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Match of the Day Fifty Years of Football - by Nick Constable

Release date: 14th August, 2014
Publisher: BBC Books

List Price: £20
Our Price: £13.60
You Save: £6.4 (32%)
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It’s fifty years this week since a nascent Match of the Day appeared on our television screens with Kenneth Wolstenholme at the helm of a programme which has evolved slowly and, it could be argued, stood the test of time.

It was an inauspicious beginning though – fewer than 20,000 people watched the first edition. Little did we know how popular it would become. Even in today’s world of illegal streaming, instant goal alerts and an over-supply of live football, MotD retains a unique place in football fans’ hearts.

However, your reviewer became apprehensive when reading the book’s cover notes which describe how the programme has witnessed some of football’s greatest moments. It has, but “the big shorts and brown leather balls of the Stanley Matthews era” referred to in the notes were not among them. That era came a decade before MotD was first screened. Sir Stanley Matthews played only one match (his final one) in the 1964-65 season, while long shorts and heavy, laced footballs had disappeared by the time Liverpool faced Arsenal in MotD’s initial offering. Such errors are easily avoided.

Nevertheless, at a time when there was only one live match a season broadcast on TV (the FA Cup Final), MotD became an immediate hit with football fans. Club owners, by contrast, were appalled at the prospect of plummeting matchday attendances, prompting the BBC to agree not to reveal the match it intended screening until after the game had finished, an arrangement which lasted until 1983.

ITV was quick to recognise the commercial potential of broadcasting football and the introduction of the company’s Big Match resulted in MotD screening two games every Saturday night. And this was how it remained until Sky shattered the BBC / ITV duopoly in 1992.

Match of the Day has always benefitted from having authoritative presenters – from David Coleman to Gary Lineker. Its commentators too have tended to be the best around, but the show’s penchant for attracting pundits of variable quality remains a bugbear.

Fortunately, this amiable trip down Memory Lane focuses on the more memorable facets of a television programme which, despite relying upon recorded highlights, continues to attract an audience of around 4 million – several times more than anything Sky can pull in – which suggests the format still works.


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