How a holiday in Cyprus led to the start of football phone-ins

It all started when his wife thought he had fallen ill on holiday.

Saturday, 13th July 2019, 13:27 pm
Updated Saturday, 13th July 2019, 13:27 pm
Bob Jackson

Radio Sheffield sports producer Bob Jackson was sunbathing in Pathos, Cyprus in November 1986 when his wife Mary thought he was ill as he hadn’t spoken for half-an-hour.

But, those 30 minutes of silence, were when he produced one of his finest pieces of work.

Bob Jackson

That was when he came up with the idea of the station’s Praise or Grumble football phone-in that has been enjoyed by fans for more than 30 years – and counting.

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And it will now act as a lasting legacy to one of the greats of sports broadcasting following his sudden death at the age of 88.

In an interview with the BBC about how Praise or Grumble came about, Bob explained: “1986, November, on holiday with Mary in Pathos in Cyprus, we were sunbathing and Mary said: ‘You're not very well... you’ve not said anything for half an hour’.

“I was thinking of something. We needed something after five o'clock in the programme on a Saturday afternoon. All the programmes were well listened to but once their favourite team had won or lost and heard the football results we tended to lose listeners.

Adam Oxley

“Out of that thinking came the Grumble Spot. I’ve always believed in this country we grumble far too much, we very rarely say ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’... but we grumble when something’s gone wrong.

“So we invented a phone-in at around about five past five, 35 minutes of sharp, 30 or 40 seconds for the person to have a grumble, about anything to do with local sport or life in general. It took off.”

“But after about four or five weeks Sheffield Wednesday had a 5-0 home victory and a chap rung up and said I don’t want to grumble I want to praise. I said: ‘It’s the Grumble Spot get off’, he said: ‘No listen to me, it’s been a great match. I want to praise them, and out of this single call it became Praise or Grumble.

“Then we got so popular over the rest of the season, into 1987, 88 and so on... the whole programme became more and more popular, we’d got people ringing up queuing to get on. If they couldn’t say it in 40 seconds we just switched them off and went to the next caller. We used to get some real laughs.

“I think the aim in those days was to make you smile or laugh on your way home from a match when you'd seen your team get stuffed, and try and cheer you up before you got home, and it worked.

“It became so popular the men in suits came up from London. We’d got the best listening figures of any local radio station for any period in the week between five o’clock and six o’clock, and most of the phone-ins on national radio came out of that Praise or Grumble.”

Praise or Grumble still airs during the football season in the same format from 5pm every Saturday.

Current BBC Radio Sheffield sports reporter Adam Oxley said: “I have made no secret of the fact that I have always wanted to work for the sports team at Radio Sheffield. I spent years doing bits for them and I went full-time last year.

“Bob was just a little bit before my time in terms of listening but Praise or Grumble is a local football radio institution and once it started it led to every other football phone-in such as 606 and everything else. Bob was the founding father of football phone-ins, there wouldn’t be any without him.

“I couldn’t imagine doing a sports show without Praise or Grumble at the end of it. To be able to follow in his footsteps is a huge honour.”

Bob leaves behind widow Mary, three children – Ann, Helen and Richard, eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.