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29 October 2014

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You are in: South Yorkshire > History > Local History > The original football phone-in

Robert Jackson

Robert Jackson

The original football phone-in

BBC Radio Sheffield's Praise or Grumble programme is the original radio phone-in programme. Find out how it all started, listen to our interviews with presenters past and present and we pick some choice moments too...

Robert Jackson is the father of the first ever football phone-in. He was a sport reporter and producer for BBC Radio Sheffield between 1972 and 1992.

We spoke with him about his proudest moment, inventing the original radio phone-in.

"1986, November, on holiday with Mary in Pathos in Cyprus, we were sunbathing and Mary said 'you're not very well... you've not said anything for half an hour'.

"I was thinking of something. We needed something after five o'clock in the programme on a Saturday afternoon. All the programmes were well listened to but once their favourite team had won or lost and heard the football results we tended to lose listeners.

Glynn Snodin pictured in 1986

Snodin was playing when the programme started

"Out of that thinking came the Grumble Spot. I've always believed in this country we grumble far too much, we very rarely say 'thank you' or 'well done'... but we grumble when something's gone wrong.

"So we invented a phone-in at around about five past five, 35 minutes of sharp, 30 or 40 seconds for the person to have a grumble, about anything to do with local sport or life in general. It took off.

"But after about four or five weeks Sheffield Wednesday had a 5-0 home victory and a chap rung up and said I don't want to grumble I want to praise. I said 'it's the Grumble Spot get off', he said 'no listen to me, it's been a great match... I want to praise them, and out of this single call it became Praise or Grumble.

"Then we got so popular over the rest of the season, into 1987, 88 and so on... the whole programme became more and more popular, we'd got people ringing up queuing to get on. If they couldn't say it in 40 seconds we just switched them off and went to the next caller. We used to get some real laughs.

"I think the aim in those days was to make you smile or laugh on your way home from a match when you'd seen your team get stuffed, and try and cheer you up before you got home, and it worked.

"It became so popular the men in suits came up from London. We'd got the best listening figures of any local radio station for any period in the week between five o'clock and six o'clock, and most of the phone-ins on national radio came out of that Praise or Grumble."

The next generation

The programme was taken on by Simon Clarke, and then Bob Ballard who had changed the format slightly:

"We did do longer, we didn't just to 45 seconds, if the caller was worthy of two minutes we gave them two minutes.

Bob Ballard

Bob Ballard

"People talk about rivalries around the country, Mersyside rivalry, London rivalries and I'd say 'you should taste the Wednesday / United rivalry.

"There is nothing like it, there is a huge divide in this city... but they're canny, they know their football and you have to be on top of your game as sometimes they can run rings around you.

When asked about the relationship fans have between the six clubs that are given coverage on Radio Sheffield Bob explained:

"That's why they're not insular, they do keep an eye on everyone else, obviously they're mostly concerned about what they do, but they do take a passive interest in everybody else.

"Just as I left Chesterfield went on their FA Cup run and Barnsley fans, Rotherham fans Sheffield Wednesday fans and others were desperate for Chesterfield to do well.

"They had no real allegiance to them, they'd probably never even seen them play 'till the FA Cup run... there's a united force... everybody feels they are part of a common bond."

"I think it's one of the greatest inventions ever... national radio came sniffing around. They almost waited until it had been fine tuned here... we were like the prototype."

Seth Bennett and John Pearson

Gareth Hampshire

Gareth was next to take the baton, and the Sheffield lad grew up with the programme, listening each week on his way home from the match.

"It was a massive thrill to get into that chair and actually get a chance to do it. It was such an institution, not just in sporting terms but in every part of your life.

"John Duncan [former Chesterfield manager] wanted the show gone! He could not stand it. One of the first things he said to me 'You want to get rid of that thing, I'm getting hammered every week on there!' He was pretty funny."

David Burns

"I knew before I came to Radio Sheffield what a great success it was, and therefore what a great privilege it was to sit in that chair. The brand name is legendry... not just locally, it's legendry around the country.

"It set the tone, it set the pattern of football phone ins around the country, probably all over the world. Bob Jackson deserves tremendous credit for starting it off.

"I remember doing a Saturday programme at the Old Dell, Southampton's old ground with Mel Sterland as a summariser and we were off air for about three minutes falling about laughing because a bloke from ITV had fallen out of the press box window."

Colin Hazelden

Colin Hazelden

Colin Hazelden

"There are two particular occasions that stick out for me. The one that I really adored comes from when I was commentating at Bramall Lane with David Burns.

"At half time they brought out these can can girls... Burns is getting flustered and finally can't help himself and makes a vaguely suggestive remark about one of the very pretty dancers.

"We skated over the fact it was a little bit on the risque side and move along. We're in the middle of Praise or Grumble and somebody rings up and says, 'it's a grumble actually sort of about you, you mentioned the can can dancers, in particular the one on the far left... well that's my daughter!

"Burnsy has gone beetroot red and is stuttering his way towards finding some sort of apology, I was dying with laughter in the commentary box."

Luke Wileman

"There's nothing better than Saturday tea time and turning the radio on to listen to Praise or Grumble... I did it in West Yorkshire and it just wasn't the same, there wasn't that rivalry.

Ex-BBC Radio Sheffield presenter Luke Wileman

Luke, back in the Radio Sheffield days

"The fact that you've got Wednesday and United and all the other teams in South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire, and they have that interest in the other teams and the rivalry.

"Any national radio football phone-ins are no where near as good as Praise or Grumble of Football Heaven... it's that rivalry that other areas don't have that makes it so good and work so well."

Wileman / Walker / Houghton / Bennett

"To feel that you're part of this is quite an honour really, it's something very, very special. But it's two hours now, it only used to be an hour... and there are enough characters around the area who really make your day.

Luke Wileman and Paul Walker were both instrumental in taking the Praise or Grumble concept at applying it to a weekday programme called Football Heaven.

"It wasn't enough to just have it on a Saturday, and we've not got enough to do we might as well go and do another hour every night of the week," laughed Luke.

"No other radio station does two hours on a Saturday and wouldn't dream of doing an hour, they just wouldn't be able to keep it going, and shows how much football impacts in South Yorkshire and the North Midlands, everyone wants to talk about it."

Paul Walker interviews James Beattie

Paul meets the £4m man

"Football has come on a lot since Bob started the programme, it's become more analysed... everybody looks at things in much more detail now," said current sport editor Paul Walker.

"Fans are becoming more and more intelligent as the years go by... because you can access to so many mediums now, TV, internet, the papers, statistics are everywhere.

"They can feed their brain with football, plus e-mails and text messaging have been introduced so there are so many ways of getting in touch with the programme.

"One of the biggest compliments ever made to me was by Neil Warnock. He used to tape Praise or Grumble and listen to it on a Sunday whilst eating his Sunday dinner.

"A football manager listening to the radio keen to hear about him and his team. When he used to come in to the room where we used to present it from he used to come in and listen five minutes before and stay after, have the headphones on and listen to the callers. I think that

"My three years at Radio Sheffield coincided with some pretty miserable times at Hillsborough," said former presenter Steve Houghton.

Steve Houghton

"At Hillsborough it was grumble after grumble. But at the end of September, 2004, it was the day Chris Turner was sacked... I was thinking 'God Chris Turner is taking his time to come out'.

"But you're so engrossed in the programme and with the callers you don't really think about what might be going on, and suddenly Dave Allen is there.

"He announced that he'd sacked Chris Turner, and suddenly you have to think on your feet. He's given Turner a fair amount of money in the summer... by the end of September he'd sacked him.

"So I asked question after question after question and it got quite fruity. Steve Chu the press officer as he was then was desperately trying to get Dave Allen out of that room, so I just put a big arm around him and just wouldn't let him leave [laughs]... and I don't think he likes me to this day.

"It is the best phone in on local or national radio, one, because of the passion for football in South Yorkshire and the North Midlands, the rivalry and also because it's got the best callers, they're the most knowledgeable... really passionate people."

last updated: 21/05/2008 at 15:13
created: 26/10/2007

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