Kevin Garside: When I was a boy, ‘Sportsnight with Coleman’ was my window on another world of sporting exotica, kindling a love of the real thing

Instead of some kitchen-sink drama, I was immersed in a world of winners and losers

We have heard a lot about the technical accomplishments of David Coleman, his journalistic qualities, his exacting demands, his thoroughness and his devotion. All of these attributes are worthy but not part of the relationship I had with him. When I was a boy growing up in the grey Mancunian hinterland of Seventies Oldham, Coleman was an enticing figure, my window on another world, a floodlit nirvana of sporting exotica.

Coleman came into my life initially on Tuesday nights and then on Wednesdays with his packaged highlights programme, disseminating a love of football. It is hard to imagine how powerful this exposure was, given the proliferation of live sport available to us on our myriad platforms today. In those days Sportsnight with Coleman was it. It didn’t come easy, and at first, it didn’t even come in colour.

The television was a thing on four spindly legs around which the whole family would sit. There was no remote control, just four buttons as big as coat pegs. To change channel you had to get out of your chair and push. And once the selection was made, you stuck with it from beginning to end.

There was thus a real sense of privilege when the argument was won to allow me to stay up beyond the watershed to connect to this netherworld of sporting dreams. The television was mine for the 50 minutes or however long it was. Instead of some kitchen-sink drama, or weighty current affairs programme like World In Action or Panorama, I was immersed in a world of winners and losers. You could have performed open-heart surgery on me for all I would have noticed. Football was a kind of anaesthetic, boxing too, desensitising me to everything bar the pitch or the ring filling the screen. There were no summer broadcasts. Night-time Coleman came and went with the football and boxing seasons. There might have been other sports, but they left little impression.

This weekly ritual predated the live experience. Indeed, it was Coleman who inadvertently made my father’s life a misery urging me forward with his informed, pacy delivery to the point when Herbert Henry finally said yes, we could go to the ball. My father had nil sporting interest beyond the progress of his selections in the ITV Seven. He never won, or at least never reported it.

But this day would be special. He returned from work to announce that we were off to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United in an FA Cup third-round replay against Southampton with my sister and her boyfriend, a Droylsden red called Dave. That meant Law, Charlton and Best in the flesh. In the event Law didn’t play, but I saw Best score twice and I believe raise two fingers to the directors’ box, the beginning of the end for Georgie at United, though none knew it then.

The trek down Warwick Road on my father’s shoulders peering above thousands of bobbing heads was impossibly stirring, the ascent up the steps behind the Scoreboard Paddock, that first glimpse of Old Trafford’s verdant, floodlit expanse, a rite of passage never to be forgotten.

United won 4-1, creating its own tension. Could we get back in time to watch the whole thing again on Sportsnight? This constant cycle of interpretation and evaluation was fostered in me by Coleman. That was his legacy. Not the lessons he taught as a journalist but the love of football and ultimately sport that he nurtured on those long winter nights.

It came as a surprise to learn much later that he could be an awkward sod, that his commitment and dedication often justified a less than generous attitude towards those working at his side. That said, the media has a history of not only tolerating behaviour less than cordial, but allowing it to flourish. I recall time as a pundit with one presenter, who would, during breaks, routinely abuse production staff in the name of perfection while reaching down beneath his seat for a comb and mirror for preening purposes. I bet Coleman never did that.

As a kid none of that mattered, anyway. Neither, to be frank, did the expertise with which he handled the Olympic crisis at Munich, or pronounced correctly the complex arrangement of vowel-free characters in the names of foreign 400-metre runners. For me, it was the enthused, engaged figure conjuring magic through the cathode-ray tube, making tangible a world beyond experience, that lives on. Coleman is up there with Harry Carpenter, Peter O’Sullevan, Dan Maskell and John Arlott, as an indelible voice ushering me into this sporting sect from which there is  no escape. For that I shall be eternally grateful.

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk