1978: Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton Squad Photo, 1978

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 work.

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 final squad.

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