Behind the Mike: A Look At The Glory Days of Piccadilly Sport

Commemorating Piccadilly Radio’s first full football season

If you thought Milton Keynes Dons’ tonking of Manchester United was eventful, cast your mind back to the 1974-75 season. M.K. Dons was Southern League side Wimbledon (home ground, Plough Lane); Manchester United played Second Division football, and top of the First Division that week was Carlisle United.

Wigan Athletic played the likes of Mossley and Boston United in the Northern Premier League. My team, Stalybridge Celtic, were playing in the Cheshire County League and Martyn Torr’s writings featured in the Stalybridge and Dukinfield Reporter – a broadsheet newspaper at the time.

In the newly formed Greater Manchester area, Piccadilly Radio changed the way we listened to football. Cue the station’s Sport Editor Tom Tyrrell, former commentator for BBC Radio Manchester and professional Manchester United fan.

Early days

Before 1983, the only chance you had of live football coverage was any of the following:

  • England and Scotland internationals;
  • The European Champions’ Cup final;
  • The F.A. Cup Final;
  • The Football League Cup final.

Outside of which, highlights programmes – Match of the Day of course – plus ITV’s The Big Match (its national programme) and each franchisee’s local programme. Which in Granadaland of course was the much lauded Kick Off and The Kick Off Match.

Independent Local Radio was bound by similar restrictions – all of which sanctioned by The Football League to avoid eating into attendance figures. Which from the 1960s saw a downward trend prior to the Taylor Report. Therefore, radio stations couldn’t offer full match commentary. The most they could offer was half a game, details of which they couldn’t announce till a minute before the second half.

Piccadilly Sport

Greater Manchester was, and remains in 2014 ‘good news territory’. This was recognised by Greater Manchester Independent Radio Ltd, not only in the context of its current affairs. That was also true with its passion for football with City and United. Furthermore, Greater Manchester’s other teams were within their catchment area such as Stockport County, Bolton Wanderers, Oldham Athletic, Rochdale and Bury.

In its formative years, the station’s Saturday programme, the Saturday Sportscene, sandwiched Dave Cave’s Saturday Walkabout, Andy’s Afternoon, and Bold as Brass. The first part of the programme, starting at midday had an overview of the fixtures. Andy’s programme would include goal flashes, with the final part at 1745 being a round-up of the results.

Its sports output really got going in October 1974 , when schedule changes saw Piccadilly Sport having a four and a half hour long slot from 1300 to 1730. All nicely timed for tea and a trip to the newsagents for a Football Pink. The success of this saw the publication of Piccadilly Radio’s Soccer Book, a regular addition of any late 1970s Mancunian football fan.

By 1976, the music and goals approach (again with second half commentary of any given match in the Piccadilly Radio area) proved popular, with James Stannage co-presenting. Another hour was adding to the slot, prior to Mr. Stannage’s other Saturday programme Folkspan.

Two years on came another change: 1300 to 1500 hours would be Soccer Special, presented from a home ground, coexisting with the club’s pre-match entertainment. If at Old Trafford, Tom Tyrrell. Maine Road, Vince Miller. 1500 to 1800, Piccadilly Sport. By 1979, Piccadilly Sport – later extended to 1900 hours in 1980. Phil Sayer did the reports whereas the post-match analysis came from Tom Tyrrell.

In spite of the many changes, the combination of goal flashes and chart music remained popular till the 1990s. Phone-ins would rise in popularity with The Doc taking calls. The former Manchester United, Chelsea and Altrincham manager would also co-commentate on some fixtures and be aided by James H. Reeve in the late 1980s.

Transition and Decline

By the late 1980s, Piccadilly Sport became a ‘must listen to’ programme, with the same sort of drama redolent of Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday. There would sometimes be banter between James H. Reeve (a Manchester City fan) and Mike Sweeney (ardent Manchester United fan). At the height of its powers, it would coincide with:

  • Oldham Athletic’s promotion to the First Division, the start of a three year stint in the top flight;
  • Manchester United’s first league title in 23 years;
  • The rise of Wigan RLFC as a world power in Rugby League.

Its peak and slow decline would also coincide with football’s rise in popularity and the formation of the F.A. Premier League. Owing to this, the cost of broadcasting rights for big clubs rose. For the bigger radio groups, which owned many of the first generation ILR stations, this meant a loss of advertising revenue.

Programmes like Piccadilly Sport declined in stature and number outside of BBC local stations. Syndicated features would be introduced such as the short lived Who Ate All The Pies snippet; commentators could be used on more than one Magic station for instance. Impartiality was compromised with Premier League sides signing exclusive contracts with single radio stations.

The twilight years of Piccadilly Sport saw the Sports Editor baton pass to Steve Bower, who proved to be as analytical as Mr. Tyrrell. By 2003, greater integration with other EMAP Radio stations (of which Magic 1152 and Key 103 were both) saw the loss of localised coverage. Manchester United would sign a deal with XFM for full match commentary. The internet, mobile internet, broadband and streaming would rise in popularity. It seemed as if Rupert Murdoch had won with the lack of up-to-the-minute football news for non-connected households. Even the Football Pink would succumb to the Great Printing Press in the Sky.

Today, neither of Piccadilly Radio’s successors, Key 103 and Piccadilly Magic 1152 offer a sports programme. It is now the preserve of BBC Radio Manchester and smaller scale local stations like Tameside Radio. This season, the Stalybridge based station has beefed up its matchday coverage of the borough’s six non-league sides.

We are now for the poorer without Piccadilly Sport and programmes of that ilk on commercial stations. Some football fans think a Saturday well spent is watching Jeff Stelling and Chris Kamara when they could be watching the ‘Bridge. Or streaming a Premier League fixture on their laptop. Only Twitter offers the same sort of immediacy as Piccadilly Sport did, but I doubt as if it is intelligent enough to say ‘Oh No!’ if Omar Bogle scores past Lewis King. Or a nice ‘It’s A Goal!’ if Liam Dickinson scores a 30-yard piledriver in the Town End.

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Key to the success of Piccadilly Sport was its matchday reporters, ably assisted its regular disc jockeys.

Tom Tyrrell: Sports Editor and Manchester United commentator since the start of Piccadilly Radio. Moved across Piccadilly Gardens from BBC Radio Manchester (previous studio was above NatWest Bank) and previously worked for the Oldham Evening Chronicle. Also presented Typically Topical, edited the Piccadilly Radio Soccer Books and Manchester United’s official annuals. He has since worked for Dublin radio station Today FM.

Brian Clark: the chief commentator of Manchester City’s games, again joining the station at the start. Besides the spherical ball, he also commentated on Rugby League fixtures. Later moved to BBC Radio Manchester, commentating on lower league games.

Henry Matthews: many would associate him with the news bulletins and his work with BBC Radio Manchester. He was a regular fixture at Oldham Athletic’s games along with his pipe. Covering lower league action, his pipe at Gigg Lane set off the fire alarms. By the late 1980s, he would concentrate more on the station’s news bulletins, passing the mike to…

Stuart Pyke: even men with steel hearts couldn’t fail to be touched by his account of the Oldham Athletic’s comeback against Sheffield Wednesday in 1991. Mr. Pyke became Latics’ first choice commentator and formed the soundtrack of its epic cup runs and the 1990-91 promotion season. Today, he works for Sky Sports with John Gwynne on darts commentary. He also writes for The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Express.

Jack Dearden: now at BBC Radio Manchester where he covers Bolton Wanderers’ fixtures. He was Piccadilly Radio’s first choice correspondent for the lower league sides.

Steve Bower: took over from Tom Tyrrell in 1996 as the UK’s young sports editor. By which time Piccadilly Radio 1152 continued the station’s sports coverage. After being Manchester United’s commentator at Castle Quay, he moved to MUTV [Manchester United Television] in 1998. Following his nine year stint, he has lent his voice to Sky Sports, EMAP Radio/Bauer Media stations, Setanta Sport, ITV4 and BT Sport. He is probably the only commentator to have braved the gantries at Bower Fold and the Bernabeu.

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‘It’s a… Oh No!’

Any reporter could issue listeners with a perfunctory goal announcement, but Piccadilly Radio marked its goal announcements with panache. If one of the transmission area’s teams scored, cue a cheerful…

‘It’s A Goal!’

Phil Sayer, Mike Sweeney, Simon Cole, or whoever was in the studio would announce who scored for Manchester United/Manchester City/Bolton Wanderers/Altrincham. Listeners would be nervous for a few seconds, in the hope that either Bryan Robson, Paul Power or Neil Watmore scored.

If the reverse happened, cue a rueful…

‘Oh No!’

This time, our listener would hope the likes of Tony Woodcock, Gary Lineker or Ian Rush didn’t score against them. Sometimes, he or she would express some schadenfreude if the Blues or the Reds were a goal or two down.

Either announcement would lead to some banter between presenters. Especially as one would be a Blue with a Red as his opposite number.

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Great Moments of Piccadilly Sport:

  • Henry Matthews’ pipe setting off the fire alarms at Gigg Lane.
  • A botched firework display at Maine Road which led to the bomb squad heading to the ground.
  • Tom Tyrrell being thrown out of Stamford Bridge by Ken Bates, and being forced to cover Manchester United’s game against Chelsea on a mobile phone!
  • Stuart Pyke’s account of the last ten minutes of Oldham Athletic versus Sheffield Wednesday, 1990-91 promotion winning season.
  • Brian Clark’s gloomy announcement of Manchester United’s second Derby Day goal in a 3-2 win for the Reds at Maine Road.

Totemic Tussles of the Piccadilly Sport era:

  • 1976 Football League Cup Final: Manchester City 2, Newcastle United 1: Dennis Tueart’s 46 minute overhead separated the two sides.
  • 1977 F.A. Cup Final: Manchester United 2, Liverpool 1: Jimmy Greenhoff kept the ‘Pool at bay after McIlroy’s goal was cancelled out by Jimmy Case.
  • 14 May 1983, Football League Division One: Manchester City 0, Luton Town 1: a black day for City fans as Raddy Antic’s 86th minute goal consigned the Blues to Division Two. With a dancing David Pleat.
  • 21 March 1984, European Cup Winners’ Cup (Quarter Finals, Second Leg): Manchester United 3, Barcelona 0: superb first half display and an atmospheric Old Trafford saw a two-goal first leg deficit overturn thanks to a Bryan Robson double and Frank Stapleton. Against Bernd Schuster and Diego Maradona.
  • 7 November 1987, Football League Division Two: Manchester City 10, Huddersfield Town 1: Mel Machin’s men overcame the Terriers with Neil McNab first to score. Paul Stewart, Tony Adcock and David White amassed hat tricks against the then basement club.
  • 23 September 1989, Football League Division One: Manchester City 5, Manchester United 1: Not Fergie’s finest hour, but this infamous Derby day saw David Oldfield score twice for the Blues, with the remainder by Trevor Morley, Ian Bishop and Andy Hinchcliffe. Mark Hughes scored Manchester United’s only goal.
  • 11 May 1991, Football League Division Two: Oldham Athletic 3, Sheffield Wednesday 2: best remembered for Stuart Pyke’s hysterics. The Latics were 2-0 down at half time thanks to David Hirst. The turning point came when 17 year old debutant Paul Bernard equalised. Then Neil Redfern scored the spot kick in injury time and the rest as they say…
  • 18 December 1996, Football League Cup Fourth Round Replay: Stockport County 2, West Ham United 1: Julian Dicks opened the scoring at Edgeley Park, but a headed Iain Dowie 23rd minute own goal at the Railway End put the tie within the Hatters’ grasp. Four minutes later came Brett Angell’s winner. County would reach the Semi Final, bowing out to eventual runners-up Middlesbrough.

S.V., 27 August 2014.


2 thoughts on “Behind the Mike: A Look At The Glory Days of Piccadilly Sport

Add yours

  1. Hello. James H. Reeve here. No, really. Thank you for your kind comments here. The late 80s were, indeed, a great time for Piccadilly Sport, and I am proud to have been a part of it. As you might know, the sad news is that Tom Tyrrell has died. Of minor importance: Henry Matthews has never smoked a pipe – I suspect the potential arsonist was Matt Proctor. And I chuckled at the very idea of Stannage presenting a folk music show – that was Harry Ogden. Other than that, though, a very nice tribute to a time I’ll always remember fondly.

    Liked by 1 person

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