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From Wigan to Wembley

Paul Armstrong | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 15 May 2008

For BBC Sport, the even-numbered years tend to be manic: World Cups, Commonwealth Games and Winter Olympics every four-year cycle, and the Olympics and Euros in between, in the leap years.

For the Match of the Day team, 2008 has already been a remarkable year, even before the big summer events kick in. Unlike our Radio and Online colleagues, we have had no direct involvement in a momentous year of European club football, but the Premier League's finale was exceptional (of which more in a moment). We've also seen the most extraordinary FA Cup campaign of modern times.

This time last year, I suggested that the FA Cup desperately needed a new winner with only the 'Big Four' having lifted it since 1995. I pointed out wistfully that a different team had won it every season when I was growing up between 1966 and 1978, suggesting that it was becoming increasingly unlikely that anyone else could break through...(incidentally, I heard someone refer to the "Big Four monopoly" on the radio the other day. I never studied ancient languages at school, but I think 'mono' means one. Does the word 'quadropoly' exist?)

The logos of Portsmouth FC and Cardiff City FC hang on the side of Wembley stadium in preparation for the FA Cup final

I digress. If you had a bet on a Portsmouth v Cardiff final before this season's third round, you'll probably be watching the BBC's pictures beamed to a TV station somewhere in the tropics, having retired on your winnings. Otherwise, I think most people will have been astonished by the whole 2007-8 Cup story and will see this final as a genuine breath of fresh air.

In TV terms, we've had great access to both clubs which will be reflected in the videotape pieces we run on the day. Most are still being shot and edited, but look out in particular for a virtuoso singer-songwriter performance from Cardiff's Steve Thompson, first-hand accounts of the pre-war Finals won by both clubs, and recaps of the Cup season which has seen us return to Barnsley and Chasetown among others.

We're also getting former England colleagues together from the three sides outside the top flight who've won the FA Cup since the war - Sunderland in 1973, Southampton in 1976 and West Ham in 1980.

Although Pompey are clear favourites, Cardiff do have a real chance of adding their name to that list. As a Boro fan, I keep trying not to think about that quarter-final, but there's no doubt Cardiff looked like the Premier League side that day. And Pompey struggled in their semi against West Brom and have underperformed since, so who knows?

Speaking of Middlesbrough and the Premier League, certain Boro fans of my acquaintance wanted to know whether MOTD would lead with that extraordinary 8-1 game last Sunday, and I then received messages afterwards querying why we hadn't. I'm all too aware that Boro haven't scored eight since celebrating promotion in 1974 by thrashing Sheffield Wednesday 8-0. It took me several years to forgive my Dad for deciding at the last minute that, with Boro already up, it was one of the few games we could afford to miss that season. What was it Philip Larkin said about parents?

Anyway, bias apart, while an 8-1 would normally lead the show, the race for the title, to avoid the drop, and to get into Europe had to come first. I'll probably be pilloried for saying this, but, editorially, the Sven saga was the biggest national story around that game in any case.

Admittedly, Alfonso Alves is settling in well and Stewart Downing has had a fine season. Fabio Rochemback also signed off with a free-kick so firmly struck that only the net prevented it from ripping a hole in the back of the North Stand and landing somewhere beyond Billingham. The result, while extraordinary, didn't affect any wider issues. Everyone at MOTD follows a team but, professionally, we have to be objective. At least Boro were (rightly) above Liverpool and Arsenal in the running order this week.

As I mentioned last week, I was the MOTD Editor in 2005 when there was that four-way battle to avoid the drop, and I was an Assistant Producer when the title went to the last day in 1995 and 1999, but I'm not sure we'd ever had both issues unresolved prior to the last MOTD of the season.

As a result, I'm pretty sure it was the first time we've run two intercut edits jumping from match to match in the same show. Even though Chelsea never overtook United in the course of the afternoon, I think the fact that there was only a one goal swing needed at various points justified what we did. It was 0-0 in both games when Wigan arguably should have had a penalty, and 1-0 in both games when Emile Heskey headed just over in the second half. And the fact that with Chelsea still leading, Ryan Giggs settled matters near the end was not only entirely fitting, but also something we wanted to set up properly.

Intercutting was definitely the right approach at the bottom. Most people know the results in advance these days, but at 3-0 to Reading it made sense to show that Birmingham were going down regardless, but that a goal for Fulham would save them, as indeed it did. Even if Fulham hadn't scored, it would have been a dramatic ending, so we would have jumped from ground to ground by that stage. The reaction shots of joy and misery from other grounds, while slightly voyeuristic, really do make those stories come alive in TV terms.

I hope it all made sense and that we can provide a satisfactory standard of coverage both on Saturday, and at Euro 2008. Even if, for a majority of our viewers, neither contains the team dearest to your hearts, there are still plenty of good reasons to watch both.


  • Comment number 1.

    Looking forward to the final Paul, but possibly more so to the build up than the actual game if that makes any sense!

    I agree that 'mono' does mean one, but similarly surely 'poly' means many? therefore monopoly means one person owns many things?

    does that make the Premiership a Polymono? or a Quadropolymono? Or should we really just forget about liverpool and arsenal and call it a good old fashioned 2 horse race?

    I jest, I jest!

  • Comment number 2.

    Great column, as always!

  • Comment number 3.

    Scotland are playing the Czech Republic in Prague on May 30. It would seem the BBC has secured the rights and is planning to screen the game on BBC2 Scotland. Will Scots living in England be able to watch the game on BBC2 or through Freeview red button?

    Oh and are you going to show the Scottish Cup Final this year? It is part of the government's 'crown jewels' that have to be available on terrestrial, however the BBC only screens it in Scotland. Last year I couldn't even listen to it as Radio Five had an English play off match and Sports Extra had an England rugby friendly! A bad failure to provide an equitable service!

  • Comment number 4.

    The correct term is oligopoly which means a small number dominating many

  • Comment number 5.

    I was watching MOTD with my brother, who being an Arsenal fan did not keep up to date with any games during the day, so watched MOTD not knowing what happened at either end of the table.

    He was really hoping Fulham stayed up and seeing Reading winning he was becoming increasingly convinced that Fulham were down, until they got that goal late on.

    So just wanted to say that the inter cutting coverage was excellent and even though I knew all the scores it was still good seeing the changing emotions during the course of the games.

    And my brother didn't even mind that arsenal were last on the billing!

  • Comment number 6.

    just fyi

    An oligopoly is a market form in which a market or industry is dominated by a small number of sellers (oligopolists). The word is derived from the Greek for a few over many. Because there are few participants in this type of market, each oligopolist is aware of the actions of the others. The decisions of one firm influence, and are influenced by the decisions of other firms. Strategic planning by oligopolists always involves taking into account the likely responses of the other market participants. This causes oligopolistic markets and industries to be at the highest risk for collusion.

    god bless wikipedia and bored bankers!

  • Comment number 7.

    Paul, I'm not sure if qudropoly is a real word, but you could use oligopoly, meaning controlled by a few.

  • Comment number 8.

    I didn't like the way MoTD edited the programme for the final day of the season. Switching between matches in-game only works for live coverage imho. Any excitement generated by these matches was soon lost by this format. Trying to capture the crowd reaction of fans when goals went in around other grounds can't be easy when 99% of your viewers know the result for 5 hours already, so why bother trying to capture the live experience?

    Why not show all the Chelsea highlights, then follow that up by showing the United highlights adding "United now only need a point to be champions".

    Same for the relegation battle. Show the all highlights for Birmingham game then show Fulham game adding "Fulham needed a win to stay up".

    I'm probably in the minority here as i guess the majority would have enjoyed the show.

    One thing i was delighted to see was that you let Shearer, Hansen and Lawrenson all comment after the matches. The format where you usually only let one person analyse each match, while the other ex-player sits there like a naughty child who must not speak, could do with a change.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think that the F.A. cup has become a bit of an irrelevance really for big clubs competing at the business end of the champions league.
    (with an emphasis on the business part)

    Portsmouth have pointed the way for mid-tier clubs this season. Aim for 5th and a good run in F.A. cup.

  • Comment number 10.

    Congratulations must go to yourself Paul and all the MOTD team, even as an Arsenal fan with nothing to play for, I enjoyed the way you covered the title and and relegation race. In these situations where there are simultaneous matches on the last day, it's a great idea to switch grounds where the story is happening. I got a real sense of the fans' emotions on the day - how do you choose which fans to film for closeups for their emotions - Do you have cameras specifically for filming fans during the match?

    As for the Cup Final, I know after this year it's returning to ITV which is a catastrophe as far as I'm concerned. As it's your last for a while at the Beeb I have total confidence that you will put on a great show. One of the things I've enjoyed about Cup Final coverage is the build-up, the coaches arriving, older fans who remember previous victories, celebrity fans etc. From what you've already posted on here regarding what you are covering on Saturday, I'm already looking forward to hearing what the fans thought of the 1939 and 1927 finals.

    Even as a 22 year old who has mostly seen the same teams in the final, including my beloved Arsenal, I'm delighted to see two teams who wouldn't normally make it. I hope for the BBC's sake it's a better final than last year, it should be a close final, but to be an exciting one as your pundits will say: "It needs an early goal". All the best for Saturday.

  • Comment number 11.

    RE: Cold War Kid.

    If you did it the way you're suggesting, it would appear as if the Chelsea game had already finished before Utd kicked a ball, same situation with the relegation race also. I think they got it right, as all the games are simultaneous on the last day, none of the teams can be certain what they still need to do. If you show one game before the other the drama has gone already. It wouldn't give you the same sense of drama mid-matches as the situation develops over the afternoon.

    I think the best example of how it works brilliantly was in the aforementioned 2005 relegation issue. At 3pm on the last day there were no teams already down. Between 3pm and 5pm Crystal Palace, Norwich City, Southampton were all safe at different parts of the afternoon, but it was crucially West Brom who were safe at 5pm. If these matches were shown in full one after the other, you remove all the drama.

  • Comment number 12.

    I was also extremely impressed by the closer for the show. Thought it was brilliantly cut with a good choice of music. Good work

  • Comment number 13.

    As some have said, it's an oligopoly. So it could be said that the Premiership is "oligopolistic", but it's more a Business term.

    A quadropoly is probably good enough, though

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Paul

    I was hoping this blog would have some more details about the plans for Saturday's coverage.

    I would be interested to know what features you have planned for the build-up and who will be involved.

    I think its safe to assume John Motson and Mark Lawrenson will be the commentators and the two Alans in the studio.

    But what other guests have you lined up and with Ray and Gabby be involved like last year?

  • Comment number 15.

    Is 2 and a half hours build up not a little bit excessive, even for a cup final?

    I do sometimes wonder why so much time is given up before sporting events, but so little given afterwards for reaction and analysis. Audience participation (like a 606 style show) could also be incorporated.

    Avid fans will know all the back story, and people just tuning in for the match probably won't watch it. Could use not be made of online/on demand/interactive to provide this build up?

  • Comment number 16.

    the word you're looking for is ogopoly, which means a small group controlling everything. See, doing musicology at uni is worth something. I get to be a smart arse on the bbc website!

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm guessing ginnerchris doesn't remember the glory days of the 70s and 80s when Cup Final Grandstand would have 4/5 hours of build-up! Although of course in those days the Cup Final was the only live domestic match shown during the season, so there was a real sense of occasion about the whole day. I appreciate the point though, in these days of mass media coverage perhaps the build-up is less important that it used to be - how about bringing back Cup Final 'It's a Knockout' though?...... :-)

  • Comment number 18.

    What a shame so few people study Ancient Greek these days (as I did at school and university many years ago).

    It's hard to do this without having access to a Greek font (or to my old Liddell and Scott), but I'll try.

    Adjective: 'polus' meaning 'many - whence 'hoi polloi' (the many). The 'o' is short i.e. an omicron. Etymological origin of many English words starting with poly e.g. polygon, polymath.

    Verb: 'polein' - to sell. From memory, the 'o' is long i.e. an omega (which affects the pronunciation of the Greek). Etymological origin of several English words ending with poly e.g. monopoly, oligopoly

    Verb 'archein' - to rule, and noun 'arche' - rule. Etymological origin of many English words ending with 'archy' e.g. oligarchy, anarchy. (Etymological anarchy is what seems to be prevailing in this particular blog!)

    And of course, the adjective 'oligos' means 'few'.

    Hope this helps.

  • Comment number 19.

    Nice blog, but as MOTD editor can you explain why the big four arew always on first.
    You are the BBC and do not need to appease advertisers and show the biggest rating draws when it suits the advertisers.
    The BBC is meant to show eveness in everything. That means that West Ham, Boro, Wigan et al should be first game on equally during the season and not just when playing the big four. As a hammer I am fed up with staying up to see a 3 minute clip (including replays) at the end of the programme with fleeting and begrudging comments from Hansen + co. (perhaps we're not left wing enough for the BBC!!).
    I'm sure fans of other 'unfashionable clubs' feel the same as they seem to suffer the same fate at the hands of MOTD editors.

  • Comment number 20.

    Good comment about the amount of time dedicated post match on the BBC and would like to hear the BBC's view on this. Very rarely this season has there been time for post match interviews after FA cup matches and especially England games. Although I notice the coverage on Saturday runs until 17:30, so better than usual.

    Not that it really matters though, as the BBC managed to completely screw it up and lose rights to ITV / Setanta. However, certainly something to note for the future.

  • Comment number 21.

    Uh oh, next seasons FA Cup is gonna be annoying.
    ITV WILL definately show Manchester United.
    Well done BBC for not showing Man Utd when we didnt want them on.
    Now next seasons FA Cup and England games are going to be a write off :@.
    Looking forward to the final 2 England friendlies on advert free BBC for a while.

  • Comment number 22.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 23.


    I was busy all day in a situation where I couldn't watch any TV, listen to 5 Live or browse the web, so after that I avoided the results for a couple of hours and watched MOTD. Have to say that intercutting the games worked really well and I thoroughly enjoyed the tension building in both the title deciding battle and the relegation battle. Well done to all the producers and editors.

    Must say thanks as well to you Paul for probably the most insightful (and entertaining) of the sports editors' blogs.

  • Comment number 24.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    The interactive service was quite disappointing on Saturday.

    On Freeview both 301/302 just simulcast BBC1 with commentary from Radio Cymru on one and Radio Solent on the other.

    Why couldn't the audio options have been put on the one stream (as it usually the case), meaning the other could be used for rolling highlights as they used to be.

    Is seems with the rugby too that from Freeview at least rolling highlights, updated throughout the game, have pretty much been dropped - which is a shame as I've always found them the most useful interactive service - certainly far more useful than an alternative commentary.

  • Comment number 27.

    flicktokick, #3 - I'm pretty sure that if BBC Two Scotland are showing the game then it will be on BBC Two Scotland via Sky, if that's any use? When I used to live in England I always asked if our games would be on Freeview via the red button but never got an answer. With Scrum V being shown on 301/302 hopefully the Scotland games will be.

    I can't see the Cup Final being on though - Sky have UK-wide rights to the Scottish Cup (which is annoying as sometimes BBC Scotland even turn off the satellite channel meaning we watch in analogue or on a Freeview TV upstairs).

    The FA Cup final was fine but can you get commentators that actually watch the game? Neither commentator knew initially why the Cardiff "goal" was chopped off, and Motson nearly had a heart attack telling us a Portsmouth player was about to be sent off before realising he'd got the wrong man!

  • Comment number 28.

    re 27
    Thanks for that Southpar, but I don 't have Sky. I have Freeview, but it has red button channels available so Scotland's match could go on there.

    Of courseI bet the England v USA match is 'networked' so shown in Scotland next Wednesday. It is such disparity in the treatment of England and the other nations that really grates and causes resentment.

    So Paul, this is your blog. I asked you the question, why did you leave it for others to answer? You have more access to the facts than others, you can explain BBC Sport's position; that really is the raison d'etre of a blog, it is supposed to be interactive.


  • Comment number 29.

    Post 28
    Sky own the rights to the Scottish Cup, how about getting Sky?
    Also England Vs USA will be on because they have the rights to it.
    You are like many people, who moan for no apparent reason at the BBC for something they cannot control.
    Sky are strong and have bidded more than the BBC could afford.
    But we know there wont be any Scottish/English domestic cup/international football next season, so quit moaning and get Sky.


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