Planning for the FA Cup final
In a week like this, I'm more pleased than ever not to be in charge of our technical operation. Not only is the FA Cup final a massive game of football, but this year the grand re-opening of Wembley makes it a huge national and international event. Our engineering managers, their technical teams and senior production people have been working for months in conjunction with the FA and the Wembley authorities to try to ensure the best coverage possible for the millions watching around the world.
Even so, we'll be working in a brand-new stadium which is staging a major game for the first time. Add in the ambitious ceremonials and pageantry which have been planned to commemorate the occasion, and you have a broadcast which is generating more than the usual pre-match nerves - as well as excited anticipation - among our team. Even the running order is a little different from any we've had to prepare before.
The usual form for recent FA Cup finals has been to come on the air at 1pm, and hand over to Motty and Lawro at about 2.45pm for "Abide With Me". The one and three-quarter hours in between have been filled with features, studio guest appearances and what we call "colour" - fans arriving, banners and so on. This year, we're on air a little earlier (at 12.40pm) and will try to mix some of our usual build-up elements with more Wembley-based items and a reflection of the various live elements taking place.
As ever, it's a question of trying to get the balance right. For example, there'll be a parade of Wembley Cup Final winners from 1957-2000. which we feel we should show live. We also hope to speak to some of those involved as well as inviting Mark Hughes, Marcel Desailly and Peter Schmeichel to join Gary and the two Alans in our coverage at various points during the afternoon.
Other elements we feel we can dip into: the traditional brass band will be playing for 20 minutes from 1.30pm, so we'll have a quick listen to them between features and interviews. However, for those of you with digital sets, we'll be offering uninterrupted red-button coverage of everything that happens in the stadium, including the unabridged band repertoire. The soothing sound of trombones and tubas, or our studio and features: the choice is yours.
I'm old enough to have grown up in an era when the FA Cup final was the only domestic club match shown live on TV. David Coleman or Frank Bough opened "Cup Final Grandstand" at about 9.30am, and everyone sat glued to their sets until the last interviewee wiped milk from his sideburns and declared himself "over the moon" at about 5.30pm. Mind you, in those days, the finalists allowed the cameras into their hotel and on the coach on the way to the match, and all the players would give interviews during the pre-match walkabout. In the name of nostalgia and social history, we will be reprising a few of those "Good Old Days" build-ups - including some very bizarre television indeed - on Saturday.
There's no chance of that kind of access these days. That said, we have been given the chance to talk to the man of the moment, Cristiano Ronaldo and his Madeiran family and friends for a special feature which will run at about 1.45pm. We hope also to hear from Jose Mourinho and Frank Lampard, as well as showing montages of Didier Drogba and the day's potential record-breaker, Ryan Giggs. However, appetising though a final between the top two sides in the country is, the day is also all about Wembley. The stadium's architect, Lord Foster, has given Adrian Chiles a guided tour and we've also spoken to someone who was at the opening of the original Wembley for the "White Horse Final" of 1923.
It's seven years since the FA Cup final was last held at Wembley, and ten since the BBC last covered a final there. (We didn't have the contract for the 1998-2000 Finals.) In 1997, I was an assistant producer who'd worked on a historical documentary for the Friday evening, as well as helping with some of the build-up material for the day itself. Then, since I was (and still am) a Middlesbrough fan, I watched the game from the stands, just as I watched Boro's three other unsuccessful Wembley appearances of the 1990s. Yes, I do count the ZDS Trophy...
In 1997, Boro lost both domestic cup finals, and were relegated due to a points deduction. "Two Wembleys and a Funeral", as it was dubbed on Teesside. Ten years on, I'm hoping for a less grim Wembley experience. It should help that I'll be maintaining a professional neutrality this time. I'll be in a van trying to map-read us through some potentially imprecise timings while our Executive Producer, Phil Bigwood and Match Director, Alan Griffiths do the driving on what will undoubtedly be a very lively outside broadcast!