LONDON. — He has been the man responsible for guiding us through some of football’s most iconic matches.
He has encapsulated title-winning moments, unforgettable goals and was there the night England beat Germany 5-1.
For a generation of fans, Martin Tyler is the voice of football in England.
A towering centre forward in his youth — and sometimes still today, Sky’s main man had to give up playing full-time to follow his dream of working in television.
After graduating from the University of East Anglia, Tyler worked closely with Jimmy Hill as a ghost-writer for the football legend.
Tyler’s connections and skills found him offered a job at LWT’s The Big Match. Unsure whether to take the role or not, it was Hill who gave Tyler the final push: “Take the job, you’ll never know where it might lead you.”
After one season of going “stir crazy” as an editorial assistant, Tyler, now 72, decided to take a cassette recorder to Arsenal’s October 1974 2-2 draw with QPR and commentate over the game.
“That’s OK,” was the response he received from his match director back at LWT. Two months later, he was making his commentary debut for Southampton’s home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday.
After the game, Tyler heard the quote he has continued to hear for the rest of his life: “We’ve got another game in a couple of weeks…”
Sitting down with the man himself, we were was keen to find out how much preparation goes into his commentary, but as he spoke he soon sounded like every other passionate football fan.
“If I’ve got a 24 hours I take 24 hours,” he tells Mirror Sport.
“If I’ve got a couple of weeks I’ve got a couple of weeks — very rarely do I have that. But it is something you always think about.
“It’s not a job it’s a way of life, any football fan will know that. There are always on-going stories, 24/7, 365 days a year, you just live it and breath it.
“In different ways, but the bottom line is: What’s the smell of the fixture? Why does it matter? What’s happened? What’s the history of the rivalry? What’s happened this week?
“It’s ever-changing really, you’ve just got to get the pieces of the jigsaw ready in time by the ball is on the centre spot.”
There will of course be specific stats Tyler needs to know, such as when Harry Kane broke the calendar goalscoring record in 2017, as well as injury news and other practical details.
“There’s a million things and something will be relevant in the 90 minutes,” he continues. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen tonight, for example. I have to be ready for as many scenarios as possible.
“And there’s nothing wrong with being surprised and going, where did that come from?”
On the subject of being surprised, it seemed the ideal opportunity to question Tyler on THAT Sergio Aguero goal.
“When people say to me you must have prepared for when City won the league, I say: ‘How on earth could I have envisaged that?’
“It’s a reactive job, you just hope you react quick enough when it’s happening.”
Many consider it to be one of the most iconic pieces of commentary in English Premier League history.
“It’s the most iconic moment of football in the Premier League history and that’s the truth,” says Tyler. “It’s just the fortunes of the job to be on that game. I don’t choose my games, I get an email every month which says this is where I go.
“I was at home when Brian Moore did the famous ‘It’s up for grabs now’ for Michael Thomas’s goal.
“I was at home when England won the World Cup and Kenneth Wolstenholme said ‘They think it’s all over, it is now’.
“And I suppose, by the luck of the draw, I got to be around at the right place at the right time.
“I didn’t realise it at the time we’d be talking about it five years later. It was the last game of the season and we all met for a meal in Altrincham afterwards. When I walked in everyone was playing it on their phones. I got a bit embarrassed.
“But at least three days a week, every week, I get asked about it.
“The only thing I will say about it, that I can remember from the time, was that when Aguero took that touch I knew he would score.
“And I suppose the only thing that allowed me to do was to get some air into my lungs. I just knew. He’s such a great player, the touch was perfect.
“You just have to react, it could be anything.”
But things weren’t always so joyous, Tyler recalls when he commentated in some of the darker days of football: “ I started commentating through the 80s, when the things thrown at you weren’t very nice — hooliganism, games being stopped for the wrong reasons or crowds misbehaving.
“So it’s nice to be in this period where coming to football has been wonderful and more and more people come.”
Having been in the game for so long we couldn’t help but ask Tyler what his favourite game to commentate on was.
“The first of the 4-3s between Liverpool and Newcastle in 1996,” he says without hesitating.
“Robbie Fowler scored twice, Stan Collymore scored twice and you had Ferdinand, Ginola and Asprilla.
“Liverpool, after getting in front after two minutes only went ahead again in injury time.
“That had everything you want from a football match, great players, a great contest in just a wonderful setting. There’s about nine minutes of it on YouTube and I would recommend everybody to watch it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
“There have been plenty that have come close, but that’s the one I fall back on.”
But what about the games that are less thrilling for the spectator? Surely that must be a difficult task for the commentator, right?
Not for Tyler.
“They’re never dull for me,” he replies.
“Very early on in the Premier League there was a game at the old Manchester City ground, Maine Road, which was becoming a bit difficult to commentate.
“And then Ian Wright scored with the last kick of the game and suddenly the extremes of winning and losing and what it meant to the two clubs became clear — and it was a moment to remember.
“That taught me a lesson if I didn’t know it already that you cannot write off a game, especially in the Premier League.
“I genuinely believe that in every game there’s always something happening. And perhaps it’s our jobs to explain maybe why it’s not quite the hell for leather game that we like watching more.
“I never get bored. The litmus test for me is when the ball is on the centre spot and you feel that tingle you felt when you first went to football as a kid. I still get that tonight and I’ll get that tomorrow night. And if I don’t you’ll be talking to somebody else.”
Tyler’s passion is part of the reason he is adored by fans and is so successful in the job he does. However, the commentator’s exuberance has sometimes led to fans questioning who he supports.
“I don’t do social media and this is one of the reasons why,” says Tyler. “They all think I support somebody. I support Woking and I am quite happy to say that.
“I first went to Woking when I was eight years old and it was the first football I had ever seen, I’m still in touch with the club although I coach at a level just below them so it’s difficult to see them too much now. They’ve always been my team.
“This thing where you have to have a Premier League team is garbage. It’s the accident of birth. It’s the one thing that irks me when people say you must have a Premier League team, I absolutely, categorically don’t.
“How can I be a Man United fan when I’ve got excited about Aguero. All I do is react to the game.
“It’s a great bonus to not have a Premier League team. I’m probably the only commentator to not have a Premier League club.”
Of course everyone knows the clubs co-commentators Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville support.
When asked about his colleagues, Tyler revealed that he treats each of them as family for the two hours they’re together: “I do genuinely believe that the co-commentator is the person that people really tune into. I identify the players, give some information, some stats if you like, but the interpretation comes from, with a little bit of contribution from myself, from them.
“So it’s really important they’re relaxed and ready.”
As for the future, Tyler is a little cautious as to what to expect from VAR.
“I don’t know if you can shout ‘Aguero’ when VAR is in place,” he confesses. “If you know that every goal is going to be analysed for validity that will always be in your mind.
“That crowd will have to deal with that as well. Will it be, ‘Ooh we’ll have to wait’. I don’t know.
“That’s what my concern with the future of football — if you go what a great goal and it doesn’t count.
“If I think a goal’s off-side I look for the linesman. Now I can’t look because it’s being judged not even in the stadium.
“I’ll be interested to see whether VAR has an affect on commentary because we won’t be certain about things, we won’t be certain about anything because it’s all being re-refereed as the game goes along.
“And we’re not hearing. I would probably not feel like this if we were allowed to hear. In rugby you can hear it and in cricket you can even hear it in the ground.
“So my worry for the future of commentary is not about football, because the game will only continue to enchant us all, but is that the commentators should be allowed in on the VAR process so we can explain why things are happening.
“I would ask Mike Riley to deeply consider involving the commentators in the process so we can, not be a mouthpiece for them, but so we can understand and let the viewers know.
“I’m not against VAR, it’s a process I think we need to go through. It may work, it may not. But we should be part of it like in other sports and I cannot for the life of me understand why football is putting up this barrier.”
As a lover of football, Tyler reveals he still plays the sport, and would much rather be doing so than commentating. These days, though, the latter is as close as he can get.
“I can’t play everyday of the week but I can commentate everyday of the week,” he says.
“There’s nothing magical about it, I love football and I’ve been given a way to express it. I hope that sense of privilege comes across in the broadcasting.”
Any plans to retire? “Not at all,” Tyler declares firmly. “I love doing it and I would do it for nothing.” — The Mirror