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.

Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas