From Wigan to Wembley
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?)
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.
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.