Sure-footed Beeb win the day as Motty earns long-service award

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The Independent Online

As Arsenal unashamedly collected winners' medals they did not deserve, there was only one award missing. A long-service ribbon for John Motson. This man has been covering Cup finals for the BBC longer than Vera Lynn used to sing "We'll Meet Again". And he gave it the full throttle throughout in an absorbing match.

As Arsenal unashamedly collected winners' medals they did not deserve, there was only one award missing. A long-service ribbon for John Motson. This man has been covering Cup finals for the BBC longer than Vera Lynn used to sing "We'll Meet Again". And he gave it the full throttle throughout in an absorbing match.

Sky Sports had been first on air, announcing at noon their afternoon of big coverage ("right here, right now") with the Macclesfield v Lincoln League Two play-off, presumably on the principle that the winner would be heading for Cardiff, too. However, the Beeb were off to a more rousing and sure-footed start, albeit an hour later, with their Match of the Day theme and the blanketing, multi-personnel presence they have perfected over the decades.

To while away the pre-game stages, the BBC offered a detailed re-run of the only other Arsenal-Man United FA Cup final in 1979 and Alan Sunderland, scorer of the late, late winner that day, wheelbarrowed into the studio with the chins he has accumulated in the subsequent 26 years. It goes without saying that Motty was commentating that day, too.

There were quips aplenty to fill the inevitable longueurs: an aerial shot of a Cardiff Corporation bus surfing through the Welsh downpour brought this from Gary Lineker: "There's the Man U team bus, or would be when Malcolm Glazer takes control." Earliest chuckle came as the referee, Rob Styles, submitted to a Garth Crooks grilling. Styles' creed, he claims, is to "help the players to help themselves". Quite something from an official who has helped seven footballers to an early bath this season and flourished the yellow card 65 times, an average of just over three a game, an average he comfortably exceeded here with five yellows and a late, late red.

Eventually, Sky got in on the act, too, vigorously puffing forthcoming play-off matches as they did so. Against the Beeb's early studio line-up of Lee Dixon and Gary Pallister, Sky presented Teddy Sheringham and Niall Quinn, clad in better threads. In both studios, one pundit wore grey, the other wore blue (a nice American Civil War touch, this) and Teddy was rapidly running into syntax trouble, forecasting "a European sort of Continental sort of tactical sort of game". Before Sky made their mark, the Beeb struck with the inevitable Jose Mourinho interview. The Chelsea manager confessed to a liking for Arsenal "especially in mid-season when they were dropping all those points", and as an Arsenal banner accusing Chelsea of buying the title was screened, Ian Wright opined: "Abramovich, it's no secret he's got a couple of quid, know what I mean?" We do, we do.

Motty was wondering about the possibility of a civil war closer to home as the teams got to the tunnel. "Now then, what's going to happen in the tunnel? Today it seems to be a bit calmer down there." And when hands were finally grasped out on the field, he noted: "It looks to me as if they want to get the handshakes over as soon as possible." Perhaps it was because they were being rained on quite heavily.

Having offered the clipboard statistic that these two sides had produced 115 yellow cards and eight reds in their previous meetings, Motty was soon able to clock up yellow number 116 as Ashley Cole felled Wayne Rooney, and as the tackles started to fly Motty informed his sidekick, Mark Lawrenson: "The tackles have started to fly, Mark." Over on Sky, where the air was comparatively burble-free, Martin Tyler was not happy with Arsenal's strategy of one up front. "They have looked at odds with the system the manager has asked them to play." And on the Beeb's panel, Wright, of all people, castigated his old club for what he called "schoolboy defending".

Sky's Quinn pointed out that Arsenal's failure to land a shot on target in the first half "is a big worry". As a former striker, he spoke with authority. Motty was worrying, too. "With this system you wonder if Arsenal will ever score," though with a match of this calibre he was confident that "Chelsea or no Chelsea, these two teams will have an awful lot to offer next season". On a worrying afternoon, Lawrenson was also worrying: "What will Malcolm Glazer be thinking about this? Americans don't do draws, do they?" Nor do they do them in Cup finals any more.

And when a shoot-out was what it came to, Motty remained indefatigable. There was even time before Patrick Vieira took the winning spot-kick to remind viewers the Arsenal captain had missed the final two years ago through injury. Lawrenson had the last, and best, words for it. "Manchester United have been mugged." But you have to hand it to Motty after all these years. He never sounds world weary. Plain wrong sometimes, but never world weary.

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