Twenty five years ago in 1988, Ian Rush was playing his football in Italy for Juventus and Mark Hughes was in Spain with Barcelona. A small group at a television production company had the idea of showing football from the continent in Wales, to give the fans a chance to follow the Welsh stars.
But in the summer of 1988 as the programme was about to hit the screen, Rush and Hughes returned to Britain, to Liverpool and Manchester United!
Despite this unfortunate turn of events, the first episode of Sgorio was broadcast at 7.30pm on Monday the 5th of September 1988, exactly twenty five years ago and the series still shows continental football to this day.
Arthur Emyr, a familiar face as a winger for Swansea RFC, was the presenter of the first episode and he went on to present the next six series.
“My memory of the first series is the excitement of doing something totally new, which was also completely revolutionary. No-one in the television industry in Britain had ever tried anything like it before.
“Nobody knew what to expect but there was a feeling that this was a brilliant idea, and the audience was definitely looking forward to being to see the stars of world football playing week in, week out.”
At the time, the football shown on television was limited to Match of the Day on Saturday night and The Big Match on Sunday afternoon, with both series concentrating on the English First Division.
Arthur explains, “Before Sgorio started, these stars – Maradona, Rijkaard, Van Basten and so on – were only seen every four years at the World Cup. The chance to watch them playing every week was a very exciting development for us, as a team.
“It was a leap into the dark and none of us had ever dreamed that we’d get such a great response, not only from the audience in Wales, both Welsh speaking and non-Welsh speaking, but there were tens of thousands who tuned in to S4C over the border on Merseyside and even in Ireland who became loyal viewers. We very quickly became a phenomenon!”
Barcelona against Espanyol was the first ever game shown on the programme, with Emyr Davies commentating, the only person to have worked uninterrupted on every series of Sgorio right from the start.
“I remember being out in the Camp Nou with Richard Morris Jones the producer and having the first experience of trying to get a press accreditation and the answer at the first door was one word: no!
“Somehow, some way, we managed to blag our way in!
“Even today, I still remember my legs trembling in the stadium. There were 120,000 people in the Camp Nou that night – the first game of the season, the Catalan derby, Johan Cruyff’s first game as manager, at the start of what would become the club’s most successful period ever.
“The game itself wasn’t a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but in terms of the grandeur of the occasion, I’d never seen anything like it before. The sound of the crowd is still alive in my memories.”
While continental football was the main focus of the show, all kinds of different sports were shown in the early series. In the first episode, a variety of sports were shown including tennis, basketball, taekwondo, badminton and the final of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship.
According to the editor of the first ever episode, Robin Evans, the preparations for the first broadcast of Sgorio weren’t exactly smooth.
“There was excitement but there was absolute mayhem behind the scenes. The editing suites weren’t ready so there were wires everywhere and there were monitors stacked on top of each other all over the place.
“The tapes from Spain had arrived at about two o’clock in the morning from Heathrow, with a courier bringing the tapes all the way to Caernarfon in a little Citroen CV, so at least we knew we’d have something to put in the programme.”
With even the studio floor still wet with paint, everything went to plan and the first episode of Sgorio was broadcast without a hitch.
“I remember the relief that it was all over and that we had a programme,” said Robin. “We all went down to the pub, the Crown, to celebrate and I remember receiving a call from Euryn Ogwen Williams, head of programmes at S4C at the time, to congratulate us on the programme, and taking the call in the kiosk in the Crown!”
Emyr also remembers the trip to the pub after the programme, “We’d been worried how much of a success the programme would be after Mark Hughes and Ian Rush returned home, but there was a great deal of interest and a big reaction in the Crown on that night. That’s what made me realise that this programme might be quite successful.”
Arthur also has fond memories of the early days of Sgorio, “I was certainly very lucky to be associated with the project right from the start and it’s a testament to the strength of the content that the programme is still going – no-one at the start would have dreamed that the series would still be going for so long.”
Twenty five years after the original idea of a programme showing a Welshman playing in La Liga, the wait is finally over this season, with Gareth Bale ready to wear Real Madrid’s famous white shirt.