Clive Tyldesley is well known in England but his appearance on NBC’s coverage of the Premier League near the end of last season brought him a newfound audience. He called the crucial tie between Brighton and Hove Albion and Manchester City that saw the Lancashire club clinch the Premier League title. Steve Clare, founder of www.prostsoccer.com, met with Tyldesley in London for World Soccer Talk and asked him how his career had evolved before the American opportunity appeared.
“I have been happily in the employ of ITV since 1996 and my contract with them has always been an exclusive one,” explained Tyldesley. “They have allowed me to record commentaries for FIFA (video game) but understandably ITV did not want my voice appearing on rival channels in the real world. We have been the major rights holder for both Champions League football and England internationals for much of my time as lead commentator.
“The FA Cup contract had come and gone and we even had the deal to show Premier League highlights for a spell, so there has always been more than enough content to keep me busy with broadcasting to the UK.”
However, the advent of satellite and cable changed the broadcasting of English sport even more than it did news and film.
“In recent years, that landscape has changed with more and more live football finding its way onto ‘pay tv’ platforms such as Sky Sports and BT Sport.
“ITV remains the main England channel and shares the leading national team tournaments with BBC, but there is no club football on the channel at this moment, so the powers-that-be were happy for me to investigate the prospects for additional work to keep me involved.
“Their preference was for me to seek opportunities with overseas broadcasters and, given my Mandarin is not up to speed for working for a Chinese channel, the English-speaking global partners of the Premier League were the obvious choice.”
Soon the ‘obvious choice’ came to Tyldesley. Some would argue just as much an ‘obvious choice.’
“NBC approached me late last year about the possibility of being interviewed for their Impossible Dream documentary about Manchester United’s Treble season.
“In December, I met their Coordinating Producer Pierre Moossa here in the UK and was immediately struck by his thorough professionalism. That was the first contact I’d ever really had with anyone involved with delivering British football to other territories.”
Tyldesley has received some feedback about his performance from American fans but isn’t counting any chickens until they’ve hatched.
“I have received some flattering comments and messages via Twitter (and mercifully a few unflattering ones!) but social media is not a reliable opinion poll, so I’m not really aware of the scale of the reaction.”
“By chance, I was in South Carolina for a week just after the game and happened to be paired for a round of vacation golf at Kiawah with a guy that loved his football and had heard my first couple of commentaries for NBC earlier in April.
“I guess that when you randomly come across someone with such a burning interest in the Premier League on your first day in the States, it wakes you up to the reach of the English game on the other side of the Pond. On the same trip, I was able to watch some of NBCSN’s output in situ.
“I viewed the Manchester City versus Leicester City game in a holiday villa at Hilton Head and that enabled me to get a better overview of the pace and energy of their Premier League shows.”
He is on record for his admiration of the current studio team at NBC Sports.
“Watching Rebecca and the Two Robbies at work as a live viewer not only raised my levels of admiration for their work but also gave me a better feel for the tone and vibe of the output.”
Now that he’s been released from the exclusive contract with ITV, has he thought much about doing World Cup games for FOX Sports, in the future, perhaps>
“My parent employers ITV retain the rights to live coverage of the World Cup in the UK along with the BBC.
“Last year, I was very fortunate to cover my 7th World Cup finals as a television commentator but my first was actually for the BBC in the States in 1994.
SEE MORE: Guide to English soccer commentators
“I remember sitting in my hotel room in Universal City on the eve of my first game and being totally distracted by helicopters circling a certain white Ford Bronco while I was trying to learn Colombian and Romanian names. They even put Game 5 of the NBA finals in a box in the corner of the screen. The Rangers won their first Stanley Cup in more than 50 years.
“That World Cup started as item 6 on the network sports bulletins and they were all overshadowed by Al Cowlings and his famous passenger.
“Just last July, I was privileged to be the lead commentator for the broadcast of England’s semi-final against Croatia in Moscow to a record television audience of 26.5 million here in the UK. I would hope to be working for ITV in Qatar in 2022 but you never know.
“Is this where I publish my agent’s details?!” joked Tyldesley.
Tyldesley was featured prominently in The Impossible Dream documentary about Manchester United’s Treble-winning season. What did that mean to him?
“UEFA Champions League finals have played major roles in my broadcasting career and 1999 was probably the most significant of all. It was my first season as ITV’s lead man in succession to a legend of television called Brian Moore. If I’d really messed up that night… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I was fortunate to have the trust of Sir Alex Ferguson at the time and he was always prepared to privately brief me on his team plans and tactics prior to important games.
“Those prep notes that I compiled for the final of 1999 are framed and hanging in his study to this day. I guess there were 35 thousand or more United fans inside the Nou Camp stadium in Barcelona that night but the rest were watching on television. It is a humbling thought that the words that Ron Atkinson and I uttered during ITV’s live broadcast of the game are in some small way part of people’s memories of the occasion.
Bizarrely, Tyldesley had a quite un-American suggestion for the title of the film.
“One of the questions that Pierre asked me for the documentary was ‘what do you think the title of the program should be?’.
I have no problem at all with ‘The Impossible Dream’ but my suggestion was ‘Football? Bloody Hell’.
“Those were the first words Ferguson spoke in his first post-match interview. It was an admission that for all the planning and the strategies and the coaching, sometimes the sport itself just takes over and carries an event into the realms of fantasy drama.
“That happened so many times during that season of unparalleled success for United that the entire campaign became worthy of documenting as an act of fate overtaking sporting logic and reason.
“For some reason probably only my son can explain, I actually quoted Eminem during the NBC interview… ‘you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow’… and it truly was a once in a lifetime opportunity for those players to lift the three most-prized trophies in the space of 10 days and they seized it in three unforgettable minutes at the end of an otherwise forgettable final.
“When Teddy Sheringham equalized in the 91st minute, I gave myself a few seconds of ‘thinking/grasping for words time’ after yelling out his name and eventually my whirling brain connected with my tongue and delivered ‘name on the trophy’ as a summation.”
Was he ever tempted to hyperbole by those events? Well, nearly. ”In biblical terms it was a ‘and so it is written’ moment and there was something kind of old testament/Game of Thrones about the final reel melodrama of United’s last throw of the dice that night.
“‘The Impossible Dream’ charts the impossibility of the story through the archive film of the games and the scenes surrounding them and the words of those of us lucky enough to have been there to see it with our disbelieving eyes.
“If someone had submitted the script to a Hollywood studio, it would have been returned to them with all kinds of revisions. It was a truth stranger than fiction and a story made all the better for that. And no game I’ve ever worked on has been so important to my own personal career.”
Perhaps until now that is, as Tyldesley waits to see whether his more than possible American dream is written in the moment.