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Is Match of the Day Live?

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Paul Armstrong | 16:57 UK time, Monday, 11 December 2006

One of the questions I'm most often asked is "What time do you record Match of the Day?"

In fact, it is (almost without exception) transmitted live - a fact we take as read in BBC Sport. So I thought I'd try to explain the rationale behind the policy.

I have been involved in a very occasional MOTD which has been pre-recorded. The most recent one I can think of was an MOTD2 on a night when a live snooker final was clearly heading for a post-midnight finish. Live sport rightly took priority over highlights, so we knew we'd be on much later than our scheduled slot. There was only one game that day, and we had a guest from within football with a proper job to go to next morning, so we recorded the show at 1030pm and left a tape to be transmitted.

This was entirely sensible, but as the editor, I felt distinctly uneasy until our show finally came off the air at about 1am. What if the tape spools, what if Sir Alex Ferguson announces his retirement at midnight, or the first editions of Monday's papers break a big story? That may all sound unlikely, but I was editing MOTD on the Saturday night when news broke at about 9pm that Sir Bobby Robson was not taking the England manager's job and was staying at Newcastle.

As it was, we hastily recorded a phone interview between Sir Bobby and Gary and then discussed the situation in the studio. If we'd pre-recorded the show, Newcastle's match edit and analysis could have come and gone without any mention of the main sports news of the day.

Another example cropped up just last Saturday. The edit and interviews of Middlesbrough v Wigan had concluded with Chris Kirkland on his way to hospital having collapsed at half-time. By the time the show went out, we were able to re-assure everyone that he'd been discharged from hospital.

Experience has also taught us that everyone, both in front of and behind the camera, tends to be just that little bit sharper with the adrenalin flowing for a live broadcast. If you know there's the possibility of editing out any mistakes, it seems there is more chance of making one. Plus, within reason, people love it when something goes wrong on air. Alan Hansen's mobile ringing during a studio discussion last year being a case in point.

The other factor in doing the show live is what's called Parkinson's Law. This is not the rule that states that the Saturday Premiership highlights on either BBC or ITV will clash with a legendary chat show host from Barnsley strutting his stuff on the other channel. This Parkinson was Prof C. Northcote Parkinson, who said: "Work expands so as to fill the time available". We can have match edits ready shortly after the final whistle if necessary for a midweek show, but we may as well use all the time available between 5 or 6pm and 10pm or 10.30 on a weekend.

As a result of greater preparation time, edits should be a little less rough around the edges, analysis can be made more elaborate and, moreover, the introduction of 5.15pm kick-offs has made the running orders more fluid. For example, the other week it became obvious that the late kick-off between Bolton and Arsenal was the best game, and biggest story, of the day. To try to do that justice, and in the process rein in some of the other edits, would have been less easy had we not been transmitting live at 10.30pm. Reading v Chelsea, with the two goalkeeper injuries and the need to follow an evolving story into the late evening, illustrates both points.

Speaking of Reading, after the debate I sparked off last week, I was slightly relieved that Steve Coppell and Adie Boothroyd both accepted post-match that Watford 0 Reading 0 would probably be last in Saturday's show! Richard's post at #217 last week cited the variety of supporters of different Premiership teams who had previously claimed to be undervalued by MOTD. In fact, Simon Taylor at #225 subsequently completed the full house of 20 clubs whose fans have complained this season! So, of course we felt duty-bound to lead Saturday's show with Simon's team, Manchester United.

Only joking. An end-to-end derby with the winners going nine points clear of Chelsea was the lead football story in every Sunday paper, and a no-brainer to start our show. Watford v Reading was the obvious game eight, the 1-1 at Boro was a fairly clear second last, but there was a case for matches two to six to go out in virtually any order.

In the end, we went with the biggest score (5-1 at Spurs) first, the most dramatic game (Blackburn v Newcastle) next, then the two sides level in 3rd place (Pompey and Liverpool) back-to-back, then Bolton v West Ham. In retrospect, particularly in the light of Alan Pardew's departure , Bolton v West Ham could, arguably, have been placed earlier in the show. However, it's a testament to Bolton's progress that a big home win was no surprise, and they had led the show a fortnight earlier against Arsenal. We've also looked closely at West Ham several times recently, particularly on MOTD2 so, though we mentioned their problems again, we accentuated the positive by discussing Gary Speed and the superb team goal which opened the scoring for Bolton.

As I said last week, I appreciate that placement in the running order has taken over from "30 seconds in the round-up" as the bugbear of many fans, but Saturday's show certainly demonstrated the benefits of showing a proper edit of every game. I wouldn't like to have decreed which five games should be in a round-up on a day like that.

We also rather reverted to the "bleeding obvious" - ie goals and key decisions - school of analysis. Firstly, to create more room for action, but also because City's sloppy defending on all three goals cost them the game, the red cards there and at Blackburn were worth appraising (not least to give Graham Poll and Stuart Pearce credit for disapproving of Corradi's dive) and finally, because Matthew Taylor's wonderful goal for Pompey deserved to be replayed from every angle available.

Conversely, MOTD2 had only one game to show on Sunday and rightly devoted a good deal of airtime to extensive and, at times, quite subtle analysis of a dramatic London derby. And a less subtle, but entirely appropriate, Laurel and Hardy treatment of the absurd (not to mention downright embarrassing) Lehmann/Drogba episode. And that show went out live, too!

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