There are certain phrases – single words, even – that your brain only seems to recall being uttered by one person, in that person’s exact cadence, accent, and inflection. You can just hear it, humming around in the back of your mind, and no alternative interpretation will ever change that. Perhaps it’s Bono’s “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you” from Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, or Brando’s “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse”. For me, it’s the late Peter Brackley saying “Genoa”.

Don’t ask me why Genoa, that’s just the one that stuck – it’s not like the much loved commentator didn’t also mention more than two dozen other Italian football teams during his time working with Football Italia on Channel 4 – but it probably best represents my relationship with the iconic football show; a mix of half memories, nostalgia, and joy. It was free-to-air, top flight football (at a time when Serie A was arguably the best in the world), that was accessible no matter where you were. Perhaps you were a young kid, dragged along to visit their parents’ friends, and they didn’t have Sky! No matter, Football Italia was on. At your (grand)parents for Sunday lunch? Guess what was on Channel 4…

It was there, it was dependable. James Richardson at the cafe; mistakenly thinking the opening intro included the line ‘Go Lazio’, perhaps as some kind of subtle support for Paul Gascoigne (note: this later turned out to be true!!!); suddenly developing great affection for Giuseppe Signori, or purple kits. It probably didn’t hurt that the first ever game on Football Italia was between Sampdoria and Lazio – no Gazza that day, but it did make a mockery of my dad’s assertion there weren’t many goals in Italian football, as the two sides battled to a 3-3 draw. A six-goal thriller to introduce Serie A to the (English) world? I was 9, I was football mad anyway, and I was now hooked on this exotic mix of the overseas, the hand gestures, and the global stars.

As if Italian football didn’t already seem alluring enough, following the 1990 World Cup, as time past, the interest only deepend via a combination of thunder bastards from Batistuta, Richardson performing the lambada with Lombardo, and a seemingly never ending cycle of stories to sink one’s teeth into: from Juventus’ demolition of Milan at the San Siro, shifting the balance of power in Serie A, to Ronaldo’s arrival at Inter, breaking the world transfer record set by Newcastle United, to sign Alan Shearer, the year before. There was always something to pique your interest. Admittedly, as I got older, it also became a valued part of my ‘hangover cure’, the comfort blanket of TV on a Saturday morning, or Sunday lunch time. Youth or young adult, the core attraction remained the same to me: I loved football, my only stake in these games was enjoyment, and the production team tapped into the great and the good of both Italian football, and the sport in general. It was a pure experience, with no worries or concerns over the result, only that you felt entertained. And for the most part, we did.

Football Italia garnered more than three million viewers at its peak, costing Channel 4 a fraction of what a single Premier League game would cost now, all while planting the seed of Serie A among young and old alike, including those in the professional ranks – as BT Sport’s trip down memory lane, Golazzo: The Football Italia Story, demonstrated, with Paul Ince, Rio Ferdinand, and Frank Lampard all sharing their memories of the show (and in Ince’s case, the league itself) as part of the documentary. As much as modern footballers can seem to stand a world apart from those on the terraces, Lampard’s smile, recalling his much loved AC Milan kit as a kid, will surely resonate with anyone that grew up on the alternative ABCs – Arrigo (Sacchi), (Roberto) Baggio, and Cafu.

Perhaps there are parallels between Serie A’s (relative) decline – no longer the King of European football, as La Liga, and then the Premier League, grew – and Channel 4’s diminishing interest, resulting in the show’s abandonment by the broadcaster in 2001. British Eurosport, Bravo, and Channel 5 all attempted to recapture the magic via their own vehicles, but failed to burrow into British popular culture in the way Football Italia on 4 had. Perhaps they never could; it was equal parts overnight sensation, moment in time, and product of its era. BT Sport have done an admirable job as the current rights holders, but paywalls, expanding TV markets and channel choices, and a changing world have moved things on. As much as we might wish for those halcyon days again, Football Italia remains a stalwart memory for millions.

We’ll always have Totti though. And Batigol, Parma, and the Stadio delle Alpi. All together now….Goooooolaço!

Rob McGregor @SamuraiPizzaRob