On September 6, 1992, Channel 4 made history with the broadcast of its first ever live Serie A match in a move that signaled the birth of Football Italia as we know it.
Channel 4 would remain the home of Italian football for the next decade, charting the highs and lows of arguably the greatest era in Serie A when the league led the way when it came to world-class players and mind-boggling transfer fees.
Fronted by James Richardson, each week fans were treated to a Saturday morning round-up show chronicling all the best action from the previous week and a live game, each and every Sunday.
With English football off terrestrial screens thanks to Sky Sports, it represented one of the only regular doses of TV football coverage on offer to the average fan.
Football Italia was no average show either. It was a funny and informative love letter to all things Calcio and continues to hold a special place in the heart of any football fan growing up in the memorable era of Gabriel Batistuta, Roberto Baggio and George Weah.
25 years on, the show can still throw up some surprises for the casual fan too – here are 11 things you probably didn’t know about Football Italia.
Paul Gascoigne Came Up With The Idea For The Show
Paul Gascoigne’s move to Lazio in the summer of 1992 played a part in Channel 4’s decision to purchase the rights to broadcast Serie A games, but Gazza’s influence extends beyond that. Prior to the move, Gascoigne had worked on a documentary “Gascoigne – The Fightback” with TV production company Chrysalis. The documentary focused on his recovery from the injury
The documentary focused on his recovery from the injury suffered at Tottenham in the 1991 FA Cup final. When filming finally wrapped, Gazza remarked to producer Neil Duncanson that it was a shame British viewers would be unable to see him play in Serie A. Chrysalis then decided to pursue the idea further.
S4C Also Played A Part In Getting Football Italia Made
Gascoigne’s Lazio move was not the only contributing factor behind Channel 4’s Serie A broadcast deal though. The channel’s Welsh regional station S4C also played a key role. Prior to the deal, Welsh viewers were regularly treated to football highlights from around Europe as part of the series “Sgorio”.
Serie A highlights had been shown as part of “Sgorio” since 1988. The show proved popular enough with viewers in Wales that Channel 4 decided to further explore the idea of broadcasting live games from on the continent on its main channel.
Channel 4 Had Barely Show Any Football Prior To This
Prior to the start of Football Italia, Channel 4 had little to no experience of broadcasting live football. The channel had, bizarrely, broadcast the 1983 Brazilian Cup final with Martin Tyler on commentary before then and carried a World Cup qualifier between Australia and Scotland for ITV two years later.
They ended up picking their commentary team wisely though, with Peter Brackley and Paul Elliott in the commentary box, while veteran broadcaster Kenneth Wolstenholme provided links off screen.
The Original Plan Was To Only Broadcast Lazio Games
When Chrysalis first approached the Italian Football Federation about obtaining the broadcast rights to games in the region, they initially wanted to only show Lazio games, due to the presence of Gascoigne. The Italian Football Federation refused their request but suggested they instead bid for the rights to the entire division. With fellow Englishmen like David Platt and Des Walker plying their trade in Italy with Sampdoria, Channel 4 and Chrysalis decided to move forward with the plan. Beating out competition from BSkyB, they paid £1.5 m for the rights to the 1992/93 season.
James Richardson Was The Last Minute Replacement
The Gascoigne focus was set to remain part and parcel of the coverage thanks to the Saturday morning Gazzetta Italia programme, which offered up a weekly round-up of the previous round of fixtures. Originally, the plan had been for Gazza to front the show.
He did exactly that for the first couple of weeks too but when he began to stop turning up, they had to seek out a replacement. James Richardson was a producer on the show at the time and had never previously presented anything on camera. He soon proved to be a winning addition though.
The Story Behind “Golaço!”
Football Italia also became known for its theme tune, which played at the beginning and end of every broadcast and featuring the memorable sound clip of a commentator shouting “Golaço!”
The voice belongs to Italian commentator Jose Altafini, a Brazilian who played for Napoli, Juventus and AC Milan. It’s actually Portuguese for “fantastic goal” and was included in the sound mix by music producer Steve DuBerry because he thought it sounded a bit like “go Lazio” – the team Gazza played for.
The First Live Game Attracted A Huge Audience
Football Italia kicked off with the perfect first match: Sampdoria vs Lazio. It was a fixture that brought all of English football’s biggest names in Serie A together.
There was just one problem; Gascoigne was not fit to play, meaning the game’s main draw was strangely absent. It still attracted a record number of viewers for football on Channel Four, with some three million tuning in to see a sensational curtain raiser that ended in a 3-3 draw.
Elvis Costello Once Served As A Pundit In A Game
Football Italia broke the mold when it came to interacting with players and celebrities alike.
When host James Richardson wasn’t busy filming humourous skits with the likes of Gianluca Vialli and Attilo Lombardo (they did the Lombardi together) he took the time to interview celebrity fans like Elvis Costello, who was on hand on one occasion to provide punditry at half time during the Genoa derby.
The Newspaper Round-Up Had A Running Gag
A popular segment on Gazzetta Italia saw Richardson round-up all the latest gossip from the world of Italian football, which came via the pages of the country’s various daily football newspapers. In later series, during his dissection of the latest reports from Gazzetta Dello Sport and
In later series, during his dissection of the latest reports from Gazzetta Dello Sport and Corrierre Dello Sport, a running game saw Richardson report from a sunny Rome square, often with a lush looking dessert or Italian dish in front of him which would gradually be consumed off camera as the segment progressed.
One Broadcast Was Abandoned After A Murder
Football Italia was also on hand to cover some of the most controversial moments in Serie A at the time. Like the incident in 1995 that saw a game between Genoa and AC Milan abandoned at half time after crowd trouble erupted following the murder of a Genoa fan outside the stadium prior to kick-off.
Football Italia Was Discussed In Italian Parliament
Channel 4 went on to court controversy in the latter years of their coverage. In 1998, the channel covered both legs of Italy’s 1998 World Cup qualifying playoff with Russia. England had already pipped the Azzurri to automatic qualification in their group but that didn’t stop Football Italia from poking fun at the Italian national side.
A trailer for the live game featured an Italian fan getting their face rubbed into a plate of pasta while a voiceover asked: “Will the Russians rub their faces in it?” Italy ultimately progressed with a 2-1 win but the advert prompted complaints in the UK and even led to questions being asked in Italian Parliament. It all worked out in the end though.
Loaded staff writer Jack Beresford has produced content for Lad Bible, Axonn Media and a variety of online sports and news media outlets.