How Channel 4’s Calcio Coverage Spawned A Generation Of Serie A Fans

On this day in 1992, Football Italia aired on Channel 4 for the first time
07:00, 06 Sep 2023

Football Italia – a name that still fills fans of a certain vintage with joy and nostalgia while evoking memories of a TV show that brought the finest league in the world into our living rooms every Sunday.

The summer of 1992 had seen something of a revolution in the way we watched football in this country.

Sky Sports were busy bringing us what they had brashly branded as a “whole new ball game,” after snapping up the exclusive rights for the newly formed Premier League with their first Super Sunday offering between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool airing on the Premier League’s opening weekend.


And just a few weeks later Channel 4 introduced an intrepid British footballing audience to the joys of Serie A, a cult that would later become an obsession and take root in the consciousness of fans for years to come.

It was the signing of the summer for the UK’s fourth major broadcaster who had snapped up the rights to Serie A for a bargain £1.5million ahead of the 1992/93 season to kick-off a decade of decadence that had armchair fans glued to their sets every Sunday afternoon.

And if the Premier League was looking to change the way we viewed the national game with fresh-faced presenters, foreign imports and lavish TV commercials, over in Italy they were able to boast the finished article.

Both home-grown stars and overseas imports, including the likes of David Platt, Paul Gascoigne and Des Walker were on display each week and unlike with the Premier League, which required viewers to fork out hundreds for a satellite dish in order not to miss out - this was football for free, yet superior in many ways to the paid version.


Roberto Baggio was on his way to becoming the greatest player on the planet, Vialli and Mancini were blasting Sampdoria to new heights, while in Milan, the Rossoneri were pitting Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini and Franco Baresi against the Nerazzurri’s Christian Vieri, Bergami and Zanetti.

Plucky Parma had legendary Italian keeper Gianluigi Buffon in their ranks along with French defender Lilian Thuram and the world's best central defender, Fabio Cannavaro, while Fiorentina’s deadly duo of Rui Costa and Gabriel Batistuta terrified defences on a weekly basis.

The first game beamed live into our homes was on September 6th, 1992, and was between Lazio and Sampdoria; with Des Walker signed to the Genoa-based club and Paul Gascoigne plying his trade in the eternal city, it seemed an obvious choice to get the Great British public gripped.

As it turned out, Gascoigne was absent through injury in what turned out to be a wildly entertaining 3-3 draw, an encounter which blew away the commonly held myth that the Italian game was dull and defensively dominated.

And what Football Italia lacked in production budget compared to the big-spending newcomers over at Sky, it made up for in its simplistic charm in a pre-internet era where football from foreign climes seemed much more exotic and romantic than it does today.

Host James Richardson, who had moved to Italy to be with his Italian girlfriend, was a natural and made everyone feel like a friend who had been invited into his home to watch the game – combining natural warmth with a wicked sense of humour while also delving into a vast knowledge of the Italian game which few of us had at the time.

Another key to the popularity of Football Italia was commentator Peter Brackley, who would call games from a studio in London using his wit and wisdom to transport us into stadiums hundreds of miles from where he was, assisted by the likes of Ray Wilkins, Luther Blissett, Paul Elliott and Joe Jordan who brought a new, in-depth approach to punditry which few had seen before.

The success of the live offering on a Sunday even spawned an offshoot on Saturday mornings in the form of Gazzetta Football Italia, which offered a light hearted look back at the previous weekend’s games with a hefty helping of humorous skits and sketches thrown in; often with James Richardson on location from a street side café, complete with copies of Corriere dello Sport and La Gazzetta dello Sport, not to mention exotic looking desserts, in front of him.

Football Italia was eventually lost from Channel 4 in 2002 and endured a nomadic period migrating between Eurosport, Bravo and Channel 5, until it finally came to an end at the end of the 2007/08 season.

But during those halcyon years of the mid-1990s it was responsible for producing fans who are as passionate about everything Serie A today as they were three decades ago.

Put simply, if you were a football fan in the 1990s - Channel 4’s Calcio coverage, along with its signature theme tune, was the soundtrack to your season.

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