On the eve of Preston North End’s mammoth clash with Premiership giants Arsenal, our reporter Mark White went behind the scenes to find out just how the big match was brought to your TV screens. Just don’t mention the result . . .
“After 24 years of watching football on TV, to arrive at Deepdale Stadium, stride past Ian Wright and Steev McManaman and go straight through to the TV editing suite was something of a dream.
Shuffling past the half dozen parked Winnebagos, I was shown in the ‘Match truck’ where dozens of TV screens were crammed into one of the many vehicles scattered down south side of Deepdale.
This would be where all the live BT Sport broadcast was put together and the big decisions made. If an incident breaks out in the Sir Tom Finney Stand or an off-the-ball scrap began, this is who would be responsible for making sure the cameras caught it.
I was introduced to producer BT Sport David Moss who talked me through some of the basics of the operation.
“During the game it’ll get very busy but very quiet in here,” he said. “They need to keep a clear head to make concise decisions to react to whatever going on in the match.
“We have 18 cameras around the ground and it’s our job to make sure one major incident isn’t missed. It’s also about if something happens but we need to keep up with the game, working with the replays team but find the right time to go back and show that replay.”
As we made our way outside I bumped into Arsenal’s legendary striker Ian Wright and former PNE forward Kevin Davies, who were kind enough to stop for a chat.
“I never played at Deepdale, but I played against Preston for Burnley,” said Wright.
“I always knew of them because my teacher would always talk about Sir Tom Finney and how much of a legend he was.”
“And I always love coming back here, seeing people I used to work with, staff, the chairman and fans,” added Davies.
“It’s a bit like being back in the dressing room doing punditry with so many ex-players.”
I then made my way into the stadium and up to the frankly huge gantry above the Invincibles Stand. Cameras were already lined up as well as self-made ‘room’ plonked in the middle.
I was soon to find out that this ‘room’ was in fact the studio Jake Humphrey would be presenting in alongside BT Sport pundits Wright and Davies.
It was tiny, with cameras pressed against the back wall to make room for the table the pundits sit behind. Outside it, a small commentary position had been fashioned for Darren Fletcher and McManaman.
Humphrey, who had sped over in a taxi after covering the Manchester United game in the morning, spoke to me about how his side of things worked.
“Lots of people tend to use an auto-cue, but after going up and down pit lanes without one while covering Formula One, I found it quite restricting,” he said.
“It’s all very fast-paced but the whole thing about live TV is that anything can happen and that’s what we all love about it. Bringing these games to millions of people is fantastic and for me the magic of the FA Cup is still very much alive.”
I was then taken pitch side and down the tunnel where a pacing Arsene Wenger was rubbing his hands towards a TV monitor and a towering Olivier Giroud was making his way out to warm up.
Preston’s tunnel is one of the smallest I’ve been in and as more TV crews set up for post-match interviews there wasn’t too much room for manoeuvre.
I was then left to watch the rest of the game as a battling North End crashed out. Nothing beats watching sport at the ground but after this experience, it’s made me see televised matches it very differently.
The glamour and glitz we’re led to believe exists isn’t quite what it’s made out to be. Once-famous footballers are made to work hard in their new careers and it’s a tireless operation which takes the games to our TV screens.
Cameras around the ground are closely monitored by teams of people and replays brought to worldwide audiences in seconds to ensure the best possible viewing experience.
Nearly two days were spent making sure Preston fans across the globe could view the team’s big day and despite the result – what a day it was.