Paying a heavy penalty
Seasonal greetings, blog comrades! I am amongst the pressies at Chateau Walker, my wife is wrapping furiously and I am offering occasional pathetic advice and stealing Chocolate Buttons.
This week, I thought I would try to answer a question I get asked quite regularly and give you another glance behind the Football Focus scenes as well. Consider it my little Christmas present to you all.
People often ask me how much of a say I have in what ends up on the programme. The answer is quite a lot, but it does vary week to week.
Regular editor Mark Cole is something of a control freak when it comes to scripts for Focus, so he tends to write them all on a Thursday. I then have a good old re-write, he has a secondary fiddle and then - when he's not looking - I have another go at them. He does write in quite a similar style to me, but he has a worrying habit of starting every cue with a "Well". I have to limit him to two per programme.
Here's an example of one of the cues from a fortnight ago. It's always nice for the show to flow and we were linking into the 'Alan Shearer meets Dimitar Berbatov' piece, having just talked about Dean Ashton's retirement. See if you can guess who had the last fiddle...
"Well, Manchester United are only two points off Chelsea at the top of the table after beating Ashton's club last week. It seems the champions are doing all right without Ronaldo and Tevez. Of course, THEIR absence puts extra pressure... on the likes of Dimitar Berbatov who has been seeking inspiration from his boyhood hero. Fergie couldn't persuade Alan Shearer to go to Old Trafford... but thankfully... we could."
That is exactly how the link would have looked on the autocue machine. You can tell I am a big fan of the '...' just to help me keep the pace right. This cue had probably been fiddled with about 10 times before settling on the final version.
When it comes to other parts of the show, Mark is very much the chief but is always open to suggestions and ideas. By the time we get to the Focus meeting on a Tuesday, somewhere between 50% and 80% of the pieces in the programme are already sorted. The rest is up for discussion.
Two weeks ago, I came up with what I thought was a winning idea. It was the week after both Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe had missed crucial penalties. I dug out some stats on penalty conversion rates for England internationals. To my surprise, Defoe had missed five of the 12 penalties he had taken in the Premier League, while Darren Bent had only missed one of his - and that was against his old club.
I suggested it to Matt Roberts, the editor that week, and director Phil Sibson on the Tuesday and persuaded them it was worth looking at. We had all the stats double-checked and then had a graphic made up for the programme.
I have to admit that Roberts and Sibson had their reservations, but I convinced them that, at the very least, it was a talking point. On the morning of the show, I told Lee Dixon that we were going to be discussing penalty conversion rates but he wasn't that interested... to put it mildly. His exact quote was: "What are we doing that for? It sounds pretty pointless." And then, with a Dracula-like cackle, he announced: "If you mention it, I will be forced to put you away."
As you can see, he was true to his word. Lawro joined in as well.
Although I got panned for it, I still reckon it was an interesting talking point. It was never my intention to suggest that England manager Fabio Capello should pick his strikers on the strength of their penalty powers, but, if you're selecting five lads for a quarter-final shoot-out and the choice is Bent or Defoe, who are you going to go with? That is the sort of thing that could keep a group of mates entertained for a few hours - as long as Dixon and Lawrenson weren't on the next table!
The good thing about Focus is - without sounding like I'm about to launch into a High School Musical number - there are a great team of creative people working on the programme. You are never really left alone to cover a story without a producer, whilethe editor will always look at the final item before it goes to air.
On last week's Christmas show, producer John Nicholson was down to put the opening together. He went on the festive theme and sent over a guide script to me and the editor, who was Mark Demuth this week, on the Wednesday. Mark said he was happy for me to make the script a bit more Christmassy, so I got to work and sent it back.
We decided we needed a terrible Christmas jumper for me to wear and a nice festive pub with a fireplace to film in. John booked the cameraman and took care of the pub, while I rang around about the pullover. We settled on the Park Tavern in Wandsworth, while the jumper came from a vintage second-hand place just off Brick Lane in London. Judging by the tightness of the sleeves, I assumed it was a ladies jumper, but it certainly did the job. Have a look.
Even though it all looks relatively simple, it took a long time to set up. This little film will show you how it all came together.
Right, that's it for this week. I hope you've enjoyed Focus so far this season. It's been a fantastic programme to work on and I've loved a bit of blog based banter as well. Have a great Christmas and eat as many cashew nuts as you can.
You can follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/danwalkerbbc