Sporting quiz games on TV have for many years been dominated by three major shows. On the BBC, A Question Of Sport has been going strong for an amazing 47 years and shows no signs of slowing down. In 1995, They Think It’s All Over moved over from radio where it had been presented by Des Lynam and had a successful 11-year run – also on BBC – presented first by Nick Hancock and later by Lee Mack. More recently A League Of Their Own has proved hugely successful in the hands of James Corden on Sky.
But over 50 years ago football had it’s own quiz show. Quiz Ball ran for just six series but is recalled fondly by those who remember it.
The rules were pretty straight-forward. The team winning the ‘kick-off question’ started things off and the captains chose who would answer a question and the degree of difficulty. There were four routes to goal ranging from going for four easy questions to one extremely hard one. The opposing team had the option to buzz in and ‘tackle’ although they couldn’t do this on the toughest question. If the defending team got the answer wrong it was a goal to the attacking team. Got it? Right.
The hardest question quickly became known as ‘Route One’ and a few years later the phrase came to define the way teams in (real) football would move the ball quickly from back to front.
Teams consisted of three from the club (usually three players but sometimes including a manager or official) and one guest supporter (more of which later). English and Scottish League clubs were included. David Vine was the initial quizmaster although he was later to be replaced by Stuart Hall of ‘It’s A Knockout’ fame.
The ‘pitch’ started out as a board behind the presenter but this was eventually changed to a ‘Subbuteo-style’ layout between the two teams with flashing lights indicating the route to goal chosen.
Ian Ure – First Quiz Ball Superstar
In year one 16 teams took part and the show kicked off with a thriller as Arsenal got the better of Nottingham Forest 3-2 after extra time (that episode, one of only a few that have not been wiped is available on BBC iPlayer). The Gunners, with Ian Ure starring and DJ Jimmy Young as guest supporter then saw off Fulham (who bizarrely had Pete Murray, a well-known Arsenal fan, as their guest) and Leicester City to reach the final. There they met Dunfermline Athletic and a hat-trick from Young along with two ‘goals’ apiece from Ure and Terry Neill gave them a 7-3 win. All of the Scottish team’s goals came from The Great Escaoe, Upstairs Downstairs and The Professionals star Gordon Jackson.
Ian Ure – Looking smart
Year two saw Arsenal, with Ure again outstanding, make a bold bid to defend their title. The Scot scored all five in a win over Hearts in the second round having scored one in the first. In the semi-final he struck again but the Gunners were undone and another hero emerged. West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper John Osborne got all of the Baggies ‘goals’ in a 4-2 win. This brought his total to 11 in three matches and he added another in the final to help his team beat Nottingham Forest, led by pipe smoker, dairy farmer, Brain of Britain contestant and later Everest double glazing endorser Ted Moult who also finished with 11 in the tournament, by two goals to one,
Ted Moult puffs away
John Osborne – Scintillating Form
The competition took a year off in 1968 but returned the following year and Osborne was again in scintillating form in the first round, scoring both in a 2-1 win over Crystal Palace. However, the title went north of the border with Celtic, led by defender Jim Craig (a graduate of Glasgow University) and actor John Cairney – whose brother Jim was a pro – seeing off Hearts in an all-Scottish Final.
The Old Firm
Craig and Cairney carried the Celtic team. Skipper Billy McNeill was decent too but Willie Wallace was there to make up the numbers. Cairney recalls the team leaving one question for Wallace to answer. The question ‘Who or what is a Garryowen?’ Wallace’s answer ‘A racing tipster’ (the Daily Record horse racing tipster at the time was called Garry Owen so he wasn’t too far off the mark).
Celtic’s prized double
Celtic do the Double
1970 saw not one but two Quiz Balls. The first was an eight-team affair featuring champions and Cup winners. Arsenal – missing the silky skills of Ure – were knocked out in the first round and Celtic, winners of the double that season, repeated their success of a year earlier, beating English champions Everton in the final. It was the same two stars for the Scots. Craig scored three and four in the first two rounds and went one better again in the final, his five-timer backed up by two from Cairney in a 7-5 win. Brian Labone and Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart led the way for the Toffees but they fell just short.
Scottish second division champs Falkirk won their first-round clash by a solitary Alex Ferguson goal and Fergie scored again in the semi but it wasn’t enough to see off Labone, Stewpot and Everton.
Celtic went on to play England in a special ‘challenge match’ but fell to a 7-6 defeat.
Leonard Sachs – Turncoat
The second edition later in the year also featured eight teams and saw Leeds United somewhat surprisingly include ‘The Good Old Day’ presenter Leonard Sachs as their guest star. Sachs was switching allegiances, having appeared in year one of the competition as Sheffield Wednesday’s guest supporter. Leeds made it to the semis where they were undone by Crystal Palace and St Trinian’s star Richard Wattis. But Palace themselves proved second-best in the final as Alan Durban, with help from Archers actor Bob Arnold, led Derby County to a 4-2 win.
And so to 1971 and the last year of the tournament. Again only eight teams took part and the list of stars included Nicholas Parsons (Leicester City), Roy Kinnear (Colchester United), Jimmy Logan (Dunfermline Athletic) and Hugh Lloyd (Chelsea, obviously Raquel Welch was not available).
With Lloyd clearly missing erstwhile partner Terry Scott, Chelsea fell to a semi-final defeat at the hands of Dunfermline while Mike Stringfellow led the way as Leicester saw off Blackpool to make the final.
Who needs Division One? We’ve got a trophy!
Consolation for Pars
Dunfermline subbed Logan in the final, bringing in Dr Who star John Pertwee but it was centre-half John Cushley, shrewdly signed from West Ham and another Glasgow University graduate, who proved the star, scoring a hat-trick as The Pars ran out 3-1 winners over Leicester for whom Parsons grabbed a consolation. Perhaps Dunfermline could have made use of Pertwee’s skills on the pitch as they finished bottom of the First Division that season and were relegated
And then it was gone. Six seasons of the nation’s finest pitting their wits against each other ended and bragging rights for Britain’s Brainiest Team would no longer be fought for around that oversized Subbuteo pitch.
If nothing else Quiz Ball gave us some fun, and it gave us Route One – and both are now mostly just fond memories!