Taking the Mic: Working Wembley

As the third helping of turkey and roasties was being shovelled in on Christmas Day, the one area that required a little self-control was the festive drinking as I knew I had to be up and out on Boxing Day.  Continuing my working relationship with Talking Rugby, I was undertaking my first Aviva Premiership radio reporting gig for them and covered Saracens v Wasps at Wembley.

To this point, I had completed a couple of full 80 minute commentaries and radio updates on football for BBC Surrey but this was the first time I was doing updates on the Premiership.  I’d met with Russell Hargreaves, a regular on LBC, TalkSPORT and various other stations, so that he could run through how it would all work and arm me with the Glensound mic/ISDN kit that would allow me to broadcast live from the stadium.

I was shown the list of stations that had asked for updates from the match and there were around fifteen reports required encompassing LBC, TalkSPORT, BBC Norfolk, BBC Northampton, Radio Plymouth and IRN who serve commercial radio.  Each station has a slightly different style so Russ guided me through those and I was ready to go.

I arrived at Wembley Stadium on Boxing Day at around 10.30am but the media door was not open until 11.45.  Once inside, I met a few other familiar media faces and we were security checked and led up to the lounge and gantry.  I’d been to Wembley a couple of times previously but not in this capacity and the media room and facilities were, as you’d expect, top notch. The worrying part though, was that there was no mention of me needing the ISDN broadcast line on the sheet at reception.  I called the Saracens media manager and discovered they had not received my request – cue gentle panic.  We worked out where things had gone wrong and then it was down to Wembley’s own IT support to try and get things up and running.  While this is going on, I am watching the clock tick ever closer to 13.50, my first scheduled pre-kick off report.

I opted to call BBC Norfolk and find out whether it would be a disaster if my first report for them was to happen over the phone.  As the studio pick up, I say who I am and it turns out they have news for me.  As the Norwich game has been frozen off, they’re canning their sports show and running a Christmas request music  show instead.  As it would then be odd to cross to Wembley for rugby updates throughout the afternoon, they wouldnt be requiring my services.  This meant I had four less reports to do, which in the current confusion suited me fine.

“Desk 32 mate,” is announced in my ear as I come off the phone.  Wembley’s IT department had come through.  Phew.  With five minutes until my next report, I plugged in and arranged my programme, laptop, notepad, headphones and microphone.  I called IRN and filed my first report of the afternoon – it’s done as live but is centralised so that any subscribed station can take it at will.  Immediately afterwards it was LBC.  I called and spoke to the producer who asked me to hold fire and wait for presenter Ian Payne to bring me in.  “And of course it’s not just football on this Boxing Day sporting afternoon but rugby union aswell, Saracens are playing Wasps at Wembley and Nick Heath is there for us.”

“Good afternoon Ian,” and I was off.  The game got underway in due course and the first forty minutes were entirely unforgettable, doing nothing to rouse the spirits on a freezing cold day in north west London.  The second half improved and after billing it as ‘Strictly no dancing just rugby’ on their website, Saracens duly introduced Gavin Henson for his club debut on 51 minutes.  His interception and almost score on his first touch were typical of the hype – everyone in the media stand was smiling and those who were live on the radio had almost fallen off their seats with the story that might have been.

The end of the match is where it all gets rather hectic again.  Full time reports must be delivered but you also have to get down to the post-match media area to get reaction from the coaches and players to send through aswell.  I followed the more experienced journos down the stairs to the tiny lecture style theatre in which the post match reactions are given.  I hadnt realised that there was a ‘radio pen’ that I should probably have been in at this stage.  Tony Hanks, the losing coach, came in with Shaun Edwards and the questions started.  Once they were finished, I followed them out and found other radio colleagues in said ‘pen’ and joined the huddle to get some better quality audio reaction.  Sadly, before I was able to get a question in myself, the Wasps media manager pulled him away.  I asked if I could speak to Ben Jacobs, the captain and he was happy to give me a couple of minutes – it’s important to get reaction from both sides.

Saracens had sent Mark McCall in to do the press conference and again, I was in the huddle afterwards.  I asked to speak to Andy Saull the only try scorer of the game but as they couldnt locate him, I was offered Neil de Kock the scrum-half.  As I was mid chat with Neil, Gavin Henson appeared behind him.  I knew that everyone would want some Henson reaction, no matter how big or small a part he had played in the match so I hastily but politely wrapped things up with de Kock and jumped into the mass huddle around Gavin.  There was no chance I would get him one-to-one so I knew that capturing his initial thoughts on the game would be key.  I ran around his other side and shoved my mp3 mic under his nose and got the required sound bites.

The last thing to do was run back up to the gantry and send the audio via ISDN and email to the world and his wife.  At about 6.15pm I was done – one of the last to leave the media area as the security guards were clearing us out.

I got into the car to drive home and thought I’d flick on Mike Bovill’s two hour rugby show on TalkSPORT and heard my post-match audio from Gavin Henson played out.  “I did that,” I thought to myself.  I imagine that feeling subsides once you’ve been in the business for years but a large part of me hopes it never does, because that’s part of the fun of doing it.  I’m ready for the next one.

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