Anniversary of first “sick as a parrot” interview

Considerable though his CV is, this weekend marks the 70th anniversary of George Male’s main claim to fame, because it was in September 1937 that he became the first footballer ever to be interviewed live on television.

Arsenal fans will know that Male captained England on six occasions, was the first player to win six League title medals in the glory days of the 1930s, and either side of the War he played 318 matches, failing to score a single goal – clearly not too much overlapping by the full-backs in those days. When he wasn’t playing, he was serving in the RAF in Palestine, and after he had stopped playing he became a scout, discovering, among others, Charlie George.

It is not too hard to imagine how that first TV interview would have gone. Male probably called the interviewer, the legendary John Snagge, “sir” throughout, and spoke in clipped, measured tones, on the “speak when you’re spoken to” theory.

Just as well then that his manager was rather more forthcoming, but then George Allison had been a broadcaster 10 years earlier, commentating on BBC Radio’s first FA Cup final and helping at the Grand National. Just imagine John Motson and Jim McGrath as Premiership bosses 10 years hence.

Snagge expressed some surprise that not all the players at Arsenal came from London. “Oh no,” said Allison. “They’re from Scotland, Yorkshire, Wales, all over the place. Just provided they are all British subjects. We couldn’t put a foreigner in the team.” (Arsene Wenger was unavailable for comment).

Football has come so far in a relatively short space of time, but that pace of change has obviously accelerated dramatically in the last 15 years, and reading Martyn Smith’s excellent new book The Premiership in Focus reminds you of how naive the game was even as recently as 1992.

And while Steven Gerrard is talking on the telly about England’s prospects against Russia, I’ll be somewhere between Montpellier and Toulouse. I’ve moved on to a book about aboriginal boxing in the outback, so don’t be surprised to read about that next week.

But while you are watching Stevie G, spare a thought for George Male, who 70 years ago this weekend became the first man in history to be over the moon.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in John Inverdale’s Daily Telegraph column on Wednesday. SJA member Inverdale is in France, covering the Rugby World Cup for BBC Radio. Read the column in full by clicking here

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