Saturday Mornings Early 90’s – Early 00’s
I once heard that this was the most watched programme ever….on a Saturday morning…on Channel 4. Mock all you want but when Kabaddi forms part of the competition for this title, it should by no means be taken lightly and oh how I looked forward to it as the inspiration to get up on a Saturday morning during my teenage years. A brew, bacon buttie and to be greeted by James Richardson sat in some grand Piazza accompanied by an elaborate Tiramisu and Espresso. Bellissimo!
Once Richardson had introduced the show we’d get to see highlights of the main game from the previous week which we had almost certainly seen live the previous Sunday. The man himself would carry out post match interviews in Italian with your Beppe Signori’s, Gianluca Pagliuca’s and Giuseppi Gianini’s and then of course in the queens with your Gazza’s, Des Walker’s’s and Platty’s. After another couple of highlights from the bigger games of the previous week it came to what went onto be the signature feature of the show and Richardson’s review of the papers while sat in said grand piazza.
He’d sit there reading out the headlines from the huge multi coloured sports papers and immediately deliver the English translation with brilliantly dry timing and expressions. “‘Bergkamp: Inter – Basta’ Bergkamp, Inter
There were more serious moments where Richardson would adopt the appropriate tone describing for example the killing of the Genoa fan that had lead to the abandonment of the previous weeks live game against Milan and the subsequent suspension of a weeks full sporting fixtures across Italy. While it’s not a news item anyone wants to hear, that I still remember so much about this, which was a national crisis at the time is probably down to the brilliance with which he and the programme came across to their audience.
The following feature and a staple of any highlights programme worth its salt was the remainder of the goals from the previous week’s matches. I’m sure many of you can associate with my predicament here as having correctly anticipated that buying a Torino season-review might prove difficult in the (in my case) Tameside area I sat patiently with remote in hand, keen to capture Ruggiero Rizzitelli's brace at Brescia the previous week to add to the collection of the other season's action. I still have this skilfully edited 93/94 season review on VCR that details a respectable 11th placed campaign and politely ask that those of you wish to borrow it form an orderly queue.
The final section of the programme tended to be an interview by Richardson, or focus on a particular player, club, referee, journalist well just about anyone with some connection to the world of calcio. I was going to provide an example of a memorable moment from one of these but having just googled the subject came across this: ‘once famously, he got Attilio Lombardo to do the lambada' that demonstrates the man's brilliance and whit far better than anything in this blog ever could.
Unfortunately in 2002, Channel 4 pulled the plug on their Serie A coverage and since then Italian football has popped up on various channels with little if any success. A few of them have employed Richardson to front the live matches and also attempt to re-create the brilliance that was Gazzetta Football Italia but for this viewer the magic was gone. My hero was still his funny and knowledgeable self but the programmes and product didn't have the same lure the original did. There are many possible reasons for this and it was touched upon in a small piece in the current WSC.
In the early 90's, coverage of any European League was pretty thin on the ground so it had novelty value. Not many people had Sky and even then you were limited to Eurosport's imaginatively titled 'Eurogoals' which was a pretty bland selection of match highlights/goals round-ups and whatever you came across while perusing some of the many German channels (inclination of smut fully intentional.) This was a completely different scenario to ten years later when the amount of people with Sky was much higher and the volume of domestic and continental coverage was incomparable.
The product was also seen as the best in the world at the time. Well, the league had the best players in the world although many (wrongly IMHO) bemoaned the 'dull' football that was played but the talents of Gullit, Baggio and Batistuta were an obvious draw. Compare this to now where its pretty unanimously agreed the crown of 'best league in the world' is a straight fight between the Premier League and La Liga with Serie A on a similar level to the Bundesliga and maybe Ligue 1.
To be honest this was never my main attraction to it as Italian football had and still has an unmistakable lure. The team names and colours, the stadiums and probably more so the fans. Always misrepresented by British press, I was absolutely fascinated by the Ultras. The huge group banners behind the goals, the end-covering tifo as the teams come out, what are they singing and why is that lad with such a huge voice always there (I hope most of you understand this attempt at a gag)? The Rome derby when Roma as the away team went 3-0 up before half time and the absolute pandemonium that we got to witness on their curva after each goal. Utterly awesome stuff that lead to a brief obsession with not only the football and fans but country for me.
Other than on the Football Weekly Guardian podcast, we don't get to hear the voice of James Richardson any more. Apparently there was a recent campaign to get him the role of Match of the Day 2 presenter following Adrian Chiles sudden departure this month but I was glad he didn't get this gig, as I said to great mate Phil 'house' Bridgehouse, I'd hate to see a watered down Richardson that there’d undoubtedly be pressure on him to become for such a programme. There are surely enough people with some level of intellect interested in the game for someone to give him a go again though. The height of football related humour isn’t seeing a replay of Martin O’Neill running up and down a touch line for the eight-billionth time in the last ten years. There’s so much better, more interesting stuff they could feature on that would enhance our enjoyment of their coverage and getting a bald man to do a popular dance that sounds a bit like his name would be a good start.
Live Serie A coverage and a magazine highlights show are on ESPN throughout the week
The Football Weekly podcast with James Richardson from the Guardian can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/series/footballweekly