When you think about the movers and shakers in UK sports broadcasting over the years, Channel 4 might not necessarily be the first name that comes to mind. However, this was the station that brought coverage of the NFL to these shores, laying the foundations of a generation that has seen the game gain a real foothold in this country as well as broadcasting sumo wrestling from Japan and kabaddi from India which both enjoyed cult followings. A more familiar sport though hit the screens via Channel 4 when they picked up the live television rights to Italy’s top football division Serie A in the early 1990s. The output consisted of two programmes, Gazzetta Football Italia on Saturday mornings, which contained the highlights of the previous week’s matches and a piece on Italian culture and Sunday afternoon live games (although this came to change in later years).
Channel 4’s coverage began in the 1992/93 season and continued until 2001/02. In that initial season, England had three internationals playing in Serie A, Paul Gascoigne (Lazio), David Platt (Juventus) and Des Walker (Sampdoria) providing interest for fans of the Three Lions. However, there was so much more to Italy’s top division, as during this period it was considered the best league in the World boasting some of the finest players on the planet, at a time when Italian teams dominated the European Club competitions. Allied to quality on the pitch, Channel 4 had a superb team fronting and commentating including the legendary Kenneth Wolstenholme, Peter Brackley and James Richardson. Behind the scenes in the production of the programmes, Jonathan Grade worked and progressed from being a runner to Series Editor and in Golazzo: The Football Italia Years he looks back on his time involved with the shows.
The back cover of the book promises, “a nostalgic look back with some stories from behind the scenes”. However, the reality is that overall it fails to deliver. What readers get over the first nine chapters is essentially a retelling of each of the season’s that Channel 4 covered Serie A. It isn’t until Chapter 10 and Grade’s reflections and tributes to Wolstenholme, Brackley and Programme Director Tim Docherty that readers get a feel for those involved and stories on and off screen. James Richardson on the shows was known as a charismatic and witty presenter, yet the anecdotes about him are few and far between.
It is obvious that the Football Italia years were the best of his working life and as Grade details within the book, it was his “dream job”. However, ultimately the enjoyment and memories Grade had don’t fully translate within the pages of Golazzo: The Football Italia Years.
(Publisher: Independently published. November 2020. Paperback: 177 pages)
Jonathan Grade is a freelance television producer, who spent the best part of a decade working on Channel 4’s Gazzetta Football Italia and live Football Italia programmes from 1993 until 2002 – the last two of which as Series Editor.