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Analyse this!

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Paul Armstrong | 17:10 UK time, Monday, 27 November 2006

To paraphrase Groucho Marx on the subject of marriage, Match of the Day is an institution, but who wants to live in an institution? Actually, everyone here does, but we're also aware that we're the custodians of something long-established and venerable.

Change has to be by evolution rather than revolution. I remember someone having the temerity to remix the title music one year. This resulted in uproar, questions being asked in the House of Commons and a hasty rethink of the remix.

Even so, as I've said before, anyone watching a tape of the show from just a few years ago would be astonished at how much the programme has changed. Proper multi-camera coverage everywhere, a commentator at each game, MOTD2 and new pundits have in turn led to a different level of analysis.

From Groucho to another moustachioed cynic, Basil Fawlty. He pictured his wife on Mastermind thus; "Sybil Fawlty:
specialist subject - the bleeding obvious".

It would be a trifle harsh to use that expression to describe pre-Premiership football punditry, but things did change in the early 90s. Sky led the way with improved technology, particularly in the area of videotape. This subsequently inspired their terrestrial rivals, and the tools available were adopted by a new breed of footballer-turned-analyst, notably Sky's Andy Gray and our own Alan Hansen.

We're well aware, as I've said before, that one viewer's fascinating tactical insight is another's irritating interruption to the action. But on balance, we still feel that good punditry can add to the enjoyment and understanding of the action.

There is also the question of where to pitch the technical level of our analysis. For a big World Cup game, we're aware that some less regular viewers will have a shaky grasp of football, but that the core audience will expect some tactical insight. So it becomes a balancing act which may not always entirely satisfy everyone.

When MOTD2 was launched in 2004, we decided that most of the audience would be football lovers and could cope with the extraordinary football mind of one Gordon Strachan. This was a man who until earlier that year had been pitting his wits against the Premiership's top coaches on a weekly basis. Consequently, he was watching games from an entirely different perspective to most of the rest of us.

Fortunately, he was also one of life's infectious enthusiasts and a great communicator, both with the production team and the viewers. His rapport with Adrian Chiles helped to establish the credibility of the new programme, and we all felt we learnt something from being around him. It comes as no surprise to any of us to see what he's been able to achieve at Celtic.

We knew Gordon would only be here temporarily, and no-one would attempt to replicate his style, but we've enjoyed the different perspective that other managers such as Iain Dowie and Alex McLeish have given us on an occasional basis since then.

We've also been lucky that recent ex-players with impeccable Premiership credentials such as Alan Shearer, Lee Dixon and Gavin Peacock have chosen to work in TV rather than coaching or spending all their time on the golf course. I still have to pinch myself on a Saturday when the leading goalscorer in Premiership history arrives to watch all the games and make notes with the analysis producers. He's also been very quick to learn from his fellow pundits that the Programme Editor is the butt of all dressing-room banter!

At least one of the pundits watches the 12.45 game, ditto the 5.15 game, and we have all the 3 o'clock kick-offs on a bank of monitors during the afternoon. The two pundits keep particular tabs on a designated game each, but it's surprising how attuned your eyes become to fixing on the right monitor when the ball goes into the danger area.

If we do miss a goal or incident live, a shout will normally go up and everyone will watch the replays. More subtle points are also relayed back to the production office by the producer editing a particular match.

Post match, the pundits then go to the edit area with the analysis producers and start putting the sequence together and getting ready for the live transmission of the show. The newer pundits have come along at a good time not only in terms of the extra camera angles available, but also at a point in our history when a BBC-developed analysis tool called Piero has come into its own.

This is the device, used extensively at the World Cup, which allows us to track runs, highight players and formations or look at a picture from an overhead angle, and we're now using it several times every week to augment the analysis. The new guys such as Alan Shearer, Lee and Gavin and the younger producers are constantly finding new uses, so the older guard such as the Editors and Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson have also embraced it.

Ultimately, we try never to lose sight of the fact that the match action is king, but a little analysis allows us to try to live up to the old BBC Reithian doctrine of "Educate, Inform and Entertain". And he was an opionated Scot, too...


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