How Match Of the Day Became A British Institution

Legendary show was broadcast for first time on August 22, 1964
07:05, 22 Aug 2019

On August 22, 1964, 20,000 people tuned into a new football highlights programme called Match of the Day and Saturday evenings would never be the same again for armchair viewers across the nation.

The game in question was Liverpool’s First Division clash with Arsenal at Anfield, a game the home side won 3-2 in front of a crowd of 47,620 people - more than double the amount of viewers who watched the televised highlights later that evening.

Originally conceived as a test run for a 1966 World Cup highlights show the programme’s title was actually taken from a Wimbledon tennis highlights reel which went by the same name a year before with just one game originally broadcast on the relatively new BBC2 platform. 

At the time, BBC2 was not transmitted outside of the London area and could only be picked up by the few viewers who had invested in the new 625-line television sets, with the show eventually moving to BBC1 in 1966  - opening it up to a much wider, national audience and now regularly attracts around 6 million people a week.

For the first six years of its existence the theme tune was 'Drum Majorette' by Major Leslie Statham and it wasn’t until 1970 that Barry Stoller composed what would become the most famous football telly tune of them all which is still used to this day.

Initially there was concern among top-flight clubs regarding the broadcasting of football highlights as they feared that it might have an impact on gates as fans would opt to watch the action from the comfort of their home that night rather than on the terraces.

But these fears were allayed when it was agreed that it would not be announced which game would feature on the show that evening and, although Match of the Day has never appeared to affect attendances over 50 years on, similar “blackout” arrangements are still in existence when it comes to Saturday afternoon broadcasts.

Originally hosted by Kenneth Wolstenholme, a man who would become best known for his 1966 World Cup final commentary, the show has been regularly hosted by only four other main presenters in the years since; David Coleman, Jimmy Hill, who hosted for 15 years between 1977 and 1988, Des Lynam and Gary Lineker - who took over the anchor role back in 1999.

The programme was first broadcast in colour on 15 November 1969, showing Liverpool vs West Ham while legendary commentator John Motson made his first appearance on 9 October 9th, 1971, and would go on to become the show's longest-serving announcer, covering some 2,000 games before hanging up the mic in 2018.

And it’s not just the faces who have changed, the programme itself has undergone a number of transformations down the years, with the early 1980s seeing Match of the Day moved to a Sunday afternoon before quickly returning to Saturday nights.

Ever evolutionary, MOTD introduced a ‘Goal of the Month’ competition in 1970, with members of the public sending thousands of entry postcards to the BBC as Ernie Hunt’s effort for Coventry against Everton was voted ‘Goal of the Season.’

And the changes didn’t stop there as, during the 1983/84 season, the Saturday night highlights show was supplemented by live matches on Friday evenings, the first being on December 16th, 1983, when Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 4-2; something which had never been tried before and an idea championed by Sky Sports some five decades later.

When the BBC lost the rights to top-flight English football to ITV from 1988 to 1992 the show would only go out on FA Cup weekends under the name “The Road to Wembley,” while between 2001 and 2004 it disappeared completely as ITV showed early evening highlights via “The Premiership.”

But when the BBC once again won the rights to share Premier League broadcasting duties with Sky Sports MOTD returned to our screens once more and in 2015 was recognised by Guinness World Records as the longest-running football TV programme in the world.

The show’s popularity has led to a number of spin-offs as viewing habits have evolved with Match of the Day 2 being launched in 2004 in order to feature the increasing number of games being played on a Sunday afternoon while in 2013 the cross-platform Sunday lunchtime chat show MOTD2 Extra aired for the first time.

With a greater desire for instant action and the increase in online content what the future holds for Match of the Day is anyone’s guess, but the fact that it remains one of the most-watched television programmes in the country is a testimony to the popularity of a show which first hit our screens well over 50 years ago and is still going as strong as ever.

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