The new series of Touchline Tales returns to Radio 4 today (11.00am), with Des Lynam and writer Christopher Matthew mooching around the sidelines of sporting events offering their wit and wisdom on the finer points of the game – and anything else that occurs to them.
So we asked Des and Christopher, and other sports presenters, to tell us their most memorable moments of watching sport — their own “touchline tales”.
I was the boxing commentator for BBC radio for many years and one fight in particular that stands out in my mind to be ringside at was when British Lloyd Honeyghan won the world welterweight title in Atlantic City in 1986. It was a big upset, beating the American Don Curry, who at the time was an absolute superstar, ranked pound-for-pound about the best fighter in the world.
Curry retired in the sixth round, it was a big, big shock. I was doing the commentary and we couldn’t believe it, there was only a handful of British people there. It was an outstanding success. Curry had underestimated him completely and Honeyghan went out and boxed terrifically well and caught him with some big punches.
He actually bet on himself and won a big bet at something like 20 to 1. Everybody underestimated him – I gave him no chance. Curry had come to Britain a few months earlier and beaten Welshman Colin Jones, and I was sitting ringside with Henry Cooper then and he said Curry was the best in the world.
I’ve seen Ali fight, and all the rest of them, but this was the big, big upset. It was fantastic.
Up till the time of the Tour de France I hadn’t really heard of Bradley Wiggins, but we were in France and saw a bit of the Tour on television out there and everyone got very excited about it and we got very keen on him.
So when we heard that stage one of the Tour of Britain, from Ipswich waterfront to Norfolk Showground, was going to come through our village on the Suffolk coast, of course everyone got very excited indeed.
A little crowd formed on a bend in the village and we waited for Wiggo and his follow cyclists to appear. It took quite a long time; you could hear things happening in the distance, and then occasionally a motorbike would fly by and then another motorbike, and then nothing happened, and then was an announcement, a car came announcing they were on their way and there was a slight delay.
Then, finally, it was quite clear they were going to appear. So we all held our breath and round the bend they came; this cluster of cyclists all jammed up together in a bunch came round the corner. We all cheered and took photographs, and that was it they were gone. They went so quickly that you wondered whether you’d seen them or not.
So when I say I was very happy to have seen Wiggo in action this year, I may or may not have seen him. My son is absolutely convinced he was the one at the front of the bunch, and I suppose to the extent that I looked at them I would have seen him, though I wasn’t conscious that it was him. They next thing you knew they’d gone; they’d gone in a flash.
My most cherished memory, one I’ll take to the grave with me, was the 1977 European Cup Final between Liverpool and Borussia Monchengladbach. A marvellous experience. I couldn’t breathe, it was so exciting. The Olympic Stadium in Rome. The Coliseum in all its glory. Liverpool fans took over the place. Rank after rank of blood-red infantry.
I was filming for the BBC but couldn’t get the right pass although palms had been liberally greased. The Lancs Barbarian’s at the gates. Bob Paisley, a saint to the last, sorted me out with a tracksuit and they smuggled me and all my equipment in. I went in sandwiched between Steve Heighway and Joey Jones.
The atmosphere in the dressing-room: electric. The nerve ends – you could hear them vibrate from a mile away. The vomitorium indeed. Five minutes to kick-off. The players start stamping on the floor with their studs. A crescendo of noise. It was like the climax to Tristan and Isolde.
Paisley realised I didn’t have a seat. “Nae problem,” he said. “You can be one of the substitutes and sit on the bench.” I had the number 14 on my back. Sat next to Toshack for the whole game. They won, of course. 3-1. Goals from McDermott, Smith and Neal. The Jerries didn’t know what had hit them.
When the victors trooped back into the dressing-room after the match they were pissing on the floor with excitement. Berti Vogts, the Borussia captain, strolled in. The golden boy of German football was in tears. He handed me his shirt and said, “Keep it, you played a blinder.” I protested. “Berti,” I said, “I’m Stuart Hall. I’m a nobody.” He was sobbing like a small child who’d lost his favourite toy soldier. “Please keep the shirt,” he said. So I did.
I don’t know if you can count it as a sporting moment, but I was in the hall when we got the announcement that we’d got the Olympic Games.
I was behind David Beckham, and he turned round to me and said “We’ve lost it.” And I was like “What?”. He said, “No, we’re not going to win this.” “Why not” I asked. He said, “Look at all the cameras. They’re all over by the French, they’re all pointing at the French.” And I looked over and all the cameras were over that side. There were no press over by us, and we thought they must know something. But then on the other side of us there was Princess Anne’s security guard. He looked over, gave a wink and mouthed, “It’s in the bag.”
So you’ve got sporting icon David Beckham saying no and a security guard saying it’s all in the bag and looking really confident. I was just really confused. Then Jacques Rogge took an absolute age to open up that flipping envelope, and when he said the words “The Games of 2012 are awarded to London”, I think for just a split second we all stopped to take it all in, because we couldn’t believe it. Then everything went crazy.
I remember Denise Lewis a couple of days before talking and moaning that her knee was really painful; she’d done her knee in and got this injury. Then when Jacques Rogge mentioned it she was leaping about six feet in the air, doing the splits and all.
What was so surreal about it was one minute you’re hugging David Beckham, Daley Thompson and Seb Coe, the next you’re hugging Ken Livingstone and Princess Anne. Well, shaking Princess Anne’s hand. It was just surreal, the whole thing was absolutely surreal.
My first memory of being overawed and impressed with watching sport, was at my very first football match.
It was 1955 and Newcastle had qualified for the Cup Final. In those days they allocated tickets by giving all the fans at the last home match before the final a voucher, which were put in a hat and if yours was pulled out you got a cup final ticket. My dad took me, I was seven and he took me brother, much to my disgust, who was five, so there were three of us to put our names in the hat.
I was really annoyed that he was taking my brother, because I’d always really wanted to go and I’d had to wait until I was seven and he got to go when he was five. So we were going along to the match with my dad, with me saying, “I don’t know why he’s coming, it’s not fair.”
In those days the crowds lifted kids up over their heads, and you were plonked down on the touchline. So me and my brother were sitting on the touchline of St James’ Park, watching Newcastle against Bolton, with me saying “I don’t think it’s fair you’re here. I had to wait until I was seven and I can’t believe you’re going to be able to say you went to your first Newcastle match when you were five”
After that it was only my dad who got a ticket to the cup final; me and my brother played football in the street until five to three when we went in to watch the match, and I was still arguing with my brother – and have done ever since. Whenever I see him he asks “How old were you when you first went to a Newcastle match.” And I say, “Seven.” He says, “I was only five.”
(1955 Fa Cup final footage rather than the match Brendan went to)
One of my abiding sporting memories is of listening to Test Match Special while helping at my dad’s shop, in the summer when I turned ten, because that was when India came to England for a Test series.
My dad worked six days a week, so he never had the opportunity to take us and would always have the cricket on in the shop. He had a pharmacy and there would be a little factory in the back of his kids screwing caps on bottles.
We grew up listening to a lot of cricket together; it was always on. I don’t think I really took it in, that cricket was there. The commentators were like part of the family; like an extra guest in the house.
Then last summer India came to England. I said, “Dad you’ve never taken me, you’ve never been, I’ve got to take you.” So I got the whole family tickets to the fourth day of the Lord’s Test.
The strange thing is my dad’s not excitable, but when India score runs, he squeals in this really girlie way, and it would be the one time I’d see my dad excited. He was very smartly dressed at Lord’s, it was very impressive and it was a proper day out for him — but he wouldn’t do the squealing.
I think he felt it was too sophisticated, because whoever scored the six everyone would cheer, and whoever scored the century everyone would get up and applaud.
It was an amazing day out for us. At the age of 32, it was the first time I took my dad, after growing up always listening to it. What a lovely way to have that story continue; that I could do something for him.
(Sachin Tendulkar’s first Test century in 1990)
I was 17 when I first felt how painful sport can be, and just what it meant to me.
I went to my best friend James Hall’s house full of excitement and anticipation as England were taking on Germany in the Euro 1996 semi-final. It was a bright June day and in my naivety I was sure we’d make the final at Wembley. The script seemed perfect.
A few hours later and I remember cycling home along the quiet back-streets of Norwich, feeling crushed. We’d been famously beaten on penalties by our arch rivals. I vividly remember thinking, “England are out, and in a few weeks I’m back to school… that’s the summer over”. I was devastated.