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World Cup

Media Coverage
England on Television
Pre-War (1938-39)

The commentators in italics are probable, but not confirmed.

By the end of 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) had its own regular television service, but it was not until the end of the following season that the first full match was broadcast live. There are at least three earlier claims to the first televised football match. A film of Arsenal's opening game of the 1936-37 season against Everton was shown, but this was only recorded action. Part of the 1937 FA Cup Final was broadcast live.

Arsenal Football Club certainly hosted a live football event on television, the following season. This was on a Thursday afternoon, September 16th, 1937 at 3:40pm, when manager, George Allison introduced his team. The programme was only on air for 15 minutes, but the players' training session, including part of a practice match with the reserves, was relayed to Alexandra Palace, from where it was broadcast to the nation, or that part of London lucky enough to have a television set. Another session was broadcast from Highbury on the following afternoon.

The very first football match televised live in its entirety was held on 9th April, 1938 and it was the annual England v. Scotland fixture, at Wembley Stadium. At this time, outside broadcasts could only be made from London. Tommy Walker gave Scotland an early lead and it was enough to give them the victory. Interestingly, the same commentary was used for both television and radio; George Allison had been commentating for BBC radio since 1927 and now made the transition to TV. He was joined at the mic by Thomas Woodrooffe, an ex-naval officer, who had commentated on many varied events for the BBC, though he had been taken off-air the previous year, for slurring his words whilst broadcasting at a naval event, after having had a drink too many beforehand!

The same pair described the FA Cup Final at the same venue, three weeks later, where Woodrooffe was immortalised by the words, "If a goal's scored now, I'll eat my hat", just before Preston won the game with a last-minute penalty! A cake, in the shape of a hat, was subsequently made in order for him to keep his promise.

By the following season, the last before wartime, it had been decided that the pictures should be accompanied by a separate commentary to the radio broadcasts, and Allison secured the television role. By embracing this new medium with enthusiasm, George Allison had become football's first ever TV pundit and his popularity was further enhanced by a speaking part in the 1939 movie, 'The Arsenal Stadium Mystery'.

Sadly, the Second World War brought an abrupt halt to television coverage of the national game. The BBC suspended the service on 2nd September, 1939. Allison was retained for radio commentaries of wartime fixtures, but the television screens would remain blank until June 1946, the beginning of a new era in broadcasting history.



Saturday, 9 April 1938 - England 0 Scotland 1 [0-1]
Empire Stadium, Wembley - Kick-off 3.00pm GMT
London Television (BBC) - 2:50pm - 4:40pm
George Allison and Thomas Woodrooffe.



Wednesday, 26 October 1938 -
England 3 Rest of Europe 0
Arsenal Stadium, Highbury - Kick-off 3.00pm GMT
London Television (BBC) - 3:00pm - 3:45pm
George Allison
(second half coverage not confirmed - radio coverage for second half only)