Gazza made Gazzetta Football Italia primetime viewing as Channel 4 celebrates 30 years since Serie A football came home | The Sun

THIS week marks the 30th anniversary of Channel 4 bringing Italian footy to British and Irish TV screens — as Serie A gained a cult following.

Saturday mornings were all about highlights show Gazzetta Football Italia, while Football Italia featured live action from the biggest names in world football every Sunday and a chance to watch Paul Gascoigne.

Jonathan Grade was a producer when the iconic Gazzetta Football Italia took over our televisions.

In his new book Golazzo: The Football Italia Years, he talks Gazza, snakes and the finest footballers of the 1990s.

In those days Serie A was in a class of its own.

Fans had to pay a subscription to watch Premier League football, but over on Channel 4 the best league in the world had a new home, and you did not have to pay a penny.


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And while Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Roberto Baggio, Gabriel Batistuta and Co were thrilling viewers every week, it was the arrival of a certain Geordie who took centre stage, as Gazza finally signed for Lazio.

His three years in the eternal city were a rollercoaster.

There were some unforgettable times — the highlight being a last-minute equaliser in the Rome derby — but there were lows too, as he suffered repeated injury setbacks.

Gazza's weekly appearances on Gazzetta Football Italia were legendary, as he and presenter James Richardson hit it off from the start.

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James would have him up to all sorts — one week doing links with a giant chocolate Easter egg over his head and the next with a snake around his neck!

On the field viewers were treated to the finest football in Europe.

A six-goal thriller between Sampdoria and Lazio was the perfect way to start and set the tone for a thrilling first season.

Any idea that Serie A was dull was well and truly swept away.

Football Italia was the first live football programme to not have commentators inside the stadium.

Instead, Peter Brackley would be based in a voiceover booth — usually alongside Ray Wilkins. The viewer would be none the wiser.

Brackers would always tell us that when he returned home after a live game that nobody could believe he'd got back so quickly!

While the show was an enormous success it was not always plain sailing behind the scenes.

There were times when we'd lose the match feed — on one occasion for a match between Parma and Juventus.

Thankfully we started filming just in time for a Filippo Inzaghi goal, so the viewers didn't miss anything!

The pictures coming from our host broadcaster in Italy may not have been Prem quality, but the football was from another planet.

Before long C4 would expand the coverage. Both legs of Italy's crucial World Cup qualifier with Russia in 1998 were shown live, attracting a huge audience.

The channel's commitment to Football Italia got stronger. Saturday night's primetime viewing one week was the Milan derby, as we were able to keep showing the biggest games.

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Sadly, at the turn of the millennium crowd trouble and racism came to the fore in Serie A and in 2002 Channel 4 decided not to renew its Football Italia contract.

But the memories still remain of one of the greatest eras in Italian football history — and viewers over here got the chance to see it all. 

l Golazzo: The Football Italia Years by Jonathan Grade is available on Amazon for €13.57 and the Kindle store for €10.31.

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