As a 12 year old watching the World Cup being staged in Mexico, what the Grant family did was to watch the action chiefly on the BBC and all the pre-match, half time and post match analysis on ITV.
I had grown up listening to match commentary on the BBC, so that’s what you did. While Hugh Johns, Gerald Sinstadt, Roger Malone and Gerry Harrison were good commentators in their own right on ITV, it was simply habit to watch match commentary via the BBC. It was the last hurrah for Kenneth “they think it’s all over” Wolstenholme. He was being eased out of the BBC and was given the task of commentating on the group led by West Germany. David Coleman had been awarded the job of commentating on all England games in Mexico after his agent had threatened that his valued client would leave the BBC for ITV if he didn’t get the England gig in Mexico.
The 1970 World Cup in Mexico was the first time ITV beat the BBC in the ratings for a simultaneously broadcast event.
That was because ITV sport came up with what was a revolutionary idea at the time. The panel. Four football men with varying opinions on the game who were encouraged to speak frankly about what they saw on screen. It made for great television.
While few can remember anything the smiling Arsenal full back Bob McNab had to say, most of us alive at the time can recall the outspoken comments from Manchester City coach Malcolm Allison. Derek Dougan and Paddy Crerand were also free with their opinions (Brian Clough joined the panel in 1974). Allison was liable to say things that made you sit up and take notice. One should never forget that the superb League and Cup winning Manchester City team of the late sixties was coached by ‘Big Mal.’
ITV attracted viewers to their coverage because of the panel and the man who controlled them, the incomparable Brian Moore, who was at the peak of his TV powers. The ITV executive producer John Bromley did his best to make sure the panel were suitably lubricated prior to going on air. He imprisoned the panel in the Hendon Hall Hotel and made sure they had unlimited access to the bar and washed down their breakfast with champagne – which was what Malcolm Allison had for breakfast most days, regardless of whether or not he was appearing on television.
During the Mexico World Cup it was the England player Alan Mullery who most came under fire from Allison, who alleged that Mullery was not good enough to be representing England on the world stage.
After England had been knocked out of the 1970 World Cup by West Germany, ITV got Allison and Mullery together in the same studio. The six minute video is well worth watching (see below).
Why don’t we get this type of football broadcasting today? Programmes such as ‘Football Focus’ and ‘Match of the Day’ are so boring and bland that I long ago gave up watching them. The chat is dull, safe and the programme production is both complacent and self satisfied. Mates who play golf spouting cliché after cliché while saying absolutely nothing of note.
There are rivalries today such as that which led to my former employer Yorkshire Television getting Brian Clough and Don Revie in Studio 2 in Leeds just after Clough had left Leeds following his 44 days in charge of the former Revie squad. There are players and coaches who loathe each other, as Mullery despised Allison. There are managers and coaches who, like Allison, will bad mouth players and question their ability. But today they will do so off camera, not on it.
There was no such diplomacy on show when Jimmy Hill refereed the showdown between Allison and Mullery. Despite the handshake at the end of this video, and having worked with Alan Mullery many years later while producing at Sky Sports, I can assure you there was no “mutual respect” when the camera switched off.
I do wish sport on TV in the modern age had more moments like this one. My opinion now is that both men make valid points against the other but that the suavely dressed Alan Mullery wins this confrontation on points.