It would have been about October of 1977 when I noticed in
the local newspaper, The Wolverhampton Express & Star, that trials were
to be held at Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton, to put together a
Wolverhampton squad for the BBC's Itís A Knockout TV programme. This
was something that I had grown up watching every Friday night, and I will
never forget the laughter it generated in our household.
Anyway, that night I discussed the article with my mates in
our local working men's club. My mate, Colin Price and I decided to go and try
out for it. The pair of us were in reasonable shape as we both played amateur
football, training and playing every week.
So a few nights later, we both went along to Aldersley
Stadium. I didnít drive at the time, so Colin picked me up. When we arrived,
there seemed to be around one hundred and fifty people there. We were split up
into groups of about twenty five, with Colin and myself being put in the same
group. Before long, we were asked to perform a series of tasks. These included
running up and down an embankment carrying buckets of sand, running along
beams and sprinting and so on. During the course of the evening, the person
who was in charge of our group - I think he was the stadium manager - was
called away to answer the telephone. He turned to me and said, ďIf you see
anybody who looks useful while I'm away, let me know when I get backĒ. On his
return, I was really tempted to say my mate's name, but for some reason I
didnít. This was something I would later regret, as the group was whittled
down to one hundred people at the end of the night. Luckily, I was included in
the hundred - but unfortunately, Colin wasnít. Consequently, I felt more than
a bit guilty after that. I hadnít put Colin's name forward when I'd had the
chance - and of course, bang went my lift into the bargain, which meant I
subsequently had to catch two buses each time I travelled to the stadium after
The trials then went on for three weeks, over which time
the group was eventually whittled down to the twenty five squad members who
would represent Wolverhampton on the day of recording. I'm pleased to say I
made it to the last twenty-five. It was a great feeling to be picked for the
Now the serious work was about to begin. We were told by
our trainers that if we were to be included in the team, we would have to earn
our place by working hard in the twice-weekly training sessions that followed
for the next six months. We were also encouraged to try and train in between
official sessions. This woas not a problem for me, as I was already training
in midweek for Saturday football. However, the training schedule that we were
put through by our training team, which included ex-international athletes,
was the hardest I could have ever imagined. Mind you, it paid dividends with
my football. I had never felt so fit in my life and went on to score fifteen
goals that season. Not bad for defender! Unfortunately though, I gave away a
penalty in one match when the ball hit my arm, and there were cries of "You're
not in Itís A Knockout now!" from my team mates. After six months of
hard slog, the Knockout squad were starting to gel as a group and were all
very fit. The competition for team places was intense.
To get a flavour of what it would be like on the day of the
event, we were taken on April 16th by coach to Chester, to see them take on
Wrexham and Crewe & Nantwich. It was a very close fought contest, with Chester
finishing joint second behind Crewe & Nantwich, who won by just three points.
In the week running up to our event, the final team of
sixteen was announced. Sadly for me, I was on the substitutes' bench. To say I
was gutted was an understatement, but on a personnel level, I was pleased to
be chosen by my trainers, along with a friend called Antony Lockley, to help
the BBC try out the games on the day before the event, so they could try and
gauge how easy or difficult they were, what ever the case may be. Antony
dressed up in a monkey costume and had to jump up and down on a trampoline and
grab plastic bananas off a rope suspended above it. We all found this
absolutely hilarious. The costumed events were always my favourite when
watching the show on TV.
One of the games I was asked to try out involved two people
peddling bicycles which drove a conveyor belt. My job was to collect clothes
from a hanger suspended above the conveyor belt and dress into them.
Meanwhile, two lads from the opposing team had to peddle as fast as they could
to try to knock you off balance. I was quite pleased with myself, as no matter
how fast they peddled, or how much the BBC engineers altered the apparatus, I
managed to keep my footing. But on the day of the event, everyone seemed to be
falling off the end of the conveyor belt.
The next day, Sunday 30th April, was the one we had all
been waiting for. Dressed in our orange and black kits we ran out in front of
ten thousand people packed into Aldersley Stadium to that famous Itís A
Knockout theme tune.
Before the live show, there was a full scale practice match
which we ended up winning comfortably. We thought we were well placed to go on
and win the main event and as the recording commenced, we were very confident.
We started well and won the first game - or so we thought. Unfortunately for
us, we were rather harshly disqualified for what the judges claimed was a
handling offence, which was something we disputed. This seemed to effect our
concentration, and we never really seemed to recover after that. We finished
the contest in a very disappointing third place, quite some way off the lead.
The winners, Sandwell, went on to win the British finals
and did exceptionally well in Europe. They won their international heat in
Belgrade and qualified for the International Final. On the night, they were
beaten to the winners' spoils only by the Italian team of Abano Terme, the
only team who seemed capable of matching them. In my opinion, Sandwell were
one of the best British teams that the competition ever saw - though one can't
help but think what might have happened if we hadn't been disqualified in that
first game in Wolverhampton...
by Keith Williams