In May 2013 I was asked to take on an unusual one-off project for BBC Radio 5 Live. The idea was to place 20 microphones around Wembley Stadium and stream the audio they picked up back to the BBC Sport website in such a way as to allow audiences to mix their own sound of a football match.
An icon on screen could be dragged around a plan of the stadium allowing you to choose which set of fans you wanted to hear, or select your desired combination of both. You could also choose whether or not to add 5 Live’s commentary to your own personal mix.
It was decided that the trial would be carried out during the nPower Championship Play-Off Final between Crystal Palace and Watford, held at Wembley Stadium on Monday May 27th 2013. I was asked travel down to London from the BBC’s new base in Salford and record audio from various places around the tube network, Wembley Way and the stadium itself to capture the sounds of a match day.
Arriving at London Euston at 11am I took the tube to Wembley and it was on the underground that I began recording with my portable stereo equipment. Luckily I happened to board a coach full of Palace fans who were already singing in anticipation and excitement for the game. I managed to capture these fans lively rendition of their anthem ‘Glad All Over’ by the Dave Clark Five. Leaving the train at Wembley Park station I spent some time recording various sounds including people buying souvenirs, youngsters playing football, people collecting money for charity, stadium tannoy announcements and the turnstile gates.
Then with my access (almost) all areas pass around my neck, I entered the stadium through the Media entrance and headed up to the press lounge. I was then able to roam around the stadium and down to the side of the pitch where I recorded people setting up camera equipment, giving stadium tours and generally preparing for the match. I was also allowed to walk down the tunnel into the area outside the players changing rooms.
I recorded parts of conversations between camera crews and production staff before taking the famous walk back out through the tunnel towards the hallowed Wembley pitch. With the loud music pumping from the stadiums enormous PA system, and the arena already filling with excited fans, I couldn’t help but feel a buzz myself. The sheer scale of the place is stunning. It really is a huge and imposing structure and despite its familiarity to everyone who’s seen it on TV, it really is something else when you’re there in person.
During the match I spent most of my time watching from the media area, perched just a couple of seats along from Mark Chapman who was presenting 5 Live Sport from the ground that evening. I was also able to join the team in the commentary box where you could feel the buzz and excitement of commentating on the all important match going on before us in the sunshine.
In the weeks that followed I spent many hours listening through the audio I had recorded, cutting and saving clips of the best bits. I also had to work through all the audio from each of the 20 BBC Sport microphones that had been recording sounds from around the stadium as part of the online trial. That took up a lot of time and a lot of hard drive space!
The final mix has been changed and tweaked many times and now sounds completely different from the early versions. Initially I included my behind the scenes audio from inside the stadium, but the top brass from 5 Live and I had a listen together and we eventually decided to make something which better represented the experience a football fan would enjoy on a match day. However, in a bid to maximise the emotion and excitement of the match I have used some cool production techniques and effects. I guess the ‘keep it simple’ approach is often the best one but having said that, I can assure you if you were to look at the multi-track mix on my computer you’d see this project was far from simple!