Clive Tyldesley was like many of us who grew up as football fanatics – he fell in love with the game and followed one team – but quickly realised he loved every team.
After growing up as a Manchester United supporter in the 1970s, he developed what he calls an ‘intoxicating romance’ with watching games. Seven World Cups and eight European Championships later – as well as 20 Champions League finals in a row – the broadcaster is seen as the true voice of football.
From Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s last minute winner for Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final to Wayne Rooney’s debut stunner and plenty of England heartache, Tyldesley has seen it all.
Since illegally listening to radio commentaries as a schoolboy and taking the punishment for it the next day, calling out footballers’ names has been the only thing he ever saw for himself as a career.
Clive Tyldesley grew up as a Man United supporter but soon fell in love with every team as he launched his career as a commentator
‘I can’t put shelves up!’ he tells Sportsmail, when asked why he wanted to be a commentator as a youngster.
‘My mum would tell you it’s what I always wanted to do. There is a magic in broadcasting – to this day I have no idea how my voice travels from Moldova to a house in Mansfield.
‘I’m lucky to do this job. I was never good enough to be a football player. I had a fascination with the coverage of football from an early age and I’m as excited and engaged in the profession today as I was when I got my first break.’
Tyldesley’s passion for his job is no surprise given the journey he has been on with the game as it has evolved – with a front row seat to watch the most epic and agonising matches across the decades.
Tyldesley has presided over seven World Cups and eight European Championships
He savours his ability to sum up ‘heartbeats’ of the game to create special memories for fans
Since the retirement of Brian Moore in 1998, he had the most coveted gig in the business as ITV’s lead commentator, summing up what he calls ‘heartbeats’ of the beautiful game while the rest of us live out the experience at home.
‘These moments are up there with births and marriages and deaths that define people’s progress in life,’ he tells me. ‘Where were you? If you were sat round the TV and my dulcet tones were part of the experience then my responsibility is to try to be a part of your memories of that moment.’
But that viewing experienced has changed throughout the decades – fans don’t just sit round one TV anymore, they watch on multiple screens, on their phones, in crowded pubs and bars.
‘It [used to be] a more personal, intimate experience,’ he says. ‘Gatherings in pubs don’t listen. Our kids don’t come back talking about the commentator because they haven’t heard him. The relationship has changed, the public now have an instant means of reviewing your work. That brings a different kind of scrutiny to it.’
Tyldesley has become known as the voice of football but acknowledges the viewing experience has changed over the years
Last summer, Tyldesley was left coming to terms with a crushing change – the biggest he had experienced in his career.
ITV announced that talkSPORT’s Sam Matterface would become their main man in the gantry – with Tyldesley demoted to number two. While he respected their decision – and has nothing but respect for the man who replaced him – to say he was unhappy with it would be an understatement.
More than a year on from that heartwrenching day, Tyldesley remains busier than ever. A man of his talents was always going to be in demand – he has since joined CBS in the United States to front their Champions League coverage, and also has work coming up for Amazon Prime and Rangers TV – that’s all before Christmas.
But the fact someone took his dream role away from him before he was ready to pass on the torch will always sting.
ITV made a huge change last summer to instal Sam Matterface as their new lead commentator and demote Tyldesley to No 2 after 23 years of service
‘I don’t want to start rocking in an arm chair and be reflective because I’m still busy,’ he says. ‘My life has changed a little bit, but I’m not a front line worker. I don’t save lives. My job is not serious in the greatest scheme of things. Infection rates are rising, inflation is rising, there are Russian troops on the Ukranian border – people aren’t going to be marching on Parliament over ITV’s choice of commentator.
‘But I am serious about the work I do, so it’s a serious blow when someone takes the most prized part of that work away from you before you feel you’re ready to let go.
‘I can’t watch an England game on TV without wishing I was still commentating on it. But we are all a matter of opinion and I respect the people who took the decision to replace me. I respect the capabilities of the man who has replaced me.
He cannot hide the pain of watching England without being in the gantry, admitting it was a ‘serious blow’ to lose the job he loved
‘You get on with life. I have accepted it. It’s not like I’m holding out for a reselection, Sam is going to be doing that role for many years to come and he commentates in a different way. That’s the consolation for me – if it was someone similar who was mimicking my style that really would have been upsetting. They’ve gone in a different direction.’
Tyldesley – who details the biggest moments of his career in his autobiography Not For Me Clive – received plenty of support from England fans who had listened to him over the decades, but he was forced to take action when he started getting calls from producers asking if he was unwell or did something terrible.
He released a video on social media, insisting he was in perfect health and hadn’t done anything to trigger the move from ITV, but admitted he was ‘baffled, annoyed and upset’ to lose the job he loved in a clip that went viral.
ITV have replaced me as their main football commentator… pic.twitter.com/S8UOjvwEck
— Clive Tyldesley (@CliveTyldesley) July 14, 2020
‘It wasn’t out of disrespect to ITV or Sam Matterface,’ he stresses. ‘They’re people I know well. I feel very much the same to this day. I don’t feel wronged when I watch matches, I just wish it was me. There’s only one man with his hand on the microphone. I lost a role which I loved doing and that’s it.
‘I’m a lucky man in all aspects of life. This is my freelance life now. It’s brought a variety to the nature of the challenge that I didn’t have before. Hopefully it strengthens me as well as pays the mortgage.’
One of the biggest joys of Tyldesley’s career has been following the Three Lions.
While there have been highs – travelling all over the world to cover games as well as watching England win their first ever shootout against Colombia at the 2018 World Cup – he’s also been there for the shootout defeats and the performances to forget.
He will never forget arguably their darkest day after losing to minnows Iceland in the Euro 2012 last 16, which he called ‘the most abject failure that I can recall’.
Tyldesley has watched a lot of England games, and been through all the same pain and anguish as the rest of us. All of the hope, the near misses – and a lot of qualifiers.
Tyldesley has watched plenty of England games over the years – following the highs and lows throughout the decades with supporters
The recent 10-0 demolition of San Marino by Gareth Southgate’s men this month has opened the debate about what point qualifiers serve, given how untroubled the England team usually are on their route to a major tournament – while having to face a handful of semi-professional teams at the lower end of FIFA’s rankings.
Tyldesley has seen England play San Marino enough times to know that it is a mismatch of gargantuan proportions, and one that makes life as a commentator extremely challenging.
While there is a story there worth telling – a David vs Goliath battle of elite professionals against part-timers – he has found the occasion doesn’t serve a purpose given San Marino’s determination to sit deep and go in hard on England players to stop them in their tracks, as well as a feeling that broadcasters are forced to tread around egg shells to avoid offending the tiny nation.
He says commentating on England vs San Marino is one of the most difficult tasks for a commentator because of the gulf in class between the two teams after their recent 10-0 win
‘In many ways [England vs San Marino] is the most difficult assignment for a commentator,’ he tells me. ‘You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
‘The job of a good commentator is to editorialise the story we experience. There is absolutely no question that it is a mismatch of a sporting contest. You want to be respectful to the San Marino nation and their right to take part in the competition.
‘Their media officer was always very reluctant to give me information on the jobs the players did because he felt it was demeaning for me to refer to them as bank clerks and plumbers. But that is what they are, and that’s the story of the game.
‘These guys have been at work today. They’re getting the afternoon off to have a kip and play against England. If there’s anything wonderous about this fixture, it is that. So to be tip-toeing around it and worry about offending people is nonsensical.
He adds: ‘My problem with San Marino was not for their inability to score goals or win games, it was their inability to control their tackles, and their total refusal to do anything other than to grimly defend at the edge of their penalty area.
He called San Marino ‘unprofessional, because they are not professional’ and took issue with their ‘inability to control their tactics’ as well as their ‘dangerous’ tactics
‘There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever of any improvement in their standard or approach. At some stage, the rights holders have got every right to question whether what we’re watching is a competitive football match.
‘The pitch is dangerous, [Bukayo] Saka nearly twisted his ankle the first time he got the ball, and I’m afraid their tactics are dangerous. It’s unprofessional because they’re not professional. It’s a fixture you fulfil and move on.’
Harry Kane was desperate to play in that game – and nabbed four goals in the first half to take him further towards his goal of becoming England’s all-time top scorer. But Tyldesley believes that there is a feeling that managers don’t want their players using games like this to make history.
‘I know Gareth [Southgate] very well but I felt he subbed Harry Kane because he didn’t want him to break any more records this way. Every commentator and reporter has asked the question – what was that we were watching and is it worth it?’
Harry Kane scored four first half goals, but Tyldesley feels Southgate substituted him during the game because he didn’t want him to make history against them
While talking about football dominates much of Tyldesley’s day to day life, he wants to use his words to spread a more important message – one that affects all of us. He is one of the most respected broadcasters in the game and has more than 100,000 followers on Twitter.
For many of us, his voice has kept us entertained throughout our time watching football – and his hilarious clip of him commentating on his wife making a lasagne gave us a chuckle during lockdown. But now he wants to use his influence to save as many lives as possible.
As a patron of the Bobby Moore Fund, he has been spreading the word about bowel cancer for years. Or as he puts it, his ability to ‘talk s**t’.
Tyldesley wants to use his status and communication skills to reach more people and spread awareness of bowel cancer, as a patron of the Bobby Moore Fund
Earlier this month, Clive appeared and acted as the announcer for the annual Celebrity Sports Quiz, of which he designs all of the questions, in aid of the Bobby Moore Fund, set up after the legendary former England captain died of the disease at the age of just 51. The charity has raised over £28.5million towards bowel cancer research over the last 28 years.
This year, a particular conversation with the legendary England captain’s wife stands out in his mind.
‘Stephanie said to me at the end of the evening – “you can save lives”,’ he recalls.
‘I said, “I just shout peoples names out”. And she said, “No, you can, because early diagnosis is everything in bowel cancer, and not everyone in this room has the nerve to stand up in front of thousands of people and talk about checking your s**t. If you can get one person to do that and get checked you will save lives”.
‘It is really important. It affects as many women as men. It’s perceived to be an old blokes’ disease, but it affects young people too. That’s the message, that’s how I got involved as a patron of the Bobby Moore Fund – simply because I can talk s**t!’
This year Tyldesley was given a reminder about how brutal and unforgiving cancer can be. His close friend Robin Meakins was told he had liver cancer and passed away just weeks after finding out the news because he wasn’t diagnosed quickly enough.
He believes he can save lives by talking – but this time away from the football pitch
‘He wasn’t 50 – he went in weeks,’ he said. ‘We knew he was ill but he’s the last person you’d expect to be struck down by any kind of illness. He was tall, lean professional man, quite athletic.
‘He was a lovely man and we knew his wife and kids. It doesn’t care. Cancer just comes and gets you. He just wasn’t diagnosed early enough, if they had spotted it, he would still be with us and he’s not.’
As someone who talks for a living, Tyldesley says communication could be the most important tool we have to combat bowel cancer, as well as other types of the horrendous illness, and wants to do his bit in getting the message out.
‘Communication is so important in the world we live in,’ Tyldesley says. ‘But while shouting footballers names out is not going to change minds and trends, it is still part of that business. The longer I’m in that business, the more clout you attain. If I can use that to campaign and promote things, then I can do that to reach people.’
Clive Tyldesley is a supporter of the Bobby Moore Fund, a restricted fund of Cancer Research UK that raises money for pioneering bowel cancer research.
Since Bobby’s death, the generosity of supporters has helped raise over £28.5 million. You can find out more or donate to the Bobby Moore Fund here: bobbymoorefund.org.