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Behind the scenes at the World Cup 2010

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Philip McNulty | 16:04 UK time, Monday, 12 July 2010

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Editor's note. The video above was produced by Assistant Producer for BBC Sport News, Molly Armstrong. It shows the jobs some of the other people were doing at the World Cup - LM 

This blog should have been outlining the grand plans for my part in the coverage of England's first World Cup triumph in 44 years. Instead I have been back home for a week attempting to digest the disappointment of a campaign that ended even more prematurely than even the most pessimistic pundit predicted.

It was, despite a stay curtailed emphatically by Joachim Loew's Germany, a hectic and fascinating South African adventure.

I am the chief football writer for the BBC Sport website. My job is to cover Premier League clubs at home and abroad and England's national side. This takes in all the domestic and European competitions at club level and England's qualifying and friendly games.

I was based at a lodge 30 minutes' drive from England's base at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Campus in Rustenburg, living and working alongside the BBC's chief football correspondent Mike Ingham, a proud and fully-deserved recipient of an MBE during the tournament, the BBC's senior football reporter Ian Dennis, producer Charlotte Nicol and engineer Mike Burgess. And from beginning to end we shared the highs and lows, of England's World Cup campaign, all played out against a unique African backdrop in a vast country in thrall to the showpiece they were staging so successfully.

After navigating the smooth accreditation system put in place by Fifa and the South African authorities, covering England swiftly establishes a busy routine. We had a story almost before we had unpacked our cases, with England coach Fabio Capello revealing Rio Ferdinand had injured a knee in the first training session - news followed a hectic few hours later by confirmation that he was out of the tournament. If we were looking for bad omens for England, we had one right there.

Each day we would arrive at England's camp and go through the understandably thorough security system before being taken to watch 15 minutes of open training. Capello usually takes a position well away from the main group, although he provided plenty of excitement on one occasion with a brief, but explosive, outburst against a photographer he believed was taking pictures of England's medical room.

A chosen player will then undertake an open interview in which he will be quizzed by television crews from around the world, and will then be taken into a separate room for a briefing with the English national media. This is strictly embargoed until late at night for newspaper deadline purposes and gives the national press the opportunity to pursue their own lines of inquiry. Having attended every one of these briefings, I feel I should take the opportunity here to defend my colleagues in the media who are often wrongly accused of revelling in England's misfortune.

Yes, they report on it and take intense interest in it, but they wanted England to win the World Cup. What would be better for newspapers sales, television and radio figures and website stats than an England World Cup win?

John Terry gave the best, and most contentious, England press briefing. In the aftermath of the goalless draw with Algeria, he arrived all guns blazing back in Rustenburg, determined to get things off his chest. It became one of the most infamous moments of England's campaign as he explained how he might just say a few things at a team meeting that could upset the iron man Capello - and then effectively called for Joe Cole to be selected.

It was electrifying stuff and pure gold for the media - although it backfired on Terry as Capello breezed through the team meeting unchallenged and the former captain earned a very public ticking off from the coach.

At the game itself, my job is to serve the BBC website and tap into a number of social media outlets that illustrate the changing face of our coverage. Live text commentary has become an invaluable part of our coverage, both for updates and interaction. I would get to the stadium early and feed copy into the live text commentator, while also providing team news for Twitter and Facebook.

This process would continue during the game itself, thanks to the reliable technology provided for us and wifi inside the stadia. At the end of the game an instant match report is required on the whistle as well as a few final thoughts for the live text commentary.

And then it's off to either the coach's press conference - one or two interesting Capello briefings there - or into what is called "the mixed zone." This is a cordoned off area through which players have to pass. They may or may not choose to stop for interview. One man who did stop, was England goalkeeper Robert Green after his mistake against the United States. It would have been easy for him to race past knowing he would be heavily criticised for his error, but he offered himself up for interview in a manner which did him great credit.

After the game, an in-depth blog is required on England's performance. This can be on a very obvious line that jumps out or perhaps a more analytical look at the game. It is clear that defeat gets fans more agitated than victory as proved by 425,138 page views and 1,148 comments on the piece raking over the ashes of England's defeat against the Germans.
Interaction is key to this new age of social media. It is essential to go back on to the blog to see what comments have been made, reply and then perhaps widen out the debate. The days of just writing the piece and stepping back have long gone.

This was also the first Twitter World Cup, and a useful tool to interact with users was an hour-long Q&A - in which questions were invited on England. Quick questions and quick answers. Perfect.

Sadly, Landon Donovan's last-minute winner for the US against Algeria and Wayne Rooney's failure to score a second against the Slovenians condemned us to the most gruelling journey of all. Instead of first place in the group and a stay in Rustenburg, it was a dawn start and a rendezvous at a freezing cold petrol station for a seven-hour drive to Bloemfontein. Not all glamour - and the return journey in a hurry for Fabio Capello's final South African press conference was not made in the best of spirits after such a crushing loss.

Security was a major issue in South Africa, but common sense and taking advice was the order of the day. On a personal basis the hospitality from the locals could not have been better and the organisation on the ground was also admirable.  The South Africans threw out a warm welcome to England.

Yes, the adventure was cut short by England's miserable performances - but it was another unforgettable experience.


Philip McNulty is the Chief Football Writer for the BBC Sport Website 


  •  Editor's note. Viewing figures for the final game averaged 15.1 million (a 54 per cent share of viewers) on BBC1 - LM

  • BBC News coverage of the World Cup 2010


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