Football and TV: A relationship through the ages

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06 Jul 16

Football and TV: A relationship through the ages

Football and TV: A relationship through the ages

How are you be watching this summer’s European Championship, or plan to watch the World Cup qualifiers later this year? Unless you’re lucky enough to be there yourself, there are a few ways of seeing the games; it’s a fair bet you’ll be watching in HD on a TV set, or on your phone, tablet or PC.

Older viewers will have very different experiences of the beautiful game, often in flickering monochrome or grainy, washed out colour – but it was still an experience to savour. Think of the Sinclair MTV1 Microvision, a tiny pocket sized box complete with 2” diagonal screen and both UHF and VHF, which was small enough to be taken anywhere you wanted in 1983 – perfect for watching a tiny Michel Platini stroke an even tinier ball into the net nine times during Euro 1984, but weighing in at a hefty £200! Or how about the TVs of the 1950s and 60s, with fantastic names such as the Kolster Brandes Royal Star portable, the Philco Safari and Tandem Predicta, and the Panasonic Eyeball?

Times have changed – this is how football was once watched on our screens:

1970 World Cup, Mexico

The Vowles family had bragging rights for the World Cup final in 1970 when it came to technology. Until then the Coventry family had been watching on an 9-inch Bush black and white set, complete with wooden panelling.

However, England’s passage to the quarter-final against Germany demanded a new view of the match in glorious technicolour. Rewind Museum says of such wonderful televisions: “The improvements in the milestone product were mainly due to the introduction of Sony’s new Trinitron cathode ray tube. The tube was also flat vertically, a side-effect of the internal vertical wires in the aperture grille, and this gave it unique and attractive look.”

Monica Vowles, then 23 years old, said: “We were the first family on the street to have a colour television, a 13-inch Sony Trinitron, in time for the game. People from up and down the street came to look and there was quite a lot of excitement, although of course the result was disappointing (England crashed out after being 2-0 up).

The BBC had started broadcasting in colour in March 1967, the first country in Europe to do so, with four hours of colour TV per week on BBC2, rising to 10 hours a week a year later. However, as shown by the Vowles’ pride as pioneers in their road, the uptake had been slow in some areas. Fast forward 40 years and incredibly more than 25,000 UK homes were still watching television in black and white for the 2010 World Cup – the same as they did in ‘66. 

1986 World Cup, Mexico

For England fans there would surely have been nothing worse than watching and re-watching Argentine genius Diego Maradona leaping above Peter Shilton to punch the ball into an unguarded net, followed by the jinking, twisting goal that plunged a knife into English hearts. Helpfully, the match at the Estadio Azteca, attended by a crowd of more than 114,000 fans, kicked off at 12pm local time – a perfect evening watch for those tuning in from the UK at 6pm.

The options for recording said game on June 22, 1986 were numerous – the most likely was a 240-line VHS (S-VHS with 400 lines was not released for another year) complete with 10-function wireless remote, but other options included the Philips/Grundig Video compact cassette 2000, complete with dual-sided recordable tapes, and even the death throes of the Betamax – by 1986 it only held 7.5% of the market share.

1996 European Championships, England

Who can forget football coming home? Held in eight venues including Wembley, Old Trafford, Anfield and The City Ground in Nottingham, the first international tournament to be held in the UK since ’66 was a feast of football. England were unstoppable, until they were stopped by the Germans in a match watched by 23.8m people, second only to the (other) heartbreak of Italia 90 at 26.2m.

By the mid-90s most consumers were still treating their computer as just a typing machine (with a whopping 16mb of RAM and the option of Office 97 on 45 floppy discs), 32” TV sets weighed the same as tanks, and Digital Versatile Disc was in the very embryonic stages of its life as a consumer item. However, DVD recorders were still six years away so there was no way of recording that classic grudge match between Turkey and Croatia. As an aside, and perhaps surprisingly, broadband was introduced only a few months later in 1997.

Perhaps Euro 96 is regarded more of a societal change in football viewing than a technological one. The fine performances of Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, and Tony Adams meant that pubs were jam-packed up and down the country with Three Lions supporters, but according to the book, Consuming Football in Late Modern Life by Kevin Dixon, pubs had been unprepared for the deluge. They didn’t make that mistake for France ’98, according to quoted journalist Richard Alan: “Pubs from the Firkin Brewery had spent more than £500,000 on big viewing screens and launched a cast-conditioned beer called Firkin 98… some pubs went to extreme lengths ‘by turfing the pub and installing stadium seating arrangements’”.

2010 World Cup, South Africa

The first World Cup to be held on the African continent was also the first to be shown on Freeview HD and on mobile phones. It was not, however, the first available to watch online – but an average of only 75,000 people watched each game from Germany 2006 on their pc or laptop. The event led to a boom in sales of HD TVs, with around 24m HD sets in place by March that year.

The 3D TV era was still in the very early stages, costing a mere £1,799 – not including glasses (£150) and a HDMI cable (£50). Despite the hefty price some fans were enamoured enough with Avatar to shell out for the latest kit. Sky had launched its own 3D channel in April, and previewed the launch with a 3D broadcast of Arsenal against Manchester United in pubs two months before. At around the same time, FIFA and Sony announced a schedule of 25 World Cup games to be broadcast in the new format, but by the time 2014 rolled around it seemed the novelty had worn off, preferring 4k instead.

2016 European Championships, France

In the intervening six years we saw the advent of 4G (2012) and another explosion of TV sales for the last World Cup in 2014 in Brazil.

A recent survey from AO.com revealed the average Brit watches around 19 hours of TV a week, and that a third of football fans were willing to skip the birth of their own child to watch the key moment of the tournament!

From this, I think we can assume the UK public are after a good viewing experience for this year’s event.

They might plump for 4k, but should be wary; around 140 hours of matches and content will be broadcasted but disappointingly, no BBC or ITV matches will be shown in 4K, despite the fact that several matches are being filmed in the format by the host broadcaster. However, the Beeb will be utilising social media such as Snapchat, Facebook Live and Periscope in its coverage, interestingly enough. And although the UK is currently missing out on 4k, perhaps BT or Sky Sports will take up the 4k baton…

2026 World Cup

How will we watch the World Cup in ten years’ time? A few predictions:

  • We’ll have progressed past 4k onto HDR and maybe 8k, most likely on giant 80” screens.
  • Virtual reality will let us ‘take our seat’ at the game in New York, Guadalajara or California, and we’ll be able to look around the stadium as if we’re really there.
  • Perhaps we’ll be watching games on our watches, as we did back in 1982 with the Seiko T 001 TV Watch.
  • LG has already shown off its rollable OLED displays at this year’s CES – ultra thin TVs that can literally be rolled up and put up anywhere. The implications for live events are obvious – they can be broadcast anywhere from a kitchen to public events at very short notice. These screens might also form the shell of iPhones.
  • Perhaps we’ll even be able to print out our own 3d television, in any shape we want. Or perhaps we’ll even be able to watch the game in our mind.
  • England will lose penalty shootouts – in the best TV quality imaginable.