Sit Down and Cheer
A History of Sport on TV
I have never been to the Super Bowl, and I will probably never will. I’ve never been to a World Cup match or an Olympic event. I’ve never been to the Final Four or the Rose Bowl. I’ve never been to the Stanley Cup playoffs or the Champions League, the Kentucky Derby or the Masters. The only sporting event of consequence that I’ve ever attended was the World Series. It was game two of a series that went the full seven games. My team won that night, I remember. But I don’t recall much else. I was sitting in the top row, far away in the right-field corner. Certainly, it was fun to be there. But I would have seen more of the game if I had watched it on TV.
The history of sports is typically told from the perspective of those who were there, at the stadium: the athletes and managers, the spectators, and the journalists who wrote the first accounts. But most fans watch the great events of sport not in person, but from the comfort of their living room sofa. Even when witnessed from this distance, the events are still moving and memorable. We talk about them for decades afterward, recalling that one game, that one play, that announcer’s one call, to our friends and children. So how does this experience of sport’s historic moments, the experience of the fans watching on TV, fit into the story?
This is the question that Martin Kelner sets out to answer in his book, Sit Down and Cheer: A History of Sport on TV (Bloomsbury/Wisden Sports Writing, 2012). A journalist and BBC radio presenter, Martin wrote a column about sports on television for The Guardian for the last 16 years. For this book, he interviewed past commentators and producers, and dug through the extensive archives of the BBC, to uncover the history of televised sports in Britain. But the book is also the memoir of a fan–Martin’s recollections of panelists and presenters, the excitement of Cup Final day, and the games of street football narrated with the imitated calls of famous announcers. No matter if you grew up watching Match of the Day or Monday Night Football, Hockey Night in Canada or World of Sport, you’ll recognize the common experiences of sports fans on their sofas. And you’ll appreciate Martin’s account of “the joy of not being there.”
For more on the history of sports television, listen to past New Books in Sports episodes featuring former ESPN producer Dennis Deninger and historian John Bloom, who discusses his biography of Howard Cosell.