Sports Mole goes behind the scenes with ESPN on FA Cup final day

Behind the scenes with ESPN for FA Cup final
© PA Photos
Sports Mole takes a behind-the-scenes look with ESPN on FA Cup final day when Wigan Athletic won the trophy for the first time.

Yesterday, Wigan Athletic made history by winning their first FA Cup trophy courtesy of a headed goal by Ben Watson in the dying minutes of the clash against Manchester City.

The drama at Wembley unfolded live on ESPN following a full day from 8am of buildup to the match, former players discussing their FA Cup memories and live music from the band British Sea Power for all to enjoy.

Sports Mole was invited to watch the ESPN crew in action to discover what really goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to bring a full day of FA Cup coverage to the nation's screens.

Arrive at the Hilton

Kickoff may have been eight hours away, but ESPN's work was already well under way when we arrived at 9am at the London Hilton Wembley hotel. Walking towards the Hilton, there was an eerie silence surrounding the iconic stadium, knowing that in just a few hours it would be awash with Wigan and Man City colours. Two Latics fans - a man and his son - had decided to arrive early to take photos of the setting, oblivious to the fact that they would later be watching their team lift the famous trophy.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we were whisked up to the top of the building to the SkyBar by ESPN manager of communications Tristan O'Carroll and his associate director of communications Paul Melvin. Here's where we discovered that the broadcasters had been forced to make last-minute changes due to the weather.

The set for the band (British Sea Power), who, at this point, were scheduled to appear in the 1pm showing of Talk of the Terrace, was originally due to be set up outside, but was forced to be brought into the bar due to fears of rain. This meant that the crew had to move cameras and take out monitors swiftly in order to stick to their rehearsal schedule. On hearing of the changes, Paul told us: "It's going to be a nice, tight little intimate performance here today! The upshot of that, though, is that we've lost a lot of monitors. We were going to have everything up and be able to see the links back and forth, but we can't see that now."

After adapting the studio, presenter Mark Durden-Smith and ex-Liverpool and Republic of Ireland midfielder Jason McAteer rehearsed their lines for the afternoon's live showing of Talk of the Terrace amid a busy atmosphere of camera men, and studio managers going about their way preparing for the show. Sports Mole were even asked to contribute by acting as a pretend live audience with lots of clapping and cheers for the introduction of former Wimbledon goalkeeper Dave Beasant!

Going pitch-side at Wembley

After leaving the hotel, which is situated directly next to Wembley, we made the short walk over to the OB compound, with Tristan informing us of how early the presenters and pundits have been preparing for the day's coverage. He said: "The main buildup show at around 2.30pm today with Ray Stubbs and the guys - Ray did his link from the Wembley way on Thursday morning, and the guys would have been in from Wednesday."

As we entered the bowel of the stadium, around a dozen trucks, a production gallery and plenty of riggers and crew members were milling around, ensuring that everything was running smoothly. We made our way through the hustle and bustle to emerge pitch-side to watch Steve Bower and Steve Bunce debate who would come out victorious between Wigan and City. The pair were stood behind their ESPN desk on the pitch, with the FA Cup sat in front of them.

Meeting ESPN pundits and producers

Following our pitch-side visit, we moved back into the OB compound to catch a few minutes with ESPN pundits and former Liverpool stars John Barnes and Kevin Keegan. With the buildup show just a couple of hours away, the pair were busy preparing to go live, but Barnes was able to give us a few words on the importance of the FA Cup and his former Merseyside club, while Keegan spoke of the fear of complacency on cup final days, and who Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers needs to sign in the summer.

Keeping with the hectic and busy theme of the day, presenter Rebecca Lowe kept passing us having just had her makeup done with rollers still in her hair! During this time, we had a talk with ESPN senior executive TV producer Andrew 'Buzz' Hornett, who told us why he thinks that the channel's FA Cup final coverage gives them an edge over their competitors, while also reflecting on the last few years of broadcasting.

Watching Talk of the Terrace live

Following our quick meet-and-greet in the OB Compound, we returned to the Hilton hotel to watch the live showing of Talk of the Terrace in the SkyBar with Durden-Smith and McAteer. However, live TV is never simple, and as ESPN are about to go live the heavens open, much to the amusement of Paul, who said: "As if on cue! Live TV - three, two, one - rain!"

Despite the drizzle, filming continued as normal, as we were joined by a live audience of City and Wigan supporters. Although the Manchester team's following far outweighed the Latics, with one female Wigan fan telling us, "I want us to win, but I don't think they will." Little did she know!

The show continued to run smoothly, with presenter McAteer even asking City fans during a break off-air if they are known as the 'Citizens', while Durden-Smith offered supporters outside on the terrace umbrellas to shield them from the weather, but it didn't dampen everyone's spirits as the FA Cup, which was guarded by two men in suits arrived on set for the show.

Back pitch-side for match build-up

We left the Hilton for the last time as we were led back into the ground to take in the final preparations pitch-side. The scoreboard on the two big screens in the stadium were being checked, and the scoreline even read 1-0 to Wigan with Shaun Maloney getting the goal! The scorer may have been wrong, but the result was definitely right from the person (who Paul joked was probably a Wigan fan) testing the board.

The buildup show with host Ray Stubbs, Kevin Keegan, Paul Jewell, John Barnes and Jason Roberts began just hours before kickoff, while the hustle and bustle moved towards the tunnel. ESPN presenter Darrell Currie managed to film a few words with Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee in the club's dugout. Presenters from ITV and talkSPORT also began their coverage as the Wigan players emerged from the tunnel in their suits to take in the atmosphere as crowds began to gather.

While the Latics team were taking photos of each other and filming the stadium while inspecting the pitch, only one City player decided to come out of the dressing room - captain Vincent Kompany, who waved to the City fans that had already started to filter into the stadium.

It wasn't long before the ground began to fill up as the Wigan players entered the field for pre-match training, as well as the City team, who were under the watchful eye of manager Roberto Mancini. The Italian boss looked focused as he stood on the touchline in silence bar a few words to chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak. By this point, ESPN's Lowe and Currie were coming in and out of the tunnel to catch some interviews and ensure things were in place before kickoff.

In the press box for the match

Minutes before the game got underway, we positioned ourselves in the press box to watch proceedings as the national anthem rang around the stadium to fans from both clubs waving flags in the air. The atmosphere was electric from the first kick of the game, which we all know ended in glory for Wigan Athletic. Despite the game being over, you can be certain that there was plenty left for ESPN to do to wrap up their coverage on the momentous day.

Wigan's Ben Watson celebrates scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup Final on May 11, 2013
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