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Our England v Germany coverage

Paul Armstrong | 10:32 UK time, Friday, 24 August 2007

The season already feels like it’s several months old. The November-like weather (in London at least) may have something to do with it, or perhaps it's just that the games are coming thick and fast.

Full league programmes at the weekends, Premier League fixtures last midweek and internationals this Wednesday just gone.

I likened pre-season friendlies to listening to opera singers gargle the other week, and while no game between England and Germany is ever meaningless, the only really important result this midweek was the one which took Northern Ireland back into a Euro 2008 qualifying position.

They are well-placed but with mostly difficult away fixtures to come. England are in a worse position but have all but one remaining qualifier at Wembley.

I'm sure it was useful for Steve McClaren to get his squad together and a full house will have helped the FA financially. Equally, BBC ONE had another sizeable audience for the sporting soap opera that is the England national team, but I'm not sure anyone learned a great deal.

There are question marks over who'll be in goal for the qualifiers while any lingering doubts over Micah Richards' international pedigree may have been dispelled, but that's about it.

Pander power: Germany's Christian Pander hammers home the winner at Wembley

As a programme it went smoothly, but was a tad asymmetrical. On week nights, BBC ONE operates in half-hour slots. One news bulletin ends at 6.30pm, another starts at 10pm, so the live football slot tends to be 7.30pm until 10pm. With an 8pm kick-off now the norm, we had 21 minutes of build-up planned until the teams were due in the tunnel at 7.51pm.

However, on Wednesday night there was a delay of nearly ten minutes because the German team had been held up in traffic. The Germans organised a month-long World Cup last year with no hitches whatsoever, but were still too polite to cast aspersions on London's transport system.

To be fair, it only took eight minutes by train to get from Marylebone in Central London to Wembley Stadium station in mid-afternoon, so maybe that's the answer!

I digress. It was pretty easy to fill the extra time with three studio guests, an England v Germany historical item, Steve McClaren's anniversary in the job and an interview with a fit-again Michael Owen. What did become obvious, though, was that the usual post-match six or seven minutes of analysis and quick interview were going to be squeezed as a consequence. In those situations, or indeed when games go to extra-time, we liaise with the network editor at BBC ONE, who's doing a similar job to mine at a macro level for the whole channel.

It's important in those situations not to cry wolf. As an editor and football fan, you always think your programme is of massive national significance. However, looking at it objectively, the national news is almost always more important than sport. Once the second-half started, we calculated that two or three minutes of injury-time would mean a 9.58pm or 9.59pm final whistle. Our show would normally have ended at 9.59pm, but the BBC ONE editor agreed an overrun until 10.02pm, which I thought was a fair solution.

As it was, there were four minutes of injury-time (for which I'm afraid I was heard to curse the officials) but we managed to recap the goals and second half chances and get off in under three minutes. We also dropped our closing titles and just ran a five second BBC Sport sting.

Germany's players celebrate their 2-1 victory in front of their fans at Wembley

So the show was asymmetrical, with a leisurely build-up and half-time but very quick wrap. Had it been a crucial qualifier or FA Cup tie heading for penalties, we would have tried to negotiate more time and would almost certainly have been given it.

But there's a trade-off between tying up our show neatly and antagonising the large audience who tune in for the Ten O'clock News. I think our slight overrun probably minimised the annoyance caused to both sets of viewers, and indeed to the many people who are interested in both football and the news.

These days, we do have the get-out clause of the red-button facility. A substantial minority of viewers don't have this option, but for those who do, Gary Lineker was able to trail Northern Ireland highlights and England reaction to follow.

In the end, the England reaction only consisted of a Steve McClaren interview, since the late finish meant that by the time the players were showered and changed, our slot had finished.

There is an argument for keeping a panel discussion going on the interactive service. We've done this before, and will do it again for certain key qualifiers, but we felt highlights of a qualifier which had only gone out live on BBC NI was probably a more worthwhile watch than an endless dissection of an England warm-up game.

Our next live England game is anything but a warm-up. It's a qualifier against Israel at Wembley, and anything less than three points will probably not be good enough.

It's a 5pm kick-off on a Saturday which is good news for two reasons: firstly, we'll have the roomy slot of 4.30pm until 7.10 pm, in which to build up and reflect on the match in full; and secondly, the London weekend traffic should - and I repeat should - allow a punctual kick-off!

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