Saint & Greavsie: Legends In Their Own Lunchtime

Fondly remembering when Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves graced our television sets
09:56, 08 Sep 2019

Between 1986 and 1992 Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves graced our television sets every Saturday lunchtime, bringing us an eclectic mix of football highlights, interviews and comedy in a TV show which is still remembered fondly by those who tuned-in avidly each weekend.

Whether it was a weekly football fix in a particularly sparse period when it came to soccer on the box or a little pre-match entertainment for those heading to a game in the days when nearly all the league’s 92 clubs played at 3pm on a Saturday, Saint & Greavsie was essential viewing.

Two very different characters as players, Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves gelled on screen to form the perfect television twosome with Saint taking the role of the sensible straight man as Greavsie thrived in the role as the natural joker, fully prepared to poke fun at himself as much as others. 

Saint made his name under the great Bill Shankly as Liverpool were transformed from Second Division strugglers to one of the greatest sides in the land during the 1960s and more-often-than-not had a tale to tell about his glorious Anfield career.

Greavsie, on the other hand, had been one of the most prolific goal scorers of his generation having played for Chelsea, Spurs, AC Milan and West Ham in a glittering career which saw him find the net with frightening regularity.

While Ian, usually decked-out in a sober suit, appeared to stick rigidly to the autocue, the colourful V-neck jumper clad Jimmy seemed to have free rein to improvise wherever he liked, pitching in with jokes and what would probably be deemed inappropriate today his co-presenter across the desk fought an almost constant battle with the giggles.

As well as working on the World Cups of 1982 and 1986 their first TV collaboration together began with On the Ball when the ITV Sport network was still regionalised as St John hosted from the London studio while Greaves, often on location, would chime in with his opinions - and so popular was the pairing that Saint & Greavsie was commissioned as a programme in its own right immediately after the demise of World of Sport in September 1985.

A half-hour show initially broadcast shortly after noon on Saturdays to coincide with the build-up to that afternoon's football matches, in later years it usually went on air shortly after 1pm and due to its popularity was extended to 45 minutes in length and, as well as all the latest football news, the programme also covered other sports such as athletics and boxing, attracting some of the biggest names of the time.

As well as bringing Ian St John and Jimmy Greaves to a national audience the show also introduced us to a host of individuals who would go on to become household names in their own right; such as Tony Francis, Gabriel Clarke and Clive Tyldesley, who would often perform the role of roving reporters out and about at various grounds around the country.

Despite the rigorous weekly schedule, it was rare for either man to take a week off, though famously in 1990 when Jimmy was struck down by a bout of the flu he was replaced by his Spitting Image puppet with ITV commentator Peter Brackley providing the voice in one of the most famous episodes ever broadcast.

Another memorable moment came in December 1991 when the pair were in New York to cover the draw for the qualifying stages of the 1994 World Cup with the two managing to persuade a baffled looking, then property tycoon, Donald Trump to conduct the draw for the quarter-finals of the Rumbelows League Cup.

Saint & Greavsie was eventually scrapped in the summer of 1992 when ITV lost the rights to top-flight football with the arrival of the newly formed Premier League which was to be covered exclusively by Sky Sports from the following season.

The last edition of the programme was broadcast from Sweden during the 1992 European Championships with the pair almost making light of the situation while even singing "The Last Time" in the final credits before riding off into the sunset on a bicycle.

Although the show never returned to our screens in its original format it wasn’t the last we’d see of this potent partnership as Ian and Jimmy occasionally presented Champions League shows together and both remained employed by ITV for several years working on regional Football League coverage, even hosting their own sports discussion show: Sport in Question.

They did make one brief return to our screens prior to the 2009 FA Cup final between Everton and Chelsea when Setanta Sports announced that they were reviving the double act in the build-up to the big game with the “Saint & Greavsie FA Cup Special” being broadcast in segments throughout the afternoon.

Saint & Greavsie probably wouldn’t work today, what with the desire for almost immediate televisual coverage of the national game, while the off the cuff quips about Scottish goalkeepers and other such stereotypes would no doubt raise one too many eyebrows of an ever-sensitive and much more culturally aware television audience.

But without doubt, for those who remember watching Saint & Greavsie religiously each weekend the show’s absence, even all these years on, still leaves a huge void in their Saturday afternoon viewing habits.

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