Mat’ll be the day: a question of thought

FANCY-cooking, quick-quipping Matt Dawson admits he is not the favourite person in his home when it comes to preparing for the world’s longest running sports quiz.

“The first thing I do in a morning, much to my girly’s annoyance, is switch the phone on and go to the BBC website or trawl through different sporting websites to see what’s going on, different stories, and see if they’ll soak in,” admits the former England rugby hero.

“If you’ve got Sky Sports News on in the office in the background, subconsciously it’s going in. If the paper’s around I’ll look at the back pages first. It’s become a habit. It’s not something I consciously think I need to do.”

Then us blokes traditionally have a great capacity for forgetting to pick up bread and milk, but do remember useful stuff like which player scored the winning goal in the 1984 cup final.

“I think that is a male trait for sure. If it interests us we’ll tend to remember it, however trivial really. I’ve always been like that, anyway.”

Like most of the show’s participants Rugby World Cup winner Matt is expected to know his players. But how about the likes of the winner of the 1972 Grand National?

“I’m maybe not that’re taking it to a new level there.”

The latter could be said of a show that has been a BBC staple for a generation, selling out venues such as Sheffield City Hall when it toured last year with show host and former tennis icon Sue Barker in the judge’s chair.

It returns there and also finds The Dome, Doncaster, on November 2 and 5 respectively.

“I didn’t think it was even on the cards,” said Matt, a team captain opposite cricket legend Phil Tuffnell, when the new dates were announced.

“It’s absolutely fantastic news after the ball we had last year. I’m up for doing all that again.

“We had an inkling it would work in the theatres but maybe not quite as well as it did and certainly all the places we went to were pretty much packed out.

“It’s the strength of the brand that makes it click, the different rounds we have, the interaction with the crowd, the way Sue hosts it altogether as tough as nails and free reign for us to go and enjoy ourselves and say what we see.”

And that can often lead to laughs from sports personalities who usually only get to demonstrate their skills on the pitch, running track, water or wherever.

Who would have thought the likes of legendary former host David Coleman or former snooker star John Parrott could have such rapier wit?

“I don’t think there’s a secret recipe. That formula has evolved over the years,” says Matt, who doesn’t seem too surprised the show has moved to the stage quite so easily.

“We’re used to guests giving us the odd one liners when we’re doing the show. Then to be in front of 2,000-3,000 people and giving them the opportunity to answer a few questions – and then if we do give them a bit of stick they’re more than welcome to give as much back as they want – it adds to the whole atmosphere.

“And being sports people on the panel, they love a crowd; we love to perform in front of people. It all seems to kick off a little bit.

“And it sparks you off to slightly different tangents where you might be doing a physical challenge or asking a question. If someone gives you a bit of banter it might lead you on to another story or another thought and all that spontaneity is then captured.

“Sometimes that can get lost when you do stuff on TV, lost in the translation and the editing, through nobody’s fault.

“When it’s live there’s a rawness about it that is on the edge and entertaining.”

That said, the captains seem to have their patter down to a tee for a family favourite, according to Matt.

“But Tuffers and I know our boundaries.

“Now and again there might be the odd thing they can’t show, but I would say most of those shows they will cram into half an hour and maybe just cut out some thinking time.

“It only ever takes us 50 minutes to film a show, an hour at a push.

“We play the game and the production of it is magnificent - they’ve been doing it for years and know it inside out. - so you’re playing the game as live and they’ll clip it down to 30 minutes.”

The touring show includes a few extras such as a sin bin for “anything slightly untoward Sue doesn’t like” and each contestant is given jokers so they can seek audience help on certain questions.

Plus there will be physical challenges and a Q & A session for Matt and Tuffers halfway through.

“It’s bringing it all into your living room – that’s what we’re trying to create and I think we did last year.”

What happens next...

IN 41 years of A Question Of Sport more than 2,000 of the biggest names in British and international sport have appeared yet the show has had just three presenters.

The starting gun was fired in 1970 with captains boxer Henry Cooper and footballing icon George Best hosted by David Vine. David Coleman took over in the late 70s and remained until 1997 when the honours went to Sue.

Matt Dawson replaced Frankie Dettori as team captain in 2004 and former England international Phil Tufnell took over from Ally McCoist in 2008, becoming the programme’s 14th regular team captain since 1970.

The duo followed in the footsteps of the likes of Cliff Morgan, Fred Trueman, Brendan Foster, Bobby Moore, Gareth Edwards, Willie Carson, Emlyn Hughes, Bill Beaumont and Ian Botham.

Sue Barker says she never envisaged how much fun a live tour could be. “Seeing the reaction of thousands of people to Matt and Phil’s antics every night was just amazing. We were also truly privileged to have some brilliantly entertaining sports stars join us across the tour. It was just such an enjoyable experience. I have my hands full trying to control Matt and Phil, that never changes, but in a live setting it is much more exciting.”