The Weekly Miracle: What Makes Sports Report Special?
“It’s 5 o’clock and it’s time for…Sports Report.”
This phrase has been part of the Saturday routine for millions of BBC listeners over the decades – an announcement always accompanied by its famous theme to signal the end of the afternoon’s sporting action.
The iconic score, written by Hubert Bath and titled Out of the Blue, has been around since the show’s inception in 1948, but tradition isn’t the only reason Sports Report is the world’s longest-running sports program , which celebrates its 75th anniversary in January.
It was only a few weeks ago that the show made headlines, rather than reported them, when it did dropped the ranked football results, but adapting its format is nothing new; has always embraced change and moved with the times since hitting the airwaves.
BBC journalist Pat Murphy, who has written a new book chronicling the show’s history, has a unique insight into the history of one of the country’s best-loved sports broadcasters.
Murphy, who has worked on the show since 1981 and is its longest-serving contributor, spent two years compiling his book, interviewing 165 past and present presenters, commentators, reporters and producers.
“I didn’t just want to go through each decade of the show, I wanted to bring stories and anecdotes from the ’50s and ’60s to audiences today who weren’t even born then, so they know the scope of it all,” Murphy said. .
“What we did when we interviewed Stanley Matthews and Denis Compton back then, we’re still doing with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp today, asking them the questions that really matter.
“What I found with my research was that you can get into the unique nostalgic aspect of the show, but at the same time you’re aware of the immediacy of the thrill of making it and listening to it: news, opinion , interviews or analysis.
“That part hasn’t changed: the principle of telling you what just happened on a Saturday has stayed the same since it started. It’s an easy formula, but the simplest ideas are often the best.”
‘The weekly miracle’
The first episode of Sports Report, billed as a “new Saturday feature for sportsmen”, was broadcast on the BBC Light Program on Saturday 3 January 1948 and was presented by Raymond Glendenning.
Its profile grew in the 1950s and 1960s with Eamonn Andrews at the helm and, after many years on Radio 2, the show moved to Radio 5 on 1 September 1990.
It has been heard on 5 Live since 2 April 1994, with current presenter Mark Chapman in 2016.
There’s always a sense of urgency when you hear the events unfolding on Sports Report, but that’s nothing compared to the feeling of those involved in making the show, which is broadcast live and unscripted.
Speaking in 2018, Chapman said: “Usually when you do this kind of thing the more you do it, the more relaxed you become and I’m usually quite relaxed.
“But there’s still a moment when you say that line before the music kicks in—it gives you goosebumps, it raises the hairs on the back of your neck.
“When I do it, I’m so aware of the weight of the story behind it, and the remarkable broadcasters who have done it before me and the journalists who contribute to it. I like to think that when the time comes to broadcast it , I will leave it. in a similar state.”
This same sense of responsibility is shared by everyone involved in Sports Report, on air or behind the scenes.
In the studio, a small team consisting of a producer, an editor, two studio managers, a broadcast assistant and two support producers is tasked with liaising with the presenter and everyone on the enclosure
“Legendary newspaper columnist Patrick Collins used to describe the show as ‘The Weekly Miracle,'” Murphy explained.
“It’s an incredible endeavor to have a presenter who links to live reports and interviews across the country and indeed the world, telling stories and sometimes breaking them, as they happen, never knowing what’s going to happen next .
“Former BBC News boss Roger Mosey told me it was like covering a mini general election every Saturday night and I don’t think the program always gets the credit it deserves for the quality it delivers under constant pressure like this
“On a Saturday, when you hear the signature tune at 5:00 p.m., your first thought is often ‘wow, it’s that time already, I’ve barely written anything.’
“But if you’re a broadcast journalist, you thrive on operating by the seat of your pants and I’ve done that many times on the show as a reporter.
“It’s the same when you go back to the engine room of the operation. The production team has to make instant decisions about which direction to go and which interviews to put on the air, as the clock keeps ticking.”
“Staying relevant in a rapidly changing world”
For many people, their earliest memories of Sports Report are listening to it in the car on the way home from games, catching up on what happened around the venue.
These days, there are plenty of other places people go to consume that news, but Murphy is confident the show retains its relevance in a rapidly changing media landscape.
“Obviously things are different now because you can get your results and your opinions on your phones and tablets,” he added. “But you don’t necessarily get the best insight or interviews there.
“That’s why people listen to Sports Report. It’s clear that the respect and high regard that people have for the show is still there; we can make things happen that TV can’t. Delivering the news first is one of them. .
“This has to go on, but some things are out of our control and I think it’s critical to Sports Report that we keep the 3pm kick-off on Saturday.
“We have a 12.30pm kick-off and now also a 5.30pm kick-off, but you really need that action in the afternoon – we missed that during the coronavirus pandemic.
“If that happens, I sure hope we can last another 25 years, so that Sports Report reaches a century. I was a meowing, puking baby when it launched, but it remembers my whole life and its success and its power to stay means an enormous amount to me.
“It’s the one show I’ve always wanted to work on since I was a kid, and I still do now.”