Celebrating 75 years of the SJA and iconic radio institution … Sports Report


This year marks the 75th anniversary of the foundation of what became the Sports Journalists’ Association.

There had been exploratory meetings the previous year but the Sports Writers’ Association was made reality in April 1948.

There could have been no more auspicious year for our organisation to take flight, for London was about to host the Olympics.

It was also the year that another sporting institution was first heard on a dark January afternoon.

“This the BBC Light programme, here is Raymond Glendenning to introduce a new Saturday feature for sportsmen, Sports Report,” the announcer said.

Glendenning promised ‘to bring you not only the football results but up to the minute account of the major sporting fixtures from all parts of the country’.

The tones of Hubert Bath’s jaunty march ‘Out of the Blue’ signalled the start of the very first edition.

Written for a Hendon Air display in 1931, it was apparently produced from the BBC Gramophone library that very afternoon.

Thankfully still in use today, despite a few, shall we say ‘misguided’ efforts to change it for something more contemporary, it evokes a million memories of tea time listening to what used to be known as the ‘wireless’

Amongst the list of correspondents that first week of 1948 was John Arlott. In those days he also covered football and reported from Portsmouth’s victory over Huddersfield.

There were as many hosts as programmes in the first month including ‘Mr George Allison’, a football commentator in the thirties who had only just given up on his day job as Arsenal manager.

Allison and Sports Report did not suit but within a couple of years the programme’s first producer Angus Mackay had found the perfect fit.

He recruited an Irish boxing commentator who became synonymous with the earlier years, and later, as well known for surprising many, not just from the world of sport, by carrying a red book. His name was Eamonn Andrews.

He presented Sports Report for 14 years before moving to host the new ITV programme ‘World of Sport’.

Mackay remained in charge until the 1970s and those who worked for him pass on the mantra of ‘attention to detail’ to the next generation.

The early years of Sports Report included some stalwarts of our association.

Bill McGowran was a contributor, his name lives on in our award for the outstanding Para sport athletes. The Peter Wilson award is given to the International Newcomer.

In 1948, Wilson was already a seasoned pro in journalism specialising in tennis and boxing though a newcomer perhaps to the still relatively new art of broadcasting. He covered all the big fights and contributed to Sports Report ‘on events and personalities in the United States today’.

Pat Murphy’s book BBC Sports Report celebrates radio’s longest-running sports programme

More recently, our current president Patrick Collins has often been a sought after contributor to what he described as ‘the weekly miracle’.

“We in Fleet Street regarded the radio sports people as charming but slightly showbiz,” Collins conceded.

He features at the start of a new book assembled by Pat Murphy, a familiar and authoritative voice on both football and cricket.

“BBC Sports Report, a celebration of the world’s longest running sports radio programme, is a fitting tribute to the 75th anniversary which has rightly been acclaimed.

“Any one listening to the programme from as recently as a decade ago will notice a change in tempo and tone,” Murphy writes.

His book is not the first. Back in the 1950s, Mackay and Andrews were responsible for the first two slim blue volumes with marvellous black and white photographs.

Another velvet voice, longtime football correspondent Bryon Butler marked the 40th anniversary and senior producer Audrey Adams masterminded the golden jubilee tribute.

Sports Report has survived at least two major shake ups in BBC Radio. In 1967, the old network was swept away to be replaced by Radio 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Never mind, Sports Report went from strength to strength, consider the names who have presented the programme, amongst the finest voices on sport this country has ever produced.

Peter Jones, still much missed as one of the greatest of all radio commentators, to be followed by the likes of Mike Ingham, Ian Darke and the late Peter Brackley.

Desmond Lynam hosted both Sports Report and BBC Television flagship Grandstand and in 1988, he cued  from the television studio to Peter Jones, resplendent in dinner jacket to welcome listeners to the anniversary edition.

Jones in turn introduced the velvet voice of James Alexander Gordon, to read the classified football results.

Within a decade, Grandstand had disappeared from the screens but Sports Report continues to flourish and since the SJA introduced broadcast categories to our awards almost 20 years ago, some familiar voices on Sports Report have been happy to accept the glittering prizes

Mark Pougatch, Jonathan Overend in 2010, Mark Pougatch in 2011 and the current host Mark Chapman in 2017, have all collected the sports presenter of the year.

In between, Eleanor Oldroyd scooped the presenter’s award two years out of three.

Mike Ingham, an authoritative presenter in the early eighties before switching to commentary, received the Doug Gardner award in 2014 and who could forget a secret operation which would have done credit to MI6 in 2019.

The winner was once a one-time presenter of Sports Report and the impeccable but unsuspecting host of the SJA British Sports Journalism Awards.

Jim Rosenthal is set to be your host once for the British Sports Journalism Awards again on March 6.