger remains a big fan of Greavsie’s – get well soon). Not that it was all jokes and laughs for Greaves that summer, becoming quite outspoken on the punishment dished out to Swindon Town over irregularities.

Other distinctive elements of ITV’s coverage included phone polls and the coverage being “in association with National Power”, with this advert seen over and over again. Although the tournament felt less commercialised than today, there were certainly hints it was going that way with a major tournament sponsor even given some publicity in this interview with Bobby Robson as he enjoyed a can of Coca-Cola.

Missing the match

Television was becoming increasingly powerful in football by 1990, but it wasn’t quite the great god it now is. During the World Cup group stage, there were 11 instances of two matches being played at the same time. In the pre-red button era, this meant the other match could not be seen live (unless you were in a minority with access to Eurosport for some of those matches). The problem in Britain came to a head on June 16, when England and Scotland played matches at the same time; then due to being in the same group England and Ireland played matches simultaneously five days later (that would still be the case today, but in such circumstances now the other match can be accessed far more easily). I never understood why on certain occasions like that agreement could not be reached for the BBC to show one match and ITV the other, particularly as seven of the last nine matches in the knock-out rounds ended up being screened live by both of them so the channels were not afraid to go up against each other.

There were also some instances of football not totally dominating the schedules, with hosts Italy’s primetime group stage match with the USA not shown live by either the BBC or ITV despite it not clashing with any other match. The same would happen a few days later when there were two matches in Group E played at the same time but not screened live, while the BBC only joined live coverage of West Germany against Colombia at half-time. That was the only time any of Colombia’s group games were live on terrestrial television in the UK, while the talented Yugoslavia were not afforded any live coverage on the BBC and ITV during their opening three matches. Hard to imagine today.

More to follow on this subject soon, as well as other memories of Italia ’90…