Book of the week: Are you watching the match tonight? by Brian Barwick


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The Independent Football

Greg Dyke, chairman; David Davies, executive director; Brian Barwick, chief executive. The roster of senior appointments at the Football Association from among the ranks of television executives in recent years indicates just how influential  its on-screen presence, and the billions in earnings this generates, has become for the game.

It’s a far cry from the first televised match, Arsenal v Everton in 1936. By 1964, the BBC had secured the rights to show recorded highlights of one top-flight game each Saturday. The cost for a season? £20,000. Fast forward to the latest Sky Sports deal, for 116 live Premier League games over three seasons, and the price had risen a touch –  to £2.3 billion.

Barwick’s experience can’t be faulted in writing a history of football on TV: his career includes stints at the BBC as producer of Football Focus, editor of Match of the Day and head of sport, before he moved to ITV as controller of sport.

His approach is breezy, conversational and personality-driven, and his tales of jolly japes behind the scenes, technical cock-ups and sparring – sometimes physically – with rivals from other networks in the drive to offer the best coverage are lively.

The production assistant who, after being instructed to “get Kinnear” for an interview immediately after a Wimbledon game, attempted to contact the deceased actor Roy rather than the Crazy Gang’s manager Joe, was not allowed to forget it in a hurry.

Yet snippets such as the “hush-hush meeting” in 1980 that decided the MotD presenters could switch from suits and ties to shirtsleeves or jumpers on Sundays comes at the expense of meaningful analysis of how and why football and TV’s symbiotic relationship evolved. Barwick may argue it wasn’t his brief, but it still seems like a chance missed.

Published in hardback by  Andre Deutsch, £18.99