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First live radio broadcast of a soccer match, 1927

Jan 12, 2018
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On New Year’s Day 1927, the British Broadcasting Company Ltd received a Royal Charter and became the publicly funded British Broadcasting Corporation. Two weeks later the BBC made the first ever live radio broadcast of a sporting event – a Rugby Union international match between England and Wales at Twickenham. A week later, on 22nd January, BBC radio broadcast the first live coverage of an association football match between Arsenal and Sheffield United.

The game was a First Division fixture played at Arsenal’s ground, Highbury, in North-London. The commentator was Captain Henry Blythe Thornhill Wakelam, a former rugby player, who commentated on the rugby international the week before. The producer of the show, Lance Sieveking, came up with an idea to help the listeners keep track of the action. The Radio Times magazine of that week included a diagram of the pitch that was divided up into numbered sections. As Wakelam described the action, a fellow broadcaster, C.A. Lewis, told the listeners which sector the ball was in.

Bad visibility hampered the commentators but they still managed to keep their listeners informed of the goals. On an icy pitch, Arsenal took the lead when Charlie Buchan headed home with ten minutes to go. The Sheffield United captain, Billy Gillespie, soon equalised and the match ended as a 1:1 draw.

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