Football Italia (Channel 4, 1992-2002)
This is just about the last sport-related TV show that I want to review, and here’s why. In 1992, Sky gained the rights to the new English Premier League, meaning that most viewers wouldn’t be able to watch top-flight football coverage. But then Channel 4, who have always tried to do something a little different, and following the success of the 1990 World Cup, decided to buy the rights to Serie A.
This is the top-flight of football in Italy, and it attracted a lot of viewers that didn’t have Sky, because they could continue to watch live football, it wasn’t English, but it was still the top-flight! Football Italia would always begin with the familiar Channel 4 symbol turning the colours of the Italian flag, followed by the opening sequence and its memorable theme.
Also attracting viewers were the English players in Serie A, including Paul Gascoigne who had recently moved, and the standard of play was considered to be better than what was on offer in England at the time. Soon teams including Lazio and Sampdoria would became names as familiar as any in England. There would actually be a few shows that made up the coverage.
The main host of Football Italia was James Richardson, who earned a lot of praise for his fresh and witty style, and I remember a lot of critics saying that it was good seeing a football TV show that felt like it was produced in the 90s. There was Gazzetta Football Italia, usually shown on Saturday Mornings, where there would be previews, interviews, and a look at the newspapers (I was always a little surprised that Italy had newspapers entirely dedicated to sport).
Then there was the main show on Sunday afternoons, that featured coverage of a live match. Often, the commentator was Peter Brackley (who also worked for ITV). As far as I know, Peter actually wasn’t in the stadium, but in a studio in London. His commentating was so accurate though you would never have noticed. Peter would later go on to provide commentary for the Pro Evolution Soccer computer game series.
One match that I do remember was when Peter said with a tone of surprise “and it’s a goal! The angle looked impossible!” after someone scored from almost next to the corner flag. Veteran commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme also contributed to reports about the current happenings in the league, and most shows would end with a look at the league table and top scorers. Pundits joining James included Ray Wilkins and Paul Elliott.
And there was also Mezzanote, where a pre-recorded game would be shown in full in a late-night slot. Also among the memorable moments was when Lazio won the title on the last day of the season in 2000. The show quickly gained good ratings and was popular enough for a while for there to even be an hour-long VHS released, containing some of the best goals featured over the seasons.
Unfortunately, after about a decade, with the Premier League having long-since taken off, Channel 4 began to lose interest in Football Italia, and stopped showing live matches, before it all came to an end in 2002. After going around the sport channels for a few years, a similar show launched on Five in 2007 (the almost identically-titled Football Italiano), but this lasted for only one season, before Italian football finally left the main TV channels.