Football First (ITV2, 1998-2001)/The Goal Rush (ITV1/ITV2, 2001-2003)
You will know if you a regular visitor to this blog that although I’ve never had any talent for playing sport, I have watched a lot of sports shows on TV over the years, and this is one with an interesting story. In 1998 digital channel ITV2 launched, and on Saturday afternoons there would be a fast-moving show that featured all the latest football results in England and Scotland. Well they had to find something to fill their schedules with when they were still working out what the channel should be about.
It was called Football First and was originally hosted by Graham Beacroft, who has also been a commentator on the radio for many years at various stations including TalkSport. The screen would be split into several parts, with the equivalent of Grandstand‘s Vidiprinter along the bottom with all the latest goals (and red cards!). Along with reporters at a few grounds, there would also be pundits in the studio to offer their views on the action. I suppose you could say it was an attempt to bring the ITV Results Service into the new millennium.
This show was the first time that I had been able to watch such coverage for the whole of the match, and not just as the full-time results came in. As ITV didn’t have the rights to Premiership highlights at this point, there was more emphasis on the lower league games. Now, if you are beginning to think that this is all rather similar to Sky Sports’s Soccer Saturday with Jeff Stelling… well, it was really.
But I didn’t have access to that show at this point and I didn’t see it until Sky Sports News launched on Freeview in the early-2000s. After a few seasons of Football First, something significant then happened. In 2001 ITV did acquire the rights to Premiership highlights for three seasons, and they wanted to make a big deal out of it, including the return of On The Ball (a format that had been around since the World Of Sport days), and the ill-fated idea of having the main show on Saturdays at 7pm that backfired very quickly (but how that all played out is another story).
The decision was made to relaunch Football First as The Goal Rush, and it would now be hosted by Angus Scott. Although the whole of the show remained on ITV2, at around 4:30pm coverage would also be on ITV1 for the climax of the top-flight matches (and there would also be plenty of promotion for the ITV Sport Channel, another bold idea that went awry).
However, The Goal Rush didn’t return for the third and final season of Premiership coverage in 2003, and in 2004 the rights returned to the BBC, where Match Of The Day continues to this day. Since then, the BBC have also expanded their Final Score show to last all afternoon, where it remains an intriguing watch. And I have managed to do a whole piece looking back at ITV’s Premiership coverage without making a sarcastic reference to The Tactics Truck. Oh no!