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Our busiest weekend of the year

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Paul Armstrong | 15:40 UK time, Tuesday, 7 November 2006

After an extraordinary weekend of Premiership football - the bottom three all winning and leading Saturday's Match Of The Day, and two action-(and controversy)-packed London derbies in MOTD2 - this week's output also features the other end of the spectrum. It's the first round proper of the FA Cup.

With eight Premiership matches and 35 of the 40 FA cup ties all taking place on Saturday, it's the busiest day of the season for our production and technical teams.

It'll make for an action-packed show - and if you have the red button option available to you, you'll be able (we hope) to see every goal scored in Saturday's 35 ties right through to Sunday afternoon.

By which time we make MOTD history as we head to Dorset for a live tie between Weymouth and Bury. Nothing against Bury (1903 Cup Winners, 6-0 v Derby in the Final) but we'd like the non-leaguers to give them a run for their money. After all, that's what the FA Cup's all about!

When the BBC regained the rights to the FA Cup in 2001, the contract meant a first and second-round tie would be shown live on terrestrial TV for the first time. We all welcomed this as a sensible exercise in public-service broadcasting, as well as gainful employment for us, having lost the Premiership highlights.

However, none of us foresaw the extent to which clubs, local communities, the production team and, most importantly, the national audience would buy into the romance, honesty and earthiness of the early stages of the world's oldest football competition.

From the off, we decided to treat live games in the first two rounds just as we would those in the later stages, with a studio on site and a full range of cameras.

We also decided that a non-league club at home to a league club was the essence of the competition at this stage, and this has pretty much been our formula ever since. We struck lucky that first season as non-league sides (Hereford and Canvey Island) beat league opposition live in front of our cameras in each of the first two rounds.

Other live highlights since have included Accrington beating Huddersfield (before Stanley were promoted into the Football League along with Hereford) and an incredible performance last season by Chasetown of the Midland Alliance in taking Oldham of League One to a replay. Their on-field heroics, plus the wonderful welcome we received from the smallest club we've visited so far for a live game, made that one of the most enjoyable Outside Broadcasts I've ever worked on.

And 3.2m people chose to watch early on a November Sunday afternoon. With our 2005-6 FA Cup coverage bookended by that game and an astonishing final, it was a vintage season for the competition on the BBC.

In conjunction with our contractual partners, Sky, we also decided back in 2001 that there should be cameras at every tie. That's 40 in total in the first round, so my counterpart at Sky's Soccer Saturday, Ian Condron, and I divide up the coverage between us, and all the goals are then fed from our various combined regional play-out points during Saturday evening.

As with the Premiership, we share all coverage and enjoy an excellent working relationship at an operational level. With luck, every goal should be available to both broadcasters by Saturday evening.

This week, MOTD is on late (at 2330 GMT) because of the Festival of Remembrance, but will include a round-up of the best of the day's ties, plus an edit of our OB at Barrow v Bristol Rovers. We'll also have the usual Premiership coverage.

Consequently, we're not off the air until a rather unearthly 0110!

Then it's a quick turnaround for our live Sunday game, Weymouth v Bury. Again, we adhered to the non-league v league formula in picking our live tie.

We went higher up the pyramid this year, with the third-placed Conference team at home to one from League Two.

Firstly, we've never covered either side live before, and secondly, there seemed like a reasonable possibility of an upset. Also, Weymouth are well-supported, and their manager Garry Hill has a good Cup pedigree from his time at Dagenham and Redbridge.

We were also rather hoping to see Kaspar Schmeichel keep goal for Bury, but he's only on loan from Manchester City, who don't want him to be Cup tied.

Since the draw, Bury have extended their winning run to six games following victory over Wrexham last night. Sunday's commentators, Jonathan Pearce and Mark Bright went to that game, and Jonathan also went to see Weymouth at Stafford on Saturday.

With any luck, that level of homework should pay dividends in their live commentary on Sunday. We've also been busily preparing for what is a large technical effort.

Two engineering managers and two of our senior producers went on a recce last week to liaise with the club about camera positions and building a studio at the Wessex Stadium.

Our reporter, Ivan Gaskell and a crew are in Dorset to film an opening for our live programme and a feature for Football Focus, both of which will be edited by the weekend.

A group of us, Ray Stubbs included, will be heading down from Television Centre on a coach after Final Score on Saturday evening.

Meanwhile, many of our colleagues, and a number of freelance producers will just be starting to edit pictures from Lewes and Gainsborough Trinity, as well as those from Stamford Bridge and Goodison Park.

I'm told it'll take us about three hours to get there, so if you're in Weymouth on Saturday night, and see a group of lost-looking individuals scouring the seafront looking for fish and chips at about 9.30pm, it'll probably be the MOTD team.

Go easy on us - we'll all be back in our rooms to watch the show, and then up at the crack of dawn to film Ray's opening links down by the harbour. By the way, Weymouth is the Olympic sailing venue for 2012. Which may just get a mention...

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