Let’s see that again: the Match of the Day firsts that changed football on TV

From televised highlights to slow motion replays, football wouldn't be the same without Match of the Day

Happy 50th birthday Match of the Day. Live top-flight football might be long gone on BBC1, but the grandaddy of football highlights show – and its famous theme tune – play on regardless.


To celebrate tonight’s season-opening broadcast, we look back at the history of Match of the Day, and what it did to change football on TV forever.

The first football highlights

Liverpool v Arsenal, 22nd August 1964: Kenneth Wollstenhome introduces Match of the Day from the centre of the pitch at Anfield. The new show had a simple aim: to show highlights of a key match every weekend on BBC2.

The idea might have been simple; getting it to work wasn’t. Up until Match of the Day, only the FA Cup final and the odd England game had been shown on TV.

The English FA feared that television would decimate match attendances, as Sir David Attenborough, a former controller of BBC2, explains. “BBC2 managed to persuade the FA to let it do it, on the basis that nobody watched BBC2, which was more or less true,” he tells Match of the Day at 50, a new documentary set to air this Friday on BBC1. “BBC2 was only visible in a small part of the country – London and Birmingham – and it had a tiny number of viewers.”

First colour pictures of English football

Match of the Grey no longer: on 15th November 1969, three years after England’s World Cup triumph, Match of the Day was broadcast in colour. Yet again Liverpool had the honour, playing at home to West Ham United. The Reds were, finally, red.

First Match of the Day theme tune

Not the one you’re thinking of. “Da da da daaa da-da da da daaa” didn’t open Match of the Day until 1970. The first theme was called ‘Drum Majorette’, and it sounded like this…

Pretty catchy, eh? Though not, of course, as crowd-stirringly heroic as Barry Stoller’s famous tune, which became the new theme in 1970 and has stuck ever since.

First slow motion replay

From 1971, football referees had nowhere to hide: the invention of the ‘video disk’ allowed Match of the Day to show slow motion replays for the very first time. So everyone at home could see that dodgy penalty decision again… and again… and again.

First TV bidding war

Sky Sports and BT Sport might be going all out to pocket football fans’ coin this season, but they’re far from the first to fight over the broadcast rights.

In 1978 London Weekend Television pulled off the “Snatch of the Day”, taking exclusive rights to English domestic football away from the BBC. However, the Office of Fair Trading forced a compromise, and BBC1 and LWT eventually agreed a shared rights deal. But the rivalry continued throughout the 80s. Then from 2001-4 the BBC lost highlights rights again – not that anyone remembers those fallow days now.

First pundit foot-in-mouth

Well, maybe not the first, but Alan Hansen’s “You can’t win anything with kids” comment is certainly the most memorable punditry foul-up in Match of the Day’s long history.

Hansen didn’t count on this particular group of “kids”. Looking back, the veteran pundit says, “The thing I got wrong there was the five young Man Utd kids were superstars. You will never have five kids like coming along ever, ever again, because the five of them went on to become five greats.” Watch this space…

First female commentator in English football

Jacqui Oatley became the first female in British TV history to commentate on a football match in April 2007. “I remember looking down and seeing a whole row of photographers all looking up at me,” she recalls. “I turned to the floor manager and went, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s very surreal’. I just remember trying to focus on the football, because that was what it was all about.”


Match of the Day kicks off tonight at 10:30pm on BBC1, with a special anniversary documentary, Match of the Day at 50, airing this Friday at 10:35pm, BBC1.