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FA Cup fourth-round picks

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Roger Mosey | 13:41 UK time, Thursday, 11 January 2007

After the first-round draw for this year's FA Cup I had a call from an old friend up north.

He's the groundsman at a non-League club and they'd just secured a juicy home tie - so were we planning to cover it? It's obviously a question people ask after every draw.

For lower-league clubs the TV picks can make a massive financial difference to them (and, for the record, we didn't cover my mate's club) - while for the giants it's about fitting kick-off times into high profile slots in the schedules which will get them some of the biggest viewing figures of the season.

For us, it's a vigorous internal debate about what's the right choice for our audiences...

The decision's taken by the football team - Niall Sloane our head of football with his editors, and I join in from time to time. The format is that the BBC has the first choice of tie; then Sky Sports, our partners on the FA contract, have second choice; and we then have picks three and four. But all this has to be approved not just by the FA but crucially by the local police: if they don't think a particular kick-off time is safe, they have a veto.

Once that's all sorted, some of the editorial choices make themselves. We'd have been daft not to have Liverpool v Arsenal as our first choice last Saturday at 5.15pm in the third round - just as, on the other side, Barnet v Colchester would have been rather low on the list, whatever the undoubted virtues of those two teams.

But there's a range of other factors too: do our choices have a good geographical spread? We wouldn't want to be entirely based in north-west England or in London - and we also don't want the same teams in absolutely every round unless it's unavoidable.

Is there some of the romance of the Cup? All-Premiership ties win the largest audiences, but we're proud of being at Weymouth and Salisbury and Tamworth this season too - with viewing figures there stronger than for many live Premier League games.

Equally, we're influenced not just by the teams but by who has home advantage. Chelsea v Macclesfield is less attractive than Macclesfield v Chelsea. And even if we don't get an upset, we'd like a tie that's reasonably balanced: the most difficult thing for our commentators is to breathe life into a game where the favourites are 2-0 up after eight minutes.

So here's what we've decided for the Fourth Round. Our first pick was Manchester United v Portsmouth, which will play in the Saturday teatime slot. Sky have gone for Arsenal v Bolton, and we've then opted for Chelsea v Nottingham Forest on Sunday afternoon and finally for Luton or QPR v Blackburn on Saturday lunchtime. I should say additionally we've chosen Newcastle United v Birmingham for our third-round replay, and you can see that game on BBC One next Wednesday night.

I know there won't be universal agreement with these picks - this blog is here precisely so you can debate what we do - but we hope you'll enjoy the fourth-round ties on 27 & 28 January. Audiences in the third round were up on last year, with Liverpool v Arsenal peaking at over 8m, so we'd like that trend to continue.

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