Matchdays: nothing beats them. For home fans, that familiar walk down streets to your club’s stadium ready for Saturday at 3pm. For away fans, early morning wake-ups, lunch boxes packed with sandwiches, hot flasks, boarding a supporters’ coach and pre-match drinks and songs in a pub with hundreds of your fellow fans. Win, draw or lose, it is the routine millions across countries and continents undertake on a weekend.
However, for those that unfortunately cannot get tickets to see their team play away, for neutral supporters looking to enjoy a much-anticipated fixture or aficionados of a certain league and its teams different to that your team plays in, television is your port of call.
Pre game at a stadium, excitement, anticipation or nerves depending on what is at stake is a perfect introduction. However, for TV viewers, programme introduction videos and themes build such pre-game feelings. There have been forgettable ones over the seasons. However, when one stumbles across a beauty, it has a memorable and enduring appeal.
Match of the Day: A football broadcasting pioneer
There is no better place to start exploring how such themes or videos capture our imagination than in England. Television began to emerge regularly in UK households in the early 1960s and with it came the ability to transmit live sports footage to viewers.
Unbeknownst to the young and middle-aged, the first mention of “Match of The Day” came in the summer of 1964 when it was bestowed upon a highlights programme of each day’s play at Tennis’ Wimbledon Championships. With football played throughout three seasons of the year as opposed to solely summer for tennis, the BBC quickly re-assigned the “Match of the Day” tag to football.
Television history was made on 22 August 1964 with the first ever episode of football’s Match of The Day, a highlights package of the earlier game between Liverpool and Arsenal at Anfield.
Still going strong nearly 56 years on, Match of The Day is officially the world’s longest-running football television programme. Over the years, it has had to evolve to survive in a modern broadcasting world.
It began with the initial highlights of the game at Anfield in August 1964 to showing highlights of every single game of a top flight weekend’s action and to introducing Match of The Day 2 in 2004 to respond to the increase in Sunday televised games.
One can now access highlights and results of all Premier League action with just a press of a button on our smartphones. Gone have the days of none or just one televised game all weekend with Premier League fixtures available to watch on Saturday lunchtimes or evenings. Match of The Day should lose its relevance in modern day Britain.
Far from it. People undertake other activities alongside football on a matchday. Fans of other sports may even attend two sports events in a single day. Cinema, concerts, meals and evening drinks with family and friends give us additional pre and post-3pm kick off activities on Saturdays.
We may disconnect from football for a few hours with the intention of being surprised by results from the day’s action on Match of The Day later on. Even if one knows all the score-lines, they only tell so much about a game. Goals, assists, talking points, controversy and incidents; all need to be seen to give a true complexion. Seeing that sumptuous moment of skill, horrendous howler or controversial decision that went for or against your team adds to Match of The Day’s attraction.
Then there is the theme tune, part of the programme’s everlasting allure, an uplifting piece which is music to the ears of football fans. It is designed for fans from an era where televised games did not exist, where no internet prevented one from instantly checking scores of all the weekend’s action leading to a sense of intrigue as to how other teams including your fierce rivals fared. It is a tune for fans feverish for a feast of football action prior to a long evening’s sleep.
German Bundesliga: Short, sharp & consideration for all fans
The Premier League may voice itself as the best and most exciting league in the world. However, from a match-going supporters perspective, there is a strong argument that Germany’s Bundesliga wins out. Thanks to measures such as the ‘50+1’ rule which gives fans majority ownership of their club and cheap match-day & season tickets, German football fans feel more connected to their clubs than anywhere else in the world.
Of course the Bundesliga has a large TV broadcasting contract with games on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoons, Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. Monday nights also occur on occasion. However, the aforementioned connection and subsequent power possessed by German spectators ensured that this will not be the case for much longer.
Train & coach travel from afar for away fans, pre-match drinks routine for both home and away fans, pre-match nerves, anticipation, tension, excitement and 90 minutes which can leave memories that last a lifetime. The Bundesliga being the Bundesliga incorporated the experience loved by millions into one of their introduction videos for live TV matches.
This intro was introduced for the 2010/11 campaign. The video shows fans across all participating clubs and of all ages preparing for the matchday. The resident Wolfsburg and Stuttgart supporters get that Friday feeling of putting the closed sign up in their shops and dashing out at 5pm. Fans use every transportation method possible to make their weekly pilgrimage to their sporting temple of worship.
As the video progresses, external views of the stadium and that feeling of taking your seat or position on the terrace just prior to kickoff appear. To conclude, there is action on the pitch, a player taking a shot at goal and the familiar Bundesliga logo, topped off by a short, sharp and catchy music theme.
Ligue 1: A trip down memory lane and a catchy tune
Not to be outdone by their ‘big five’ European league rivals, France’s Ligue 1 demonstrated its capabilities of producing quality media content. Ligue 1 looked to its past to create a flowing opening theme video for coverage of Ligue 1 games between 2012 and 2016.
Two great periods for the French national team provided such a past to tap into. The first was the period from the late 1970s to mid 1980s which saw Les Bleus reach two FIFA World Cup semi finals in 1982 and 1986 and emerge victorious in the 1984 UEFA European Championships.
The second was the era between 1998 and 2006 which yielded a European Championship in 2000. Most glorious of all though was a long-awaited FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1998.
Selecting the themes of great players and great teams in their intro videos, Ligue 1 showcases several of the best teams and the all-time great players from these eras. There’s the great AS Saint Etienne side, winners of three consecutive Ligue 1 titles between 1973/74 and 1975/76, and Stade du Reims’ greats of the 1950s, winners of four titles in 7 seasons.
Then comes Olympique de Marseille’s golden era in the late 80s and early 90s, and finally the legendary Olympique Lyonnais who dominated French football between 2001 and 2008, pre-Qatari takeover of Paris St Germain.
Great players feature too. Michel Platini, a key figure in St Etienne’s 10th and so far last title victory in 1980/81, is followed by a very young Zinedine Zidane at the beginning of his career at AS Cannes in their famous kit sponsored by Alain Afflelou. As each year passed by, the images of great Ligue 1 players change accordingly.
The video shown here is the 2015/2016 edition. Many of Ligue 1’s new stars familiar with the younger generations feature, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexandre Lacazette and João Moutinho being three. Veteran St Etienne central defender Loic Perrin’s appearance at the end does leave you wondering quite how he is deemed worthy of appearing in such esteemed company.
After the great players and teams have made their appearance, the video cuts to a generic stadium filled by flags with logos of all the season’s participating clubs. We then see the camera angle shoot upwards projecting a map of France and where Ligue 1’s participating clubs are based. A decent accompaniment to the images and video is a catchy theme tune.
Flamenco, Football & A Fantastic Tune: La Liga arrives on Sky Sports with a bang
Back in the mid-1990s, it was widely believed that Italy’s Serie A was football’s highest quality league. The world’s greatest stars were spread throughout, which lead to the invention of Serie A’s ‘Seven Sisters’, label long before any terminology such as ‘Big Four’ or ‘Big Six’ first came to light in England.
Indeed in the 1990s, Serie A was the first live television football that many viewers in the UK laid their eyes upon. Coverage on terrestrial station Channel Four beamed out games to a mass audience before Sky TV subscriptions became common.
Of course, Sky themselves had the Premier League as their trump card. In a bid to match the success enjoyed by Channel Four’s coverage of Italian football, they branched out their football coverage portfolio. Sky Sports signed exclusive rights in the summer of 1997 to cover Spain’s La Liga.
Whilst not at the same level as across the Western Mediterranean at the time, La Liga – like the Premier League – was beginning to slowly close the gap Serie A enjoyed over everyone else. Real Madrid’s capture of their 7th European Cup/Champions League title in 1997/98 with a 1-0 win over Marcello Lippi’s great Juventus in the final was testimony to this.
There was interest to be tapped into from a UK perspective. The late Bobby Robson, who had replaced the legendary Johan Cryuff as FC Barcelona manager in 1996, had spent a season at the helm of the Catalan giants.
For 1997/98, Robson was moved into a sporting director role to make way for Louis van Gaal’s appointment. This new role gave Robson a lot of free time, and Sky signed up the veteran manager as a pundit to provide insider analysis alongside anchorman, the late David Bobin.
To celebrate the capture of La Liga, Sky Sports had to create something memorable to attract curious viewers. Their result was the depiction of images and culture of Spain such as the bull and flamenco music. Many replays of goals and skill are interwoven to create a memorable introduction theme.
La Liga would go on to be a huge success for Sky Sports, while David Beckham’s move to Real Madrid in the summer of 2003 further accelerated interest in the league from UK television audiences. La Liga would be broadcast on Sky Sports for 20 seasons before the rights were won by Eleven Sports.
To coincide with Beckham’s arrival in Spain, a new and more familiar intro theme to La Liga coverage was developed. However, given my first season following La Liga was in 2002/03, I instantly took a liking to this intro theme more than any other. It was the original and it firmly remained the best.
Italy: Serie A, Gazetta Football Italia, Free-to-air coverage, and an unforgettable theme
All the above intros and videos are memorable ones of course. However, the best has been saved till last. As previously mentioned, for many in the UK in the early 1990s, their experiences of live football on television came not from watching the Premier League, but Serie A. It was a time before mass affordability of Sky TV, with the Premier League behind a paywall and not accessible to many.
In the summer of 1992, Sky TV ran a mass promotion of the newly formed Premier League season with the tagline: “It’s a whole new ball game”. However, an event earlier that summer made just as many headlines. Paul Gascoigne, England’s Italia 90 star and arguably their best player decided to uproot from his London base at Tottenham Hotspur and sign for Roman giants SS Lazio.
The Premier League may have been embarking on its “new ball game”, however, Serie A was the place to be for players at that time. Go through Serie A squads at the start of the 1992/93 season; at every turn one bumps into a star. There were great Italian players: Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Gianluigi Lentini, Gianluca Vialli, Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini, Roberto Donadoni, Walter Zenga and Giuseppe Bergomi.
Every non-Italian star footballer at the time could also be found: Mattias Sammer, Jürgen Kohler, Thomas Häßler, Andreas Möller, Karl-Heinz Riedle, Claudio Caniggia, Aron Winter, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Dejan Savicević, and Zvonimir Boban. Even Gazza’s fellow English Italia 90 stars David Platt and Des Walker soaked up the environment in Serie A at both Juventus and Sampdoria respectively.
Lazio had originally agreed to sign Gazza the previous summer. However, a serious injury suffered by the midfielder whilst playing in the 1991 FA Cup Final for Spurs against Nottingham Forest curtailed the move for a year.
Nonetheless, upon his return to fitness, despite two years having passed since his heroics at Italia 90, England remained a country where Gazzamania was at its height. Upon news of his move to Italy breaking, Channel Four sensed an opportunity and grabbed it with both hands.
The terrestrial broadcaster, less than 10 years old at the time having been founded in November 1982, snapped up the rights to live Serie A coverage. Gazza, Serie A and Channel Four were the perfect match for British football fans. Gazza gave football lovers in England a figurehead to follow.
Serie A had the world’s most talented players, allowing fans the chance to see stars only previously viewable at World Cups or European Championships every weekend. Finally, Channel Four coverage prevented any paywall emerging.
It was a chance to see the world’s finest talent for free, something unthinkable nowadays. Oh, did we also mention that it gave rise to James Richardson and his legendary round-up of the Italian transfer gossip stories whilst enjoying ice cream at cafes?
Serie A coverage remains available to British viewers now via Premier Sports having had stints on BT Sport, Channel Five, Bravo and British Eurosport since Channel Four gave up its coverage in 2002. However, despite this continuation, nothing beats Channel Four’s coverage.
Despite the stars available for many to watch, many believed the best thing was the introduction song and video to one of the programmes devised by Channel Four for coverage, Gazzetta Football Italia. For many fans in England, Gazzetta’s song and video was the tune.
Catchy lyrics, epic images of Italian tifosi, legendary players, upbeat music, and the iconic scream of “Goooooooooooolazzzzoooooooo!!”, which many mistakenly believed took to be ‘Gol-Lazio’, and subsequently cried bias.
The theme tune to Gazzetta Football Italia was devised from the 1992 song I’m Stronger Now sung by Definitive Two. The 7” remixed version of the song was used in a tribute video to the show and the stars of Italian football in its glory era. One to bring back nostalgia: just how many grounds, club badges, players and managers in the video can you name?