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TV’s Original Panel was Loud, Brash, Insulting but Hugely Watchable

By the summer of 1970, Derek Dougan was among the highest profile footballers in Britain, scoring goals for Wolves and Northern Ireland and soon to be elected chairman of the PFA. As DAVID TOSSELL reveals, he was also about to become part of a revolution in televised football along with Malcolm Allison, Pat Crerand and Bob McNab:

IT WAS 1970 when ITV supposedly showed the way forward by presenting football analysis in the style of four blokes enjoying a pint at the local. The ‘World Cup panel’, which added studio-base vibrancy to a tournament already made unthinkingly exotic by colour television and the wonderful Brazilians, is acknowledged as having revolutionised television punditry. It is true to the extent that the panel format henceforward became the standard for televised football, but watching the presenting team on the latest Sky Sports Super Sunday bears little resemblance to the chaos over which Brian Moore attempted to preside in the summer of ’70. It was more Tiswas than Match of the Day.

The man responsible was John Bromley, then head of ITV sport, who asked Moore to stay at home, teaming him as usual with Jimmy Hill. What followed was an inspired piece of alchemy as Derek Dougan, Manchester City coach Malcolm Allison, Manchester United midfielder Pat Crerand and Arsenal and England full-back Bob McNab were thrown into the mix, wearing colours so bright and collars so wide that Moore looked like the John Alderton character, Hedges, trying to control his rowdy and fashion-conscious Class 5c in Please, Sir!. The result was a month of television that was loud, brash, often controversial, sometimes downright insulting and always hugely watchable. For the first time in the broadcasting of sports events, ITV’s figures regularly matched the BBC, which managed to look safe and staid even with Brian Clough as part of its team.

Allison, evolving into ‘Big Mal’, was the star, irreverent and dashing but with the mind of a brilliant coach to add substance to his style. Dougan played the role of his nemesis, sitting to his right, often choking on the fumes from Allison’s Cuban cigar, and mixing Irish charm and humour with a hard critical edge. Scotland international Crerand, in the manner of his play, was abrasive and energetic, while McNab offered the insight of a player who had been in the England squad until a few days earlier.

‘We need some people who can actually talk lucidly about football,’ had been the guiding principle of Bromley, who changed his mind about using his panellists individually and opted instead to throw them all on screen at once. ‘Crerand and Allison were the baddies,’ he added, ‘and the charming Dougan with the lovely McNab were the goodies. They became folk heroes in four weeks.’

Moore recalled that ‘they gave football punditry a fresh intoxicating sparkle’, while Dougan, looking back years later, said, ‘We were the first four people ever invited on television to actually speak about our sport. The chemistry was right and we used to spark off each other. Not once did we have a rehearsal. Malcolm was the only guy that I have ever worked with who could drink an excess of champagne and not slur his words.’

McNab remembers, ‘People had never seen anything like it although I am not sure we all realised it was ground-breaking at the time. Jimmy tried to control it, but Malcolm would take the piss out of him unmercifully. Actually, we all ended up taking the piss out each other. Without disrespect to Derek, he didn’t have the intellectual football ideas of Malcolm. We noticed that he would start repeating some of the stuff Malcolm said off-camera so sometimes Mal would set him up and say the opposite of what he thought. It was all great fun and we all had a lot of respect and affection for each other.’

McNab also remembers the group whiling away the afternoons at the Hendon Hall hotel before their evening broadcasts. ‘We used to play head tennis and nobody wanted to play on Derek’s team because all you had to do was hit it to his right foot and you would win the point.’

This group of articulate, stylishly dressed men were enthralling viewers who followed football every day of their lives and making the sport easily accessible to those whose interest barely extended to the FA Cup final, the one club game televised live each season. Fan letters and autograph hunters became an even bigger part of their lives. McNab even recalls the group eating in a restaurant one night and being joined by Michael Caine who wanted to ‘have a drink with the lads’.

In Sunshine or In Shadow: A Journey Through The Life of Derek Dougan by David Tossell, published by Pitch Publishing, is available as hardback or eBook at amazon.co.uk.

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