Wasn't Grandstand Brilliant? Celebrating The UK's Great Sporting Tapas Menu

If live football is a Sunday roast, Grandstand was our steady stream of tapas
07:00, 24 Dec 2023

Sometimes you just want somebody to make the decision for you.

“Chinese or Indian?” “Whatever you fancy.”

“The red one or the blue one?” “I like both.”

“What film do you want to watch?” “I don’t know, which would you prefer?”

We’ve all had the conversations, haven’t we? There are days when you probably want a little bit of everything. And for days like that, we used to have Grandstand.

Before the days of red buttons and on-demand streaming services, the BBC had rights to just about every sport going. And on a Saturday afternoon they used to try to fit every single one of them into a five-hour window. 

Test match cricket? Check. Horse racing? Yep, that too. Water skiing, canoeing, curling, basketball? Yes, yes, yes, yes. Touring cars, polo, show jumping, golf and boxing? Those too, along with rugby league, tennis, football, volleyball and anything else that might take your fancy. 

The bitesize culture of the modern day with its highlights packages and shortened formats would have been right at home on Grandstand. After Football Focus came 20 minutes of volleyball, a quick explainer on why Frank Bruno and Bonnie Langford are now best buddies, then back to the volleyball before they’d cut away to the 1:30 at Newbury. Fancy the Test cricket? You can get 20-minute bursts of that either side of the 2:00 at Sandown, then there’s some synchronised swimming to be had. Stick in a bit of tennis, some archery and the latest on the tiddlywinks world championship and there’s your Saturday sorted.

It sounds chaotic now, but there was something simply brilliant about Grandstand. If there were any sports that didn’t take your fancy, you just built that in as your perfect tea break. And it meant that many minority disciplines became national favourites.

The likes of Martin Offiah and Shaun Edwards remain household names across the UK because they were part of the great Wigan rugby league side that ruled the roost in Grandstand’s heyday. Saturday afternoons between January and May were Challenge Cup time on the Beeb, meaning we were transported every couple of weeks to Central Park to see Offiah, Edwards, Joe Lydon, Ellery Hanley et al take the sport to a new level once more. Granted, we’d sometimes only get the second half because they were also showing the fencing, but you get the point.

When did you last watch canoeing? Or bowls? Or touring cars? If Grandstand was still a thing you’d have been enthralled by at least one of them last Saturday from 12:15.

It’s not a thing anymore because once people could choose for themselves what they were going to flick between on Saturdays the jig was up. Some were fixed to Soccer Saturday, others would rather take in four hours of their favourite sport non-stop than a conveyor belt of action from 15 different pastimes. If live football is a Sunday roast, Grandstand was our steady stream of tapas. 

They canned it in 2007, almost 50 years on from its launch in 1958, with the red button and BBC iPlayer becoming the place to see the who’s who of British sports stars from Steve Ovett to Tony Allcock. But if it’s not all put together into a five-hour sporting feast presented by ‘Dishy’ Des Lynam or Bob Wilson then what’s the bloody point?

There’s a lot to be said for Steve Rider appearing on your screen at 12:15 to tell you exactly which sports you’ll be introduced to today. It beats making the decision for yourself.

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