A question of support

Matt Dawson and Phil Tuffnell

Matt Dawson and Phil Tuffnell

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England rugby union legend Matt Dawson is more interested in Fylde RUFC’s fortunes right now, but still hopes the town is in football’s Premier League in September – rather than down and out.

He knows it’s going to be tough for Blackpool otherwise. “Any knock to the team knocks everyone”, he says.

Matt, rival team leader Phil Tufnell, and host Sue Barker, are back in Blackpool for this year’s rounds of BBC 1’s Question of Sport – live and unfettered.

It’s a cult show, he admits, for “people who like to be genuinely entertained, have a bit of a giggle”. The sports personalities don’t work to scripts, he adds. “What you see is what you get. We have fun, we bounce off each other; the audience is vital to that.”

It may not have the grace of whatever variation of Dancing on Ice or Strictly Come Dancing (in which Matt also featured) is also doing the arena and theatre rounds, but Question of Sport proved a sports quiz could whip an audience into a pantomime-style frenzy the first time out last year.

Phenomenal ticket sales and rapturous reviews have led to a second UK tour, Blackpool proving so popular the team’s back, on October 29, with the Opera House one of the first stops on the 22-date month-long tour. Tickets are on sale from £37.50, a fairly steep price, but fans jump at the chance to see the longest running TV sports quiz in the UK.

More than 2,000 of the biggest names in British and international sports have appeared on the programme since its early days – local heroes, such as Billy Beaumont, among them.

Yet, in four decades, the show has only had three presenters. A Question of Sport started in 1970, featuring Henry Cooper, who died last week, and football icon George Best, with the very first host David Vine. David Coleman, who celebrated his 85th birthday last week, took over in the late 70s, and stayed until 1997, when former tennis star Sue took over.

Our own archives contain a shot of Geoff Hurst, Tom Finney, Bobby Moore, Johnny Haynes, Blackpool legend Stan Mortensen and Alan Mullery during a recording of the show in 1970.

Matt replaced Frankie Dettori as team captain in 2004, and former England international cricketer Tuffers took over from Ally McCoist in 2008, the duo following in the footsteps of sporting legends Cliff Morgan, Fred Trueman, Bobby Moore, Gareth Edwards, Willie Carson, Emlyn Hughes, Fylde superstar Bill Beaumont, Ian Botham and John Parrott.

Matt says Blackpool was a big hit last time out. “We had a blast and can’t wait to get back.”

As yet the identities of the guest panellists are under wraps. Organisers generally match personalities with places, so speculation is rife that Ian Holloway and Jason Robinson, who triumphed in both rugby codes and came out of retirement to play and help the now newly-promoted Fylde RFC with community activities off the field, should be in the running. There’s gentleman Jimmy Armfield, of course, stature enhanced by the new 9ft bronze statue at Bloomfield Road.

Blackpool also boasts top paralympian, wheelchair racer Shelly Woods, who competed in the Beijing Paralympic Games, winning a silver medal in the 1500m and a bronze in the 5000m, who has her sights set on London 2012.

QoS has notched up more than 40 years on air, and the specially-staged live shows take favourites from the small screen format and tweaks them into full-on audience participation.

Matt adds: “Tuffers is really up to his game, his depth of knowledge is unsurpassed, and that’s made me up mine, too.

“That’s the bit I love. The live tour is the biggest buzz I’ve had in a long time. It’s almost like competing in a major sporting tournament, we can’t wait to do it all again. And in Blackpool the goodwill comes across in spades”.

“I love my golf, tennis, and footie, and if they throw Blackpool FC questions at us, I know Ian (Holloway) really well. He’s a fantastic lad, very humourous and a great talker. Sport is a great leveller.

“The atmosphere was fabulous in Blackpool last time, we got to the Pleasure Beach, nipped into the casino, had a walk down the front, a couple of beers in bars, got recognised a bit, but there was nothing intimidating there, 99 per cent of the time the response is just very humbling and engaging, it’s only the odd one who gets challenging or very opionated after too many beers.”