Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Vintage DTVSr: Gazzetta Football Italia

Gazzetta Football Italia
Saturday Mornings Early 90’s – Early 00’s
Channel 4


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!

The Programme

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 Enough!” before going onto explain the story. This was interesting enough for many enthusiasts such as ourselves but what I personally remember and relish were the more obscure stories such as Genoa’s Czech striker Tomas Skuhravy writing off his car in the early hours while returning home from a brothel (I've done extensive internet research since starting this piece and cant find any records of it but swear it did happen....possibly) which he clearly enjoyed telling himself.

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

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

The Grand National

The Grand National
Saturday 10th April
BBC1 13:00


Red Rum, Garrison Savannah, the whole family gathering in front of the telly, Grandma putting 50p e/w on, queues down the road outside the bookies. Party Politics on the eve of the 1992 General Election, the ‘National that never was’ the following year, who did you get in the sweep? 100/1 winners, the bookies will be laughing, Paul Nicholls, Jenny Pittman…and they’re off!

‘Why is the nation so transfixed with the Grand National?’ I pondered upon deciding to blog this a week or so ago. I haven’t really got the answer to this so I hope you are content with my Paul Whitehouse-esque reminiscing of previous years races.


In a change to the norm of a DTVSr I didn’t watch the whole four hours of coverage of the programme. As it was centred around a race that lasts around 10 minutes I couldn’t really devote all that time to it or more honestly, be bothered to. This did lead to the odd situation of walking around ASDA and making a bee-line for the their sound and vision section as I could make out a virtual run of the Aintree Course on their many TV sets. ‘Them porcine mushrooms will still be there in 5 minutes’ was the blunt decision I (correctly) made as I parked myself in front of the assembled mass of wide screen/HD teleboxes.

The programme had began with a textbook slightly arty BBC opening sequence that had the horses racing through various streets, city centres and past landmarks that then merged into the course. Claire Balding introduced the programme and we were quickly shown a montage of clips featuring Champion Jockey Tony McCoy who was yet to win a National as well as the winning rider from last years race, Liam Tredwell who won on 100/1 outsider Mon Mome.

The build up was largely made up of plenty of interviews and features on Jockeys, Trainers and Owners taking part in the race and those who’d had involvement in the past. As I say, I’m not hugely knowledgeable about the old Racing game but its hard not to be impressed by the time, effort and emotion invested by people that came across in some of these clips. Other than those involved in the business the other main interviewees seemed to be celebrities and the stand out for me was Peter Kay who we then found out would be presenting the trophy. I’m ashamed to say that it’s only as I’m typing this now that I’ve realised it’s due to Kay’s association with the race sponsors John Smith’s that presented us with this mildly ludicrous scenario.

The other races from the meeting were also covered but the only one I got to see was the 2.50 which produced high drama that would have an effect on the main attraction. Ruby Walsh who was due to be on the ante-post favourite Big Fella Thanks suffered a bad fall while riding Celestial Halo that resulted in a broken arm. Again, even to the less knowledgeable racing observer this was obviously a huge bit of news (especially as I know who he is) as every couple of minutes updates on the state of Walsh’s injury were given. Paddy Brennan, the winning jockey of this race in the immediate post-race interview (which takes place as the rider is still on the horse) asked ‘is Ruby ok’ as we were informed that ‘all jockeys know when someone’s had a bad fall, and that was a bad fall.’

John Parrott and Gary Wiltshire who were out amongst the bookies talked of how this could effect the betting but both seemed more concerned that Walsh would miss the race and Wiltshire, who was otherwise my hero of the coverage perhaps exaggerated when he commented ‘it’s a tragedy Ruby wont race in the National.’ I’ve seen Wiltshire on gambling related programmes before and enjoy his big loud cockney enthusiasm when announcing for example: 'the ‘panntarrs(punters) are snapping it appp(up) at dabble(double) carrrrrpitt(carpet.)’

Just before the race we got the full list of runners and riders to a funky electro-dance backdrop that didn’t feel quite right as the veteran commentator Jim McGrath announced them. We were also treated to a section I was equally amused by before this year’s Gold Cup as one of the reporters ‘on the ground’ asks a row of punters who they’ve backed. This inevitably results in a row of people with different levels of on-screen confidence:

Reporter: ‘So Madam who do you think will win today?’
Smirking Lady: ‘….Tricky Trickster’
Smirking Ladies Husband: ‘Big Fella Thanks’
Nervous Looking Lady: ‘Clou…Cloudy Lane’
Giggling possibly Drunk Lady: ‘Beat the Boys whoooooo’
Shyer friend of Giggling possibly Drunk Lady: ‘yeah Beat the Boys’
‘Likely looking’ Lad with arm around his mate: ‘Don’t Push it…Come on AP lad bring it home’
Young boy: Mon Mone
Reporter: As you can see everyone’s backed what they hope will be the winner.
Collective Crowd: ‘Whayyy’

I’m not entirely sure what the journalistic merit is in this but this now appears to be the norm across the sporting spectrum.

Parrott and Wiltshire were whipping themselves up into a right frenzy as they reported many of the prices on the horses being slashed. Wiltshire then waved a betting slip around for 'five bags of sand' that one punter had placed on Bring it Home and that had contributed to bringing it in to 10-1 Joint favourite.

As they lined up to begin the two most noteworthy sights was the volume of unsightly white sweat coming from now joint favourite Bring it Home and that one of the other riders was unseated from his Nag and struggling to get on as a seemingly difficult attempt to start the race was in progress. The race began at a second attempt but King Johns Castle didn’t and both the clearly uncomfortable horse and the frustrated, albeit now seated jockey looked forlorn figure’s as the rest of the field galloped off into the distance.

Conna Castle made the early running and lead until fence 21 of 30. There was the usual large volume of falls but very few of them seemed to be of the stomach-churning variety you often see in this race and fortunately none of the horses had to be put down as a result of injuries caused over this most celebrated 4 miles and 4 furlongs. On approaching Beecher’s Brook, Black Apalachi was now leading a group of 5 who were a considerable distance ahead of the rest of the field with Don't Push It on his tail. Having cleared the last it was now between these two but Don't Push It appeared to have a lot more left in the engine and ended up winning reasonably comfortably by five lengths.


1.Don't Push It (Tony McCoy) 10-1jf
2.Black Apalachi (Denis O'Regan) 14-1
3.State of Play (Paul Moloney) 16-1
4.Big Fella Thanks (Barry Geraghty) 10-1jf

As well as the weigh in, various interviews and trophy presentation we were told the bookies had took a hammering as not only had a favourite won, but they'd took plenty of bets on the other 3 placed horses as well. My newly crowned 'voice of the people' Gary Wiltshire gleefully waved the £5000 stake winning betting slip and expressed delighted that it had been a day for the punters.

I approached this particular entry with a passing but no great enthusiasm for Racing, however as with Cheltenham earlier in the year was genuinely impressed at quality of the event. Its the people who are the best at what they do, doing on the biggest stage and that deserves the respect and coverage it attracts. As for the horses, as I once said to great mate Steve 'Steveo' Garner: 'they look like a good set of lads' as well.


2011 Grand National
Saturday 11th April 2011