A Letter to Toby Charles


Editor’s note: The following is a heartfelt letter from soccer fan Barnett Turk to football commentator Toby Charles and his fans out there. Hope you enjoy it and I hope Toby Charles comes across it. In the meantime, feel free to listen to the exclusive EPL Talk interview we did with Toby Charles here. It’s one of the best ones we did.

I just heard the November 20 interview with Toby Charles. What a pleasure.

It’s obvious that he realizes he had a bit of notoriety here in the states, but I sense he has no idea how deeply his influence truly was among developing American players in those years.

I began playing soccer in Alabama in the mid-70s. At that time, none of us had ever seen more than a few quick clips on ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Our sense was that it was a niche sport along the lines of cliff diving or Australian Rules Football. One of the guys had a relative ship us a ball from Germany, a heavy, brown, long-paneled ball, the kind that preceded the 1976 Telstar with stitched hexagons and pentagons that has become the symbol of the sport.

No ball was available because virtually no one was playing the sport in our state, and it was inconceivable that a soccer ball could be found in any sporting goods store in any city, no matter how large.

We began playing the sport by simply whacking the ball back and forth, with no concept of form or strategy. Then one afternoon, a friend said they’d begun showing a program called Soccer Made in Germany on the local PBS station, 6 p.m. Sunday nights. We all gathered at one house to watch for the first time, and I will never forget our reaction. Total silence and a feeling of utter incompetence. We’d been shown the beautiful game and how well it could be played. From then, we never missed a broadcast, and we used what we saw as a textbook for learning the game. We learned basic give-and-go plays, through passes, using wingers and crossing to the middle.

Today, though we’re all approaching 50, many of us are still playing in over-30 and over-40 leagues, where the level of play has become surprisingly good.

As I went off to college and began making my way across the country afterward, there was one common element to nearly every pick-up game I joined, every club team match I participated in, and every practice I attended. From Alabama to St. Louis to Seattle where I eventually settled, I don’t believe I played a single time for more than a decade when I didn’t hear at least one player mimic Toby Charles during play. The obvious “high, wide and not very handsome,” was the most frequent, of course. A shot returned to play by a keeper deflection or a post to the same player for a second shot generally came with “another bite of the cherry.” And a spectacular play-of-the-day type of shot or move was greeted with “Ooooo, they’ll be talking about that one in the pubs tonight.” At halftime or a water break in a pickup game, you’d hear “Halftime, ka-chick ka-chick (he sound effect of a camera shutter fired twice) Newsbreak.” All of it was carefully accented by American players who were getting their weekly dose of international soccer on PBS.

Toby Charles asked you why the show had been so popular here. Simple. The show defined all of us who played the game here in the states from the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘80s. There was little or no cable and absolutely no televised soccer. The sport had become our religion, and there was only one place to go worship…PBS and Soccer Made in Germany. Toby Charles was the high priest. Any American soccer player who played the game during those years adored him and still does. We were not only entertained by his wonderful commentary, but also instructed as we watched. I can’t emphasize how much we learned from those games.

These days, when I hear a Toby Charles quote somewhere on a field, I automatically know a bit about the person without looking. He is probably in his forties with solid skills from playing more than 30 years. Most assuredly, that person is smiling. You simply cannot think of Toby Charles or quote him without a smile.

I can’t tell you how happy it would make me if there’s any chance you can forward this letter to him and let him know how much of an impact he made on an entire generation of players in this country.

Barnett Turk

Listen now to the interview with Toby Charles.

56 thoughts on “A Letter to Toby Charles”

  1. And, another one of my favorites…”does he have the nerve?” You also had to love how Toby pronounced team names such as Borussia Moenchengladbach, Armenia Bielefeld and player names such as Karl-Heinz Ruminegge, “plucky” little Alan Simonson and Japanese International Okudara! Great remininscing, Barnett!

  2. So many great memories watching “SMG” and listening to Toby on PBS while growing up in Miami. “Ohhhh, who’d have thought that possible?”

    One of my favorite episodes, although I might be foggy on the details, was a Germany at Poland match. The Poles either tied or won the game, and the fans went crazy. Of course, this was Poland of the 1970s and things were pretty bleak. At the final whistle, the Poles fill the air and field with paper, and Toby was aghast. In a very sad voice, he remarked: “Ohhhh, what a waste of paper. … There is a paper shortage here in Poland.”

  3. Noel, the thing about the paper in Poland was funny in a sad way. Toby was talking about the toilet paper shortage!

  4. Here’s a letter from someone who emailed me to share their appreciation for the Toby Charles interview:

    I just wanted to commend you for finding the legendary commentator Toby Charles. I’d never heard of your program but I managed to find your interview by Googling Toby Charles. Like you and so many other fans out there who grew up with soccer in the 70’s in the USA, Toby Charles and Soccer Made in Germany was one of the best doorways into the Beautiful Game on an international level. I learned all the players and exotic sounding cities as a young boy and it fueled my thirst for international travel for the rest of my life. I must thank Toby Charles for being such an entertaining and educational commentator. There’s no doubt that the success of SMIG was due in no small part to his lively and colorful entertainment (“and it’s in the net!”).

    As a 45 year old soccer fan who still goes to LA Galaxy games to watch David Beckham, I thank you so much for tracking down this legend and allowing us fans to hear his voice again 30 years later. Nobody says “Borussia Moenchengladbach” the way he does!

    Gratefully yours,

    Larry Cho

  5. Dude – GET OUT OF MY BRAIN! :)

    OOOHH that wasn’t far off target!

    Now I’m going to have to dig through old boxes to find back issues of “The Globe Kicker” haha!

  6. I never really played the game, but I am a soccer fan today because of Toby Charles. I never wanted to miss a Sunday of “Soccer: Made in Germany” on PBS. Listening to his commentary taught me how to watch the game, and how to appreciate it. He showed me the beauty in “the beautiful game.”

    And I am forever grateful.

  7. One of my first times I heard Toby Charles on SMG was an international between N. Ireland and West Germany with a German cracking a shot against the crossbar and Toby replied, “Ohhhhhh, saved by the woodwork! The goalkeeper's best friend, you know.” His interweaving of Bundesliga clubs' history during the match commentary was also priceless and gave us new fans of German soccer a rich knowledge of this league. Thanks, Toby!

  8. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. I started playing soccer in NW Florida in the early 80’s. SMIG and Toby Charles fed our soccer souls because at the time there was no other source. I haven’t played in a few years but stumbling across this tribute makes me want to lace up the boots and kick it around again. The above letter speaks for thousands of us…I hope TC gets the message. He’s one Brit we all love. My favorite, “He gets a second bite of the cherry!” He taught us all how to say “Bundesliga” :)

  9. my biggest memory of Toby Charles has to be the 1982 WC broadcast. It was the 3rd game between W. Germany and Austria. Austria was already in the second round and W. Germany just needed to score a goal to keep Algeria from advancing. W Germany scored a goal and the rest of the game both team we’re playing kick the ball around without even attempting to score. All you heard from Toby Charles in a disaointment tone was ” Ohhh this is bad, this is bad , ohh this is terrible “. LOL..I stll remember those words after all these years. When something goes bad around me i repeat those same words. Fond memories.

  10. Fantastic interview with Toby Charles. Like a poster above I only discovered this blog and podcast when doing an internet search for Toby Charles. Soccer Made in Germany was required viewing in the late 70s and early 80s when I was a youth and friends and I used to love repeating some of Toby’s great catch phrases, “Straight away let me give you the two teams” and “Oh it must be… and it is, A Goal!” were two of our favorites. I do recall one time him saying this though, “Oh I was going to say it must be, but before I could, it was!” Such a delightful commentator and through this interview you can still hear he is a delightful man away from the microphone.

    Interesting also to learn Toby was a second cousin to the great Welsh player John Charles and that he settled in Germany after going there on a cricket tour. I may be writing this almost two years after it initially aired but many thanks for the wonderful interview and taking this man down memory lane.

  11. Thanks for the info The Gaffer. It would be wonderful to hear Toby Charles’ take on the most recent events in the game and particularly his views on the state of the game in Germany. The Bundesliga may not be as high profile as the leagues in England, Spain and Italy but it is the most balanced and least predictable of Europe’s biggest leagues, which makes it quite interesting to me. And since I am in the US I am happy to know ESPN Deportes is now broadcasting two Bundesliga matches per weekend.

  12. Oh, it’s in-the-back-of-the-net! Playing soccer in the ’70s in Texas, our connection to the world came via SMIG. I can still hum that opening music. Thanks for the great memories, Toby.

  13. 6 & 1/2 dozen or the other! Soccer Made in Germany was on KQED Ch.9 Does anyone also remember here in the San Francisco bay area KTEH Channel 54 San Jose, Cant remember what it was called but English football with Mario Machado. He was just as memorable for me .
    Thank you TC & MM

  14. Toby Charles was my professor for “Soccer 101.”

    “Soccer Made In Germany” was on when there was nothing else on TV. At the time, I knew nothing about soccer. Thiry years later, I’ve had some great soccer-related adventures.

    My favorite Toby moment was when a player named Peter Geier tried to dribble the ball between two defenders. One of the defenders reached out and ripped Geier’s shirt completely off his back. Geier had a mat of hair all over his torso about three inches thick. Charles raved, in his words, about Geier’s “manly chest” .

  15. Ditto to all the above. I played the role of Toby Charles in all my matches… I remember a fantastic match, Hamburg V a Lower League club in the DFB Cup. Hamburg was winning 3-1 in the dying moments. I think he elevated the excitement by referring to the fact that there can’t be much time left ‘by my watch,’ on several occassions, all the while the underdog came back and won 5-3 in ET. I wouldn’t be the player or coach I am without him. I think he gave us heroes to look up to in an era where we had none.

    My friends always ask me why I am partial to Bundesliga clubs….they will never really understand. thanks for the memories and the motivation to fight the good fight against all the bone-headed American football players who could never be the athletes REAL footballers are!!

  16. Oh, and it’s in the net !!!
    Man, I lived in Arizona at the time and my high school friends and I loved to talk about seeing Soccer Made In Germany on Sundays. Toby’s commentary was outstanding—-you just couldn’t help but love the way this guy called the games. Brings back great memories.
    Right from the start of the broadcast, “Hi there, this is Toby Charles saying hello again from (whatever city he was covering in Germany)”
    As someone above said, I do remember him often voicing the feelings of a player who missed an opportunity by saying, “I’m sure he’s thinking ‘Sorry, I should have done more with that'” All the names: Beckenbauer, Karl-heinz Rumenigge, Hanzie Mueller, Kevin Keegan.
    My all time favorite quote that had me rolling on the floor was when there was silence for a few seconds while Toby paused and then there was the sound of an obnoxious horn from the stands, and Toby (without missing a beat) says, “That wasn’t me—-that was one of the exuberant fans here in Hamburg!” Love ya Toby —- all the best and thanks for the great laughs and incomparable entertainment.

  17. The one that I rermember is “It’s the equalizer!”

    I didn’t know how much I was influenced by watching until much later. I came to the game late (14yrs old) and just happened to find the show at the same time. the precise passing game amazing and was easier to work on than footwork.

    Does anybody know how to get Soccer Made In Germany recordings?

  18. My favorite Toby Charles moment on SMIG was a game involving Dusseldorf. Dusseldorf had just scored and there was a shot of dogs barking on the sideline. Charles shouted out, “Those dogs are barking. They must be Dusseldorf dogs.”. Just a great line.

    1. I remember it as “those must be Schalke dogs”. Could be both! Other faves- “Easier to put in than it was to miss, really!” – “there’s referee Ullman- a bit thin on top, not quite as thin on top as I am, but not quite as old, either”- “ooh- a bad one there”

  19. I’m a native New Yorker and was here (still am!) when Pele came to play for the Cosmos in 1975. In 1977 the local PBS station had British soccer on saturday nights from 6-7 — a condensed game. Mario Machado was the host/commentator. There were three other PBS stations in New York and one of them picked up Soccer Made In Germany. beckenbauer had just won a championship with the Cosmos & Pele had just retired. Toby Charles was addictive. Who can forget, “And a rocket to the back of the net…” Who else could so easily say,”…from teh Moengesdoerfer Stadium in Cologne?
    One time the second half started and the stands were rather empty…as those at the game began returning from the intermission Toby said, “…a lot of fans are late getting back to their seats after having a beer and a sausage…”
    Toby loved teh foreign players in the Budesliga, e.g.: Alan Simonsen, teh Danish International; Yasahiko Akudera, the Japanese International and Roger Van Gool, teh Belgian International.
    When the Cosmos went to Germany to play some exhibition games, their captain at the time was Werner Roth. In America the broadcasters pronounced his name as tougb it was English. Toby pronounced it the German way: “Verner Roat”
    Thansk so much Toby for all the fun you gave us.

  20. Barely a week goes by when a nasal, English-accented voice in my head doesn’t say, “And that’s it, it’s all over . . .” And its never about soccer.

  21. “It’s there! It’s there!”

    “Oh, that was a bad ball there…”

    A friend remembers watching as a coach tried to slow play with subs and getting caught picking his nose: “Well, he won’t find any more players up there.”

    First watched SMG on a Friday night in 1977 while at my grandmother’s (our PBS station was Channel 20 and her TV picked up UHF much better than ours) and my family was out. Can’t remember the teams, but the home side won 2-0. I couldn’t tell that the quality was so much better than the NASL games that occasionally aired via syndication on the local CBS affiliate, but I liked the broadcast and the announcer much better. And so my addiction was set, even as the program moved to early Saturday evenings a few years later. The first World Cup I followed day-to-day was 1982’s via SMG’s daily broadcasts with Toby. I had to explain to a 20something German fan Saturday why there were US fans of Germany in their 40s and 50s who never lived there, but grew up on SMG.

    I remember one final day of the season. FC Cologne needed to lose for Bayern Munich or Moenchengladbach (sp?) to have a shot at the title. It was the rare 2-for-1 as they jumped between the games. Cologne pulled away late to win 5-0. The chasing team, apparently annoyed and playing an opponent who had their U-Haul’s packed for the offseason, poured it on to win 12-0.

  22. It was a wonderful interview, but I have to say I think perhaps an important dimension went untouched upon. I was born in 1963, and so when Soccer Made in Germany first came on, we were all still in the depths of the cold war, and those feelings of anxiety weren’t lost on teenagers. It was the age of West Germany’s persevering and optimistically brave new world, which included Kraftwerk and the Olympics, but was still fraught with tension. Conversely, in America it was an age of disillusionment, and Toby Charles was able to deliver something beautiful, relaxing and exciting, out of was was in effect still a war zone of sorts, certainly a psychological one. What he delivered was something which gave those American youth whose sporting imaginations ran to the exotic, something bright and shining, different and vivid, to which we could relate not only through our own language, but through a voice of polished, refined, enthusiasm. It made us want to be there with the Germans, inventing something new and fast-paced and popular, and Toby Charles was the voice of those athletic desires.

    Every time we went down to the playing fields to practice we imitated him to each other, and we imagined his voice calling our accomplishments: “It’s in the back of the net!” We not only wanted to be either star forward or sprawling goalie, we wanted to feel the shot, the leap, the cold and the mud, just as Toby’s voice had made us feel the German chill overcome by sporting determination. At home, in mostly sunny San Diego, we kids would rather have been freezing cold with Tony and the Bundesliga. We worked at it, and his voice was the mental soundtrack of our games.

    In short, I believe Toby Charles really helped to diffuse the tensions of the time, and to improve and sustain the popular mindset during a difficult age, and I’m not sure he knows he did that. In the interview, HE asks why it was so popular in America. I think that the above reasons are a part of the answer.

    So here’s the upshot. In 1979, in my sophomore year of high school, I went out for the soccer team, having never played a full game in my life. I had to make the varsity team, because we didn’t have a junior-varsity team, but I did, and I got my letter that year, in my first attempt. I went out for the team largely because my best friend and I had had our soccer imaginations so enthusiastically inflated by the voice of Toby Charles. Thanks Tony.

    By the way, Tony, Monchengladbach was always our favorite team as well, precisely because we simply, and absolutely, loved the way you pronounced it.

  23. Ok, having said all that, here, I think, is the rub: while Americans were constantly expecting Armageddon to eminate from the West Germany, every Sunday we got instead the cheering sound of “Hello and welcome…” and fear was forgotten, and life was reaffirmed. That’s Tony’s real gift. Now that may sound hyperbolic, but the film “The Day After” in the 1980’s only visualized what everyone in the West had been fearing for thirty-five years. Soccer Made in Germany was a shot of life right from the source of the fear. Tony was a voice of life to a culture in fear. And that’s no joke.

    Okay, I could have written this instead and saved you alot of reading, but I hope you liked the previous letter anyway! Cheers! :-)

  24. Used to watch this on channel 47 in Toronto, the multicultural channel here. My Brit friends used to pick Charles apart but deep down loved the guy. I think fondly of the Bundesliga late 70’s with Rummenigge, Keegan and the rest, just a great league at the time.

  25. After reading everyones post on SMIG I feel so amazing knowing there were other kids watching and feeling the same way I did at that time. I am 44 and there were only a few kids playing soccer at that time here in Philly and I am still a supporter of Monchengladbach because of Toby and I thank him just about every day. I remember every season he would go over the goals of the year and that year it was Alan Simonson and I was hooked!! He was a true Master of broadcasting!!!!

    I am so glad I came across this on google…..I was just sitting at work here and he came to mind….thank you lads!!!!!

  26. I was recently playing in an 040s tournament in Las Vegas and was explaining to two of my teammates from Ireland who Toby Charles. They know idea what it was like to grow up in the U.S. where TB was the only voice we really knew.

  27. Alan Simonsen—-“The Danish Wizard”

    “Oooh, the fact is, that ball should have been in the back of the net”.

    All of your comments are making the hair on my neck stand up. What a stroll down memory lane. Klaus Fisher, Berti Vogts, and Rainer Bonhoff.

  28. I watched SMIG every week on KETC in St. Louis. Then went to school the following week and compared “Tobyisms” with my friends. We are now 50 and to this day we will still break out with a few of his beauties over a few beers.

    Great interview.

    Does anyone know the theme song that played at the end of the show? I know some people on other sites have mentioned a song by Evelyn King, but that is definitely not it.


  29. I am also a fan of Toby Charles and the Soccer made in Germany days. It was great watching Alan Simonsen and all the other great players on the San Jose TV station in the 1970s. I fit the profile of many on here because I am 49 and still play the game in the over 30 leagues.

    Its funny because I always tell my family I am going to play or watch “Soccer made in Germany”. That is the real name of soccer in my world.

  30. Great memories. I was playing in a Sunday afternoon men’s league in 79, 80, and 81 and would crash on my couch after games and some beers and watch Toby on my local PBS station which aired the game at 6:00pm.

    Loved his Tobyisms, all the ones mentioned above, but one of my favorites is this: after a player missed what should have been an easy goal and misses badly, Toby would exclaim: “Oh, he’d like to have that on back!”

    When the World Cup was on in ’82 I was between job moves and living at my parents house. They did not have PBS on their TV so I would have to go to a bar and beg the bar keep and patrons to turn on PBS at 11:00 to watch the highlights of the day’s World Cup action. This was no easy task in Central PA.

    I coach high school soccer now and my kids can’t believe how little soccer was on TV… In 1983 I went to Germany and met KH Rumminegge, Breitner, Dremmler, Dieter Hoeness, Pfaff and Michael Rumminegge. All of them Bayern Munchen players. What a treat!

  31. Thanks to everyone for sharing their memories. This morning I thought of a Tobyism–“It must be, it is!”–and decided to see what I could find online about him, and landed here. I’m delighted to read these comments, and to stroll down memory lane with his pronunciations of those names from yesterday year, like “Jean-Marie Pfaff, the Belgian goalkeeper” from Euro ’80. In Minneapolis, SMIG was shown on Sunday mornings so when I was in college I’d schedule my laundry-washing around that show so I could watch the TV in the dorm’s common area. Back in those days you could only see World Cip finals at a theater via closed circuit TV–how far we’ve come, and Toby certainly played an important part.

  32. I can’t believe so many people were watching SMG during those years. My friends and I would watch every Sunday on WUNC. The only time I have ever called a TV stattion to complain was when SMG was preempted for some reason. A few years ago I met a woman whose father was the producer of SMG. She said that TOby was the nicest person you could ever hope to meet and was really stunned by how much of an impact he had on his viewers.

    My favorite was after Horst Hrubesch scored on a header, Toby said, “there is a saying in Germany that if Horst Hrubesch had two heads, he’d be the best player in the history of the Bundesliga !” Classic!!

  33. I was just watching the Eurocopa game between Russia and Poland and thinking back on the Toby Charles days. A missionary’s son from Korea taught me the game about the same time SMG was on. Believe me, in Wyoming, I was one of the few who knew anything about the game, so Toby was my teacher. LaterI lived in Chile and was so glad that I already loved soccer since it is a religion there. I loved the quiet sedate way he would call the games, minimalist, until something began to look promising and his voice would rise about two octaves and you would hear “OOOOOOH he just hit the post”. Hope Toby is doing well.

  34. We all watched SMIG on PBS in South Florida in the mid-late 70’s. At YMCA and high school practices it was a constant running commentary of Toby Charles’ calls. Mario Machado was on less frequently but I remember him too. We loved Toby though. He was our muse… Does anyone remember ” things are tough in Dusseldorf”?

    My current favourite is our old Ft. Lauderdale Strikers number 4, Ray Hudson. He makes some outrageous calls during La Liga matches on Gol TV. The man is a poet… He was a pretty decent midfielder too!

  35. More Strikers memories: Gerd “Der Bomber” Muller, Teofilo “Nene” Cubillas (The Peruvian Pele) and of course my all time favorite player George Best. I was fortunate enough to see these guys play against the Cosmos many times at Lockhart stadium in Ft. lauderdale. Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff etc… All with Mr. Charles in my head saying ” It must be! And it is! It’s in the back of the net!!!”

  36. One more memory that lives on. I have a good friend who grew up in Seattle where I live now. The same age as all of us (50ish, ) he’s a great piano man at a swanky white tablecloth restaurant. Whenever I walk in the door he Cuts in with a few bars of the opening music from Soccer Made In Germany! No one else gets it.

  37. I met and sat with Rainer Bonhof at a Borussia Moenchengladbach game last year (we high-fived on a Borussia goal) and I told him how he and Vogts were my favorite players and Borussia my favorite team because I watched them on SMG. He knew about Toby Charles and SMG’s influence in America. I even got to use one of my favorite Tobyisms during the match when the ball “skidded off the outside of his left boot.”

  38. He was the reason I became a die-hard soccer fan. He helped me understand the game and taught me how to read the plays. To this day, other commentators pale in comparison. He had great information about the writers (not gossip, but nice facts–he has a new baby on the way and was celebrating with the lads last night at the pub). I miss his commentary.

  39. Ditto to all the previous comments. I recall playing with my buddies till the sun went down and doing play-by-play commentary of our game with the Toby Charles accent in the Toby Charles fashion. Toby Charles really made the game fun and exciting! We could never get enough. 40 years later, still can’t…Thank you.

  40. A few years ago I was listening to a SF Giants game and Jon Miller, after calling a play, said “That sounds like something Toby Charles would say”, whereupon for the rest of the inning Miller did a whole bunch of Toby Charlesisms. It was just classic.

  41. Very moving to see that we were all sharing this collective experience without knowing it pre-internet and, for me, pre-cable TV. I live in Germany and play soccer every week. Love Toby Charles!

  42. and I grew up watching Channel 9 KETC (pbs) in Saint Louis. My friend and I would sometimes turn off the sound and announce the games ourselves, making up ‘German sounding’ names and using a Toby-ish accent. Great memories!

  43. I can’t believe I found this letter and all of these comments. I grew up in Eastern Washington (State) and SMG with Toby was my first exposure to any soccer. All of these comments bring numerous fond memories and tears to my eyes. Toby is simply the best soccer announcer and I hope he realizes the positive influence and memories he created for a sport in the U.S. that was unknown at the time and currently still is struggling to gain recognition in the U.S. A true and heartfelt thank you, Toby, as you can’t begin to understand the memories you’ve created with your commentary and the insights you brought to a country that didn’t realize soccer (err, football) existed. AGAIN, THANK YOU!

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