The World’s Greatest Sporting Legend, Sky One

by | Jul 28, 2005 | All, Reviews

The World’s Greatest Sporting Legend, Sky One

What to say if you liked it

A definitive poll to determine the identity of the greatest sportsman in history hosted by two of the greatest broadcasters in history.

What to say of you didn’t like it

Another lazy television “franchise” that annually swarm over the summer schedules like flying ants and seem to be as much about coercing folk to vote through costly texts as to herald sporting omnipotence.

What was good about it?

• Des Lynam and Sir David Frost awarded the show a reverential authority, despite at times looking as though they were warming themselves in front of a pub fire.

• The British chapter aside, the seven footballers (Pele, Maradona, Zidane, Cruyff, Puskas, Platini and Beckenbauer) selected by the panel of Graham Taylor, Bobby Robson, Phil Thompson and Joe Lovejoy was about right.• As the “top ten players of all time” were featured, it meant some special football moments from history could once more be savoured such as Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup, and Michel Platini in the 1984 European Championship. But Pele just failing to score from the halfway line has lost its sheen, considering it’s actually been achieved on quite a few occasions since then.

• While we’d seen most of the footage before, the film of Hungarian master Ference Puskas was a revelation as every goal he scored was brilliant whether it was a drag back and shot against England or hammering a piledriver into the roof of the net in the European Cup Final.

• Sir Bobby Robson was the most perceptive of the panellists but also the most hilariously bumbling. He called Wayne Rooney “the most wonderful futuristic player” and got confused when Des asked him why he didn’t pick George Best among his selections. “I didn’t pick George Best,” Sir Bobby insisted.

• Sir Bobby’s anecdote about how Paul Gascoigne played a tennis match the day before the 1990 World Cup quarter-final against Cameroon.

• Sir David Frost’s incredibly corny quip to Georgie Thompson at the Fact Screen that was in tune with the retro 70s feel of the show. “Here’s Georgie with some facts and figures,” he salivated. “Our facts, her figure.”

What was bad about it?

• Graham Taylor being billed as “perceptive football broadcaster” is like labelling Jeffrey Archer as a “champion of truth and justice”.

• The poll will be decided by a public vote which is the worst way to resolve any situation except a political election. Remember, the majority of people in this country still believe Diana, Princess of Wales was murdered and think Angels is the best single of the past 25 years.

• The overt British bias in the selections. England have won one major trophy (on home soil thanks to a dodgy refereeing decision) yet had two players in the top ten, (West) Germany have won six yet only one player was chosen and Brazil have won five world cups but only Pele was in. John Charles, while undoubtedly a great player, came nowhere near the international pedigree of many of the others and seemed to have been chosen to orchestrate an expensive text voting campaign in Wales to get their idol through to the final.

• The main reason for Diego Maradona being remembered for the 1986 World Cup was primarily stated to be his handball against England while the wondrous talent he displayed throughout the tournament was relegated to second place.

• The insipid Block Rockin’ Beats by the Chemical Brothers was used to soundtrack Bobby Charlton’s profile.

• Sometimes the statistics presented by Georgie Thompson didn’t correlate with the opinions of the panel. Georgie exclaimed it was a “surprise” that Bobby Charlton only hit a goal every three games, yet before and after we were told he played much of his career in midfield making one goal per three games an excellent scoring rate.

• Some of the language used was drenched in football clichés. Johan Cruyff was yawningly described as a “Dutch master”. While even worse, Michel Platini was branded a “mercurial Frenchman” when he was nothing of the sort, it was Eric Cantona who had correctly been called “mercurial” but the tag seems to have now stuck for all French footballers.

• The doltish emails that scrolled along the screen proclaiming absurdities such as Ian Wright or Gianfranco Zola were the greatest players in history.

• As most of the players predated Sky Sports and mass televised football, it meant that the footage of Zinedine Zidane was far more impressive than that of Johan Cruyff as for every tap-in from Cruyff there was a bullet volley from Zidane.

• The profiles of the players were often rushed through, occasionally at the expense of football accuracy. For instance, it was intimated Pele inspired Brazil to the 1962 World Cup when he in fact missed the final through injury. And it was later claimed Pele scored

1293 goals in his career, and although this is true, it does include strikes from exhibition matches and friendlies.

• The McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” ad during a break. It’s not so much the peddling of culinary rubbish that irritates us as the apostrophe on Lovin’ that cravenly seeks to give the multi-national corporation a “street” identity by using the same vernacular as its target consumers.


1. Lance Armstrong, perhaps boosted by his timely seventh Tour De France, finishing second in the poll.

2. Des Lynam’s smooth presentation, even making the errors in the live broadcast appear like cues for one of his quips.

3. The endearing way in which some of doddering David Frost’s sentences seemed to wander away from the straight well-trodden roads of the English syntax and into little cu-de-sacs of indecipherability.

4. Tony Hawkes’ admirable admission that his quest to convince the audience that Martina Navratilova is the greatest ever sporting legend was futile.


1. Ian Botham being voted the greatest cricketer of all time. He played in a very poor England team, and even he would be embarrassed to be ranked above Shane Warne, Viv Richards, Garfield Sobers and a number of others who were stars of brilliant teams.

2. The picture of Pele was a still from Escape To Victory.

3. Martin Offiah appearing on his third television show of the weekend.

4. Far too many of the final 10 were British (Lester Piggott, Ian Botham, Steve Redgrave and Gareth Edwards).

5. Steve Redgrave benefited from an ignorance of minor sports to come second, behind Mohammad Ali and ahead of Pele. We’re sure there’s a German rower who has won more medals than Redgrave over a similar time period, but because she’s foreign and a rower no-one’s heard of her in this country she wasn’t considered.

6. The irrelevant views of Zoë Lucker and Justin Hawkins.

7. John McCririck, a man who rotates his body with all the dexterity of a sperm whale trapped in a drainpipe.

8. The fact that it was the “Sky Viewers’ Choice”, which damned it with almost Godlike unimportance.

9. The pathetic fireworks display at the end which seemed like a homage to 80s Dr Who.

10. We’d seen all the sporting clips so many times before their impact was severely dulled by familiarity such as Pele missing from the halfway line and Gareth Edwards’ try against New Zealand.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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