Tuesday, 17 January 2017

585 Sportsnight

First  viewed  : Uncertain

It's  highly  likely  I  caught  some  of  BBC1's   midweek  sports  magazine before  the  autumn  of  1982  but  this  is  when  I  became  a  regular  viewer  as  they  began  following  the  progress  of  Britain's  newest  heavyweight  hopeful  Frank  Bruno.

Sportsnight  began   in  1968  as  Sportsnight  with  Coleman , the  latter  part  of  the  name  being  dropped  in  1972  when  the  conceited  commentator  gave  way  to  Tony  Gubba  as  main  host.  Although   the  programme  covered  most  sports, primacy  was  nearly  always  given  to  football, mainly  highlights  from  FA  Cup  replays , League  Cup  matches   and  European  ties . It  also  ran  with  the  football  season,  taking  a  break   in  the  summer  months  each  year.

Harry  Carpenter  took  over  from  Gubba  in  1975  ensuring  that  his  own  cherished  sport  of  boxing  got  an  increased  share  of  the  action  despite  a  growing  medical  opposition  to  the  sport. You  couldn't  help  wondering  when  listening  to  Harry's  commentary  what  he  himself  would  be  like  in  a  fight. You  suspected  not  very  good  from  the  look  of  him.

Bruno  had  only just  turned  professional  in  1982  but  was  tipped  for  the  top  and  was  carefully  managed.  Bruno  had  a  formidable  physique  and  a  lethal  punch  but  was  very  endearing  in  person. Most  of  his  early  interviews  with   Carpenter  lasted  considerably  longer  than  the  "fight"  he'd  just  been  in   as  a  succession  of  obvious  inadequates  were  dispatched, usually  in  the  first  round. At  the  same  time , the  best  British  contender  of  the  previous  decade,  Joe  Bugner,  was  making  a  comeback . Bugner , never  popular  for  his  defensive  style, less  than  total  commitment  and   controversial  defeat  of  national  treasure  Henry  Cooper,  was  now  an  Australian  citizen  and  there  was  a  lot  of  speculation  about  when  the  two  would  meet. Before  that  eventually  happened   in  1987 , Frank  had  suffered  two  potentially  derailing  defeats  against  James  "Bonecrusher"   Smith  and  Tim  Witherspoon  in  his  first  world  title  shot .

The  Bugner  match  wasn't  shown  live  on  terrestrial  TV. Characteristically,  Bugner  hadn't  bothered  to  slim  down  to  his  fighting  weight  and  Frank  saw  him  off  with  a  technical  knock  out  in  the  eighth  round. Two  years  later  he  was  fighting  the  ferocious  Mike  Tyson  ( the  two  men  were  friends  outside  the  ring )  and  after  being  too  slow  to  follow  up  a dangerous  left  hook  in  the  first  round, took  a  heavy  battering  which  was  stopped  in  Round  Five.

I  think  most  people  realised  at  that  point  that  Frank  wasn't  going  to  reach  the  top  of  the  profession  but  he  did  eventually  snatch  the  WBC  heavyweight  title  in  1995  with  a  points  victory  over  Oliver  McCall. He  held  it  for  barely  six  months  before  another  mauling  from  Tyson in  his  first  defence. He  retired  on  medical  advice  immediately  afterwards. By  that  time  Carpenter  had  already  hung  up  on  the  microphone.

As  regards  the  football,  it  captured  a  number  of  memorable  games. There  was  the  League  Cup  tie  between  Everton  and  Oxford  with  the  latter  poised  to  win  the  tie  and  most  likely  put  Howard  Kendall  out  of  a  job  before  a  suicidal  back  pass  from  the  hapless  Kevin  Brock  allowed  Everton  to  equalise  and  kick  started  their  mid-eighties  glory  years. Sportsnight   also  captured  the  1985  Kenilworth  Road  Riot  when  Millwall  supporters,  their  ranks  swelled  by  thugs  from  Chelsea  and  West  Ham  it  must  be  said,  went  berserk  in  their  FA  Cup  defeat  at  Luton  and  wrecked  the  stadium  , sparking  the  thankfully  short-lived  vogue  for  banning  away  supporters. Of  the  European  matches  I  particularly  enjoyed  Red  Star  Belgrade's  demolition  of  Rangers  just  before  the  Yugoslav  wars  destroyed  the  team.

And  then  of  course  Sportsnight  were  at  Selhurst  Park  ten  years  later  to  capture  the  most  infamous  non-fatal  football  incident  of  all  when  a  certain  sent-off  French  striker  decided  to  treat  the  crowd  ( one  or  two  of  them  being  non-consenting, if  not  entirely  blameless , participants ) to  an  impromptu  kung  fu  demonstration  as  he  left  the  pitch . This  handed  Blackburn  Rovers  what  will  almost  certainly  be  their  only  Premier  League  title  in  my  lifetime.

That  was  pretty  much  the  programme's  last  big  coup. The  advent  of  live  Champions  League  matches  meant   the  loss  of   much  of   its  raison d'etre  and   the  brand  was  finally  put  to  bed  in  1997.

1 comment:

  1. No doubt Eric's spot of anti-hooligan direct action cost United what might have been five titles on the spin... though Ludek Miklosko can take his share of "blame" too!

    Can always remember as a young kid watching Sportsnight football highlights before school, in the days I was sent to bed before it was on. The theme tune still brings a nostalgic glow.