This Saturday sees one of the biggest dates in the football calendar, with Manchester United facing off against Chelsea in The FA Cup Final.
Match of the Day’s Steve Wilson is commentating on the match for BBC1 – the very first FA Cup Final he’s done for the BBC.
Steve told Radio Times how he prepares for the big day – and why he hopes he won’t have to use 95% of his research…
John Motson said this to me once, and he’s completely right: a sports commentator is delivering the longest unscripted broadcast that you are ever likely to see on television. There isn’t anything else like it. Even with a telethon like Children in Need or Comic Relief, although it’s live there is an autocue and it has been rehearsed.
I cannot think of any other job in TV that entails standing up live in front of an audience and speaking unscripted for 90 minutes when you don’t know what’s about to happen. There’s no autocue, you haven’t rehearsed and so you have to be absolutely focussed from start to finish.
At the end of a game you’re really quite exhausted because of the mental focus and concentration levels that are required, because literally anything could happen at any moment. You have to be ready for it.
On the morning of the Final, I’m hoping to get enough time to go for a quick run because it’s a great way to clear your head and prepare yourself.
Then, in the box itself I’ll have my copious pieces of paper – and yes, everything is still on paper.
There are very few commentary positions where you have room for a laptop or tablet, and actually the internet is pretty unreliable on most TV gantries anyway so you can’t rely on wanting to look something up on the internet once you’re there, because the chances are you’re not going to get a signal! Apart from anything else, there’s 90,000 other people all on their devices as well.
All my research is done before and I print it out – it’s all there. As well as my commentary notes, I’ll have my stopwatch, a few coloured pens, blank pieces of paper, a load of pens and not much else, actually.
I have commentated on Champion’s League finals and World Cup semi-finals but I haven’t done an FA Cup Final for the BBC and I do think – partly because of the history of it – it does give you a sense of pride. I mean, I don’t get terribly nervous but I do get very focused – probably in a similar way to how sports people do, actually. The adrenaline will be going, for sure, but I don’t think I would describe it as nerves.
I am somebody who enjoys doing the research so, touch wood, I’ll be extremely well-prepared hopefully for anything that might happen. And football commentators will recognise this – you research so much stuff for every game and 95% of that stuff you never use. Hopefully, if the game is good, then you don’t need to trot out all these statistics because the match will just speak for itself.
Most football fans remember their first FA Cup Final and I think there is a special place in all English football fans’ hearts for the FA Cup. It is still one of the two or three landmark football occasions in every season, and when you get a final like this one – Chelsea against Manchester United – that is absolutely huge.
It’s not just about who wins the Cup, but in this game there are so many little sub-plots, too. Jose Mourinho is the Manchester United manager but the only time he has ever won the FA Cup was as Chelsea’s manager. In 2007, Chelsea played Manchester United in the Cup Final on the same date – May 19th – and Chelsea won 1-0 with Mourinho.
Also, there’s the fact that Mourinho and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte have had a few spats over the last couple of years, there’s a little bit of a head-to-head between those two as well.
And I am definitely not making a prediction as to who will win – it’s too close to call.
The FA Cup Final airs Saturday 19th May from 5pm on BBC1