THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Simon Tyers watches the 2007 FA Cup final coverage

As the song says, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. Watching the FA Cup final coverage threw into sharp focus what has been lost from interminable final build-ups over recent years. We no longer get intimate films of footballers at play in Essex hotels, with Gerald Sinstadt interviewing players by the tennis court and voicing-over footage of the squad in their bedrooms and holding angling competitions. Once upon a time ITV would put a camera on board the coach; now we’re not even invited to check on its progress via helicopter every couple of minutes before it climactically files into the stadium. It was de rigueur for a reporter to grab players inspecting the pitch and ask them what they make of it and whether they’re confident of victory, like they wouldn’t be, whereas this year’s sequence of players milling about glancing downwards, showing off the suits and looking pensive lasted about 30 seconds and kept a respectful distance. The captains fronting Meet the Teams has long since passed on, only two new interviews filling the two hours and 40 minutes of build-up.

Of course there were still overhead shots, from what Gary Lineker called the “heli-telly” at one point, but the new Wembley layout compromised their necessity so much you began to wonder at times whether the director might cut back to Gary or a pre-filmed sequence. At least Jake Humphrey was stationed on Wembley Way to introduce children performing their own Cup final song, another tradition players are just too busy with brand awareness to bother with any more, and meet a man who had been to every final but one since 1951, his anecdotage somewhat hindered by the fact he couldn’t remember which one he’d missed or exactly why he hadn’t been there. Gabby Logan got to overlook the entrance and chat to assorted important figures from finals past including Dennis Wise, who brought the same child he’d lifted the Cup with in 2000, the boy was now grown up and spent his entire screen time looking for an escape route. Gary was excited about the idea of a new commentary position, but John Motson offset that with the thought “if I woke up in the Seventies like on Life on Mars I’d be in the same place”. And a little underprepared, probably.

In terms of the game, leaving aside Motson’s ill-starred opening gambit about how both clubs owe their existence to dogs, there was actually precious little to report. Indeed, at times during the first half there was very little in the way of speech, so lifeless were all concerned. The only piece of commentary of real note was a curious moment towards the end of the first half when Mark Lawrenson, in the midst of a mild ­obsession with how the turf was cutting up, produced another milestone with surely the first ­marijuana‑related joke in 80 years of live BBC football: “£800 million and we can’t grow grass... you know which sort of grass I mean, don’t you?” Motson only chuckled, as he does.

And so things dragged on, enlivened at half-time in extra time by a cutaway of Michael Thomas yawning, until Didier Drogba put the game – and nearly Lawrenson, judging by his relief that “we don’t have to live through the penalty shootout” – out of its misery. Garth Crooks put his distinctive mark on proceedings by opening his chat with the winning captain with: “Congratulations, John, you’ve got a ­tremendous winning ­situation here.”

Four days later, Filippo Inzaghi’s own tremendous winning situation was treated as an even more low-key affair, unusual for the big European night on ITV and especially unusual when grouchy Kenny Dalglish is on hand. The only really notable moments for this column’s purposes came early in the second half with a clearly audible PA announcement for a Curtis Pennant to go to the VIP section and the ditching of the usual mournful post-Oasis indie rock for the closing montage in favour of Bob Dylan’s Simple Twist of Fate, a surprising touch the producer still managed to ruin by intercutting it with a member of the broadcast team holding signs up in the style of the Subterranean Homesick Blues video. All these had been shot during the day, meaning someone had spent the best part of an afternoon trying to work out the best angle to hold a sign reading “Crouch Cracks In Another” and now we’ll never see the fruits of their endeavours.

From WSC 245 July 2007

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