James Richardson talks Football Italia: "Paul Ince used to call me for Tomb Raider tips..."
You shot to fame as presenter of Football Italia in the '90s. What was it like to be in the middle of that whole era of calcio?
Looking back, it’s pretty extraordinary, although of course at the time it felt entirely normal. It was a shock to me when I got the job working on Football Italia, but then I was essentially just out there trying to get a show together every single week. I was excited by it, Serie A was the biggest league in the world, so it was a great time. I wanted to be in Italy anyway, I spoke Italian, so to be involved in a massive league was amazing. But you do any job and it becomes normal quite quickly - there was always a battle to get things done. The fact it had such an impact back home then was pretty crazy and remarkable.
Tell us about the Golazzo film…
It’s really nice, I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s nice to look back. I was essentially in Italy for the whole time, so I knew that people were watching back home, and that it had an impact. People have mentioned it to me a lot since, but it gave me more of an idea about why people liked the programme back then. It’s also nice to see me with hair, me with crazy jackets, me with really bad waistcoats. It’s nice to look back on a bit of your past because it’s quite easy to let things slip away, like a film you once saw. And we had a couple of days filming in Italy, we met up with Beppe Signori. That was really nice, being in the old haunts.
You got quite close to some of the English players out there, didn't you?
Yes. They were very nice to me, I have to say. Paul Ince in particular. I think they appreciated seeing a face from back home, to some extent. Ince did used to ring me up for computer game tips. We were both playing Tomb Raider and I was quite a few levels ahead of him. I still am! There weren’t any online cheats available back then, so you had to ask a friend. He became a friend, although he lived north of Milan and I was in Rome. I would see him when we were filming, but sometimes I’d stay over and we’d go for a pizza.
And Gazza was always good value – especially that famous visit to the wildlife park…
I didn’t go with Gazza to that, it was our producer, but the results were pretty great. It was an iconic moment. The nice thing about Paul was that we’d always come up with these ideas for him to do something, and he’d always play along and make them better. I was intimidated when I first met Gazza because he was such a huge star, but he was so friendly and relaxed. He made your ideas come alive - he didn’t care, he was up for everything. That was a delight.
What are the key differences between Italian football then and now?
Well, above all, the money. If Italy could still outspend everyone else, they largely would, but because they can’t, they've been forced to rethink – and that’s a positive thing. Back then they were the richest league, they could offer far bigger wages than anybody, and chose all the best players. Now that’s not the case. I loved the fact it was clearly the best back then. They had some ridiculous squads. You look back now through their line-ups and realise: ‘I can’t believe it, they had him, him and him.’ It was just ludicrous.
What else did you love about that era of football?
The other thing was that the game was slow enough to really appreciate what was going on. I often felt that when Italian sides were going up against English teams in Europe, the Italian sides would be trying to do their artistic thing and the English would just run in after the ball. The Italians would think: ‘Hang on, we’re artists, we’re trying to do our thing, give me a second’. The pace of the Serie A game was great. You could see what was happening a bit more clearly, tactically. It was a clean slate for British fans to watch. It was sunny and exotic, and there were some crazy haircuts. We had warm feelings and memories about Italy from Italia ’90 too. There were a lot of players from that World Cup, too, which added to the happy nostalgia.
What do you love about the Italian game now?
I like the fact it’s so wide open. Juve have obviously been dominant for six years – and maybe this year again – but it’s curious how they’ve evolved as the model to follow, because in the '90s it was quite the opposite. But the fact that it's open otherwise, and you have some very progressive managers, and some very exciting young players coming through. It’s also fun seeing the offspring of the players you used to watch play...
Where do you rate Serie A in the pecking order these days?
It’s still my favourite to watch. Where does it sit in the hierarchy? I suppose the easiest meter for that is the Champions League, which suggests Juve sit quite high up, and the rest of Italian football is a step or two down. The Premier League is head and shoulders ahead financially – Serie A slipped badly – but there’s still a legacy of sentiment for the big Italian clubs. La Liga is probably ahead, too. But Serie A is still ahead of the French, put it that way.
The latest in the BT Sport Films series -- ‘Golazzo: The Football Italia Story’ -- premieres at 10pm on Saturday 31st March on BT Sport 2, with a further broadcast on BT Sport 2 from 10.30pm on Wednesday 4th April. Fans can enjoy a day of Italian football programming on BT Sport on Saturday 31st March, with the resurrection of iconic ‘90s show, Gazetta Football Italia hosted by James Richardson, on BT Sport 2 from 10:45am, followed by live Serie A action throughout the day on the network. Visit www.BT.com/sport