The first edition of the BBC’s Match of the Day programme was aired on 22 August 1964. Shown on BBC2, it was the first time people in the UK (albeit only in London at first) were able to watch football highlights on their own TV screens.
Despite initial fears that it might lead to fewer people going along to watch matches in person, it went on to become an institution of British broadcasting and a go-to programme for British football fans everywhere.
Though today’s Match of the Day is a showcase for slick presentation, superior camerawork and great commentary, the first outing for the show was notably lacking in gloss. To begin, there was no theme tune, no opening title sequence and, this being 1964, everything was in black and white. What you’d have seen was a picture board showing the programme’s title, over which a continuity announcer spoke the following words:
“And now we come to ‘Match of the Day’, the highlights of one of today’s Football League matches. Your commentators are Kenneth Wolstenholme and Wally Barnes.”
What happened after that? Read on to find out....
The camera cuts straight to the film footage of Liverpool v Arsenal (complete with barely readable caption) where the home side run out onto the pitch to a noisy but cheerful welcome from the crowd. The first thing to note is Liverpool wearing white shorts, such was the case back then. Bill Shankly would eventually have his side wearing all red because he felt a kit of one colour gave an altogether stronger image to the opposing team. Someone somewhere has probably done research into whether a one-colour kit brings greater success, but now’s not the time to discuss it.
2. Kenneth Wolstenholme
Our first sight of Kenneth Wolstenholme, commentator supreme and still two years away from his iconic performance at the 1966 World Cup Final. In the background we hear the Anfield crowd singing along in unison to 'She Loves You' and Wolstenholme gives us his opening gambit:
“Welcome to Match of the Day, the first of a weekly series coming to you every Saturday on BBC2. As you can hear we’re in Beatleville for this Liverpool versus Arsenal match.”
A caption shows us the Liverpool team line-up. Remember, Liverpool were the reigning league champions at the time but two of their number were missing here - Ian St. John with appendicitis and Alf Arrowsmith with a leg injury. Oh for the days when footballers were called ‘Alf’...
And so to the Arsenal team which, Wolstenholme tells us, could be heading for glory in the eyes of many people - especially with new signing Don Howe, the former England right back, in their ranks.
Wolstenholme is joined pitchside by former Arsenal full back Wally Barnes. To a backing tannoy accompaniment of ‘Hippy Hippy Shake’ by The Swinging Blue Jeans, Barnes explains that the absence of Liverpool’s two strikers due to illness could be an unsettling factor for the defending champions.
Liverpool kick off, playing from right to left and wearing the grey shirts. Roger Hunt is ready and poised (see top of picture) and with the blow of the whistle from Mr Howley of Middlesbrough, the 1964/65 season gets underway.
Chaos ensues as, after a bright start, Ian Callaghan is fouled near the Arsenal goal, but no-one hears the referee’s whistle amid the Anfield din. Arsenal counter-attack and even when the Liverpool keeper Tommy Lawrence gets to throw the ball back upfield for the free kick, Arsenal defender Billy McCulloch intercepts the ball and tries a shot. “None of this matters” exclaims Wolsteholme, but luckily George Eastham figures it all out and brings the game to a temporary halt.
8. Early chance
Despite an opening seven minutes in which both sides have had their fair share of attacking play, it’s Arsenal that get the first decent chance of the game. A free kick taken by George Eastham from just outside the far corner of the penalty area arrows towards Lawrence’s right-hand post, but the Liverpool keeper dives low to smother the ball.
9. Liverpool open the scoring
GOAL! Liverpool’s oft-used ploy of crossing balls into the Arsenal box from the left wing finally pays dividends as Roger Hunt hooks an Ian Calaghan pull-back over the keeper and into the net. “It’s a goal!” shouts Wolstenholme, and who are we to disagree - 1-0 to Liverpool.
10. Caption issues
Note for future reference - make sure captions are positioned correctly so that any ‘1’s aren’t obscured by the half-way line.
11. Half Time
The referee blows for half time. Liverpool have played the better football and edged the possession, but both sides have had their chances. Don Howe’s certainly seen plenty of the ball in the Arsenal defence and is proving a useful close-season buy from West Brom.
12. Wally's First Half summary
13. Second Half
Arsenal kick off, playing from right to left in a kit of white shirts, white socks and red socks. Nike - take note. Purple and black simply will not do.
14. Liverpool double their lead
GOAL! Liverpool go 2-0 up... Ian Callaghan’s cross finds Gordon Wallace who heads in from close range. Once again, no action replay to watch so if you wanted to see the goal again, you’d need either a photographic memory or both teams randomly re-enacting the goal for you.
15. Arsenal back in the game
GOAL! Arsenal pull one back thanks to Geoff Strong who plays a neat one-two with Eastham before unleashing a low shot past the beaten Lawrence. A rare lapse in concentration for what had been a strong Liverpool defence, but still a goal generously applauded goal by the home fans.
16. Arsenal equalise
GOAL! LIVERPOOL 2 ARSENAL 2... Strong plays the ball down the right wing where it’s picked up by Armstrong. He crosses for Baker whose brilliantly angled diving header beats Lawrence again on his left post. It’s two goals in two minutes for The Gunners and they’re right back in it.
Another swift flowing move almost results in Armstrong putting Arsenal in front, but Kenneth Wolstenholme has other things on his mind. “A black cat is running on the far side... there it is! A black cat... I wonder which side it supports? Arsenal or Liverpool?” The poor distressed animal runs almost an entire circuit of the pitch, even evading a fan who dives onto the pitch to try and catch it. A reminder to anyone younger than 15: this was an era when animals were regularly seen making random appearances in the middle of top-flight football matches. Nowadays you’ll be lucky if you see so much as a beach ball.
GOAL! Despite being under the cosh from a series of constant Arsenal attacks in the second half, it’s Liverpool who grab the winner in the dying seconds of the match. Receiving a cross-field pass from Ian Callaghan, Gordon Wallace cuts in from the left wing and from yards out lets rip with a storming shot that leaves Furnell floundering. It’s his second and Liverpool’s third.
17. Final whistle
Arsenal throw everything into one last desperate attack but it comes to nought as the referee blows his whistle to end the game. Wolstenholme quickly reappears on-screen, puffing out his cheeks at the exciting climax to a great game. “Well I call it the Match of the Century, I don’t know about the Match of the Day!” he says and, wrong though he probably is, who are we to deny the great man his moment of elation.
Before the end, KW just has time to bring us the other results involving clubs from London. Crystal Palace had “a bad start to Division Two” losing 3-2 at home to Derby, while Fulham lost 2-1 at home to West Ham, “but then one London club had to lose then” explains Wolstenholme helpfully.
18. Closing titles
Nearly 50 years on, it’s fair to say the presentation couldn’t be any more different to that which we know today, but at least the football itself remains the central focus of the programme. While that’s the case, we’ll always look to Match of the Day for our weekly fix of football escapism.