The Cup, Internationals and staying neutral
This is some week for the Football Association, and the BBC's football team is pretty much alongside them all the way. Like Steve McClaren, we sweated over the possibility of extra-time in Monday's FA Cup replays. We'd have welcomed it in ratings terms, though it would have been a headache for the schedulers.
On most other fronts, too, we and the FA have been asking the same questions this week - how did that Spurs fan get on the pitch at the end of our live replay; where will the semi-finals be and when; and how will the Under 21 game go at Wembley; and how will the seniors fare on their travels?
As I've explained before, the rights situation for Euro 2008 qualifiers is complicated. Let me explain what games we will be showing. We currently show England's home internationals live, while Sky have the live away rights. However, we do have highlights rights to England away games, and so we have a Match of the Day on Saturday evening and next Wednesday, for which we will send commentators and a reporter.
The BBC also has live rights to Northern Ireland's game in Liechtenstein and at home to Sweden next Wednesday on BBC NI and interactively nationally. And we have highlights rights to Scotland's home games and the bonus of that huge game in Italy, live on Wednesday for the whole of the UK. Sadly, though, we have no rights to any of the forthcoming games in Wales and the Republic of Ireland's group.
The Under 21 game with Italy on Saturday is the second ramp-up event in a week at Wembley. Sky will be showing it live and Football Focus and MOTD will also have a presence. We all fervently hope that everything goes according to plan so that we can start to prepare for an historic FA Cup final. Our very own Mark Bright played in the event last week and has been raving to anyone who will listen about the new stadium and its facilities. He's also been raving about scoring the first goal there. And we only made matters worse by showing it last weekend!
No, seriously - well done Brighty. Incidentally, the XXL shirt he wore is currently being auctioned on eBay for a very good cause, the Geoff Thomas Foundation. The offers are in excess of £900, which is fantastic. I'm tempted to say that's actually a snip if you're looking for a marquee in which to hold a wedding reception this summer, but that wouldn't be fair.
On the FA Cup semi-final front, we are covering Watford v Manchester United from Villa Park at tea-time on Saturday, 14 April (Villa Park, coincidentally, is the venue where Brighty scored as Palace beat Hansen's Liverpool 4-3 in perhaps the greatest semi of all time).
For various reasons, including Spurs' Thursday involvement in the Uefa Cup, the other semi was always pencilled in for Old Trafford on the Sunday and will be live on Sky, with extended BBC highlights on MOTD2 that evening. Saturday evening tends to be our preferred FA Cup live slot and judging by the viewing figures, this seems to suit the lifestyle of much of our audience. That particular day, we will also be following the Grand National on BBC ONE.
At this point, I'm going to have to make a small confession. Most of the media are, understandably, salivating at the prospect of a "Dream Final" involving the top two in the Premiership, with a possible Champions' League Final meeting to follow. Having edited MOTD and MOTD2 on Saturday and Sunday, I left Spurs v Chelsea in the capable hands of a colleague and travelled to Old Trafford on Monday in my part-time capacity as a Boro fan of 36 years' standing.
Until 10 years ago, Boro had never won an FA Cup quarter-final. They'd lost several, in heartbreaking fashion, as I was growing up, to the likes of Birmingham, Orient and Wolves. No disrespect to any of them, but... I was working on the MOTD highlights when we won our first at Derby in 1997, and then edited the BBC's live coverage of our next two wins, at home to Everton in 2002 and Charlton last season. This was the first time I've been in the ground for a Boro quarter-final in the modern era, so from now on I'm going back to being in a van outside or in the studio.
When you're working on the programme, you're actually too busy just doing your job for personal feelings to come into it. I was in a van at the Riverside for the first game against United, and it's only afterwards that you realise all the implications of what's happened. Both Spurs and Chelsea fans were working on Monday's coverage, but there were no concerns that their personal feelings would compromise their professionalism. Some of them were even sitting next to each other!
When David Beckham scored that equaliser against Greece, the whole of England went mad. The programme director and I celebrated for about half a second, then realised we'd be back in the studio in a few seconds. We could forget the play-off in Ukraine scenario, and would need a new analysis sequence, the earliest possible interview with Beckham, and an upbeat closing sequence. We celebrated qualification properly once we came off the air.
Let's hope we're celebrating one or more of our countries qualifying for Euro 2008 in the coming months!