Martin Tyler is the voice of football commentary and one of the few people who has been part of Sky Sports since the very beginning. About to embark on another new season of commentary, he spoke to us about the new campaign, new players, the goal everybody remembers and a whole lot more.
On his coaching role at Hampton & Richmond. I’ve been coaching at three different clubs in the last 10 years, I help out a manager I know and we’ve developed a good partnership. It fits in with work as it’s football related and I usually work Sundays, so I have Saturday’s free.
It’s a return to the level I played at and grew up watching because I supported Woking, I still do, people ask how I manage it but everybody in non-league football has another job, it just so happens that people know what my other job is!
On Sky Sports It started out very small at the beginning, we were all very apprehensive, nobody quite knew what to expect despite the fact we’d all worked in TV. It was a big gamble for us to move across to satellite television but looking back the fact the Premier League came quite soon really helped.
I’d left ITV and I was always thankful to them because they taught me so much, originally it was just satellite and we had a contract for England games and FA Cup games. Myself and Andy Gray covered a match where England beat Brazil 1-0 and then Sky came along and bought us out so there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding what would happen to us at that time.
The Premier League kick-started everything, that first game which gets trotted out from time to time between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool was a landmark in sports broadcasting, 23 years later we’ve had some fantastic matches, the company has grown and football has grown and it’s incredible.
Where we are now with money and what Manchester City are paying for Raheem Sterling and what Liverpool might have to spend on Christian Benteke, everything has grown and I’ve been very lucky my career has coincided with a huge growth spurt in the industry. My time at ITV gave me a really solid grounding and the experience to not go and muck it up straight away with the people who were investing in Sky Sports.
On money taking over I have to say, I’ve been astonished in the way that figures have risen in terms of transfer fees, it’s incredible. I started commentating and the first £1m player hadn’t happened then, even in my little Ryman League situation we’re paying a few grand for players which we’ve never done before!
It’s a free market economy in this country, it’s supply and demand, if there were more great players you could just replace a Ronaldo or a Messi but you need to work hard and spend a lot of money to do that because they’re in a league of their own.
Football would be slightly different if there were more of them around, but the money is there to attract the best and it would be great to find a blend and get more out of the players we have here in our country. The foreign stars bring a lot of quality and a lot of glamour but there’s nothing like a local boy making it. It’s happened to some extent in terms of the majority of the England squad are playing regular Premier League football and The FA are doing their best to improve things, which is good. There’s a balance between what the public want to see, they want to see the superstars but they also want to see a superstar they went to school with!
On preparing for new superstars My biggest concern is always pronouncing their names properly! Fortunately someone like Depay has played in a World Cup that I covered and an U21 tournament, but it’s quite a conundrum for commentators. We come across these players doing Champions League games or internationals before they come to England and their names can be pronounced differently on the continent.
We pronounce their names as they would be in their country, but in England there is a move to anglicise their names, so you can call them one thing and someone else might call them by something else. By and large I like to call them by their proper name, Ilkay Gundogan is one because the ‘g’ in Turkish is silent and every time he gets linked with Manchester United I think I’m going to end up explaining to the country how his name is pronounced!
On preparing to commentate on new players and a new season It’s a very different process to what it was like before, you used to have to go and see new players and new teams, which I’m doing with Stoke, Arsenal and Everton and that’s always helpful – to go and meet them – part of my job is to get across their personality as well as their football talent.
I still don’t know which games I’ll be covering early on, I’m going to Singapore so I start early in terms of pre-season, we’ve got the Friday night game which I think is interesting, it extends the weekend. I remember doing Chelsea vs Manchester United many years ago on a Friday and the atmosphere was great, the players will love it as they get the weekend off!
But now every club has a website and a social media feed, I subscribe to most club sites to get access to interviews and images just to see what they look like and sound like so when new players come in you know what you need to know about. But there are so many matches now and even in pre-season it’s hard to keep up, Petr Cech for instance people know about and Deulofeu was here the season before last, you just have to treat each match on its merits and just try and read as much as you can and keep your ears open to hear about what’s being said!
Once the match comes around you’re focused on the match, I’ll be doing Arsenal against the Singapore XI, which obviously I’m starting totally blank with the hosts as I don’t know what any of them look like or who any of them are so there’s a lot of research that goes into that, seeing what happens after you’ve prepared for it is part of the fun and you never lose that sense of expectation. It’s live, there’s no bail-out, you’ve got to be ready. It’s like an exam, it’s an hour and a half exam and you’ve got to pass it.
On commentary partners It is different. It’s like if you’ve got a group of friends, you slightly tailor your behaviour depending on which one you see and their personality.
They’re all extremely good at what they do, it’s a fantastic team, the TV team is as important for us as the team on the pitch. I don’t even know half the time who I’ll be commentating with so unless someone says ‘see you next week’, you don’t know. We get an email saying which game we’ll be doing that weekend but not who we’ll be with.
Andy (Gray) was great, he set the benchmark and we had many happy years together. After he left there has been quite a few and we are starting to settle down now. Gary (Neville) seems to be regarded as the number one but you’ve got great characters like Alan Smith, Niall Quinn and Davey Provan, and there are plenty of others are do it a lot less regularly.
Former players show a lot of interest in doing it and starting up another career and I’m amazed by how well they do, if I’d have done as well in their profession as they now do in mine I’d have played for England! You do need to have a feel for it and it does take work because they’ve got to tell the viewers things that the viewers can’t see or don’t know themselves. They’re all special people and Sky’s judgement is usually spot on throughout all the sports.
On those special moments You do all your preparation but those moments come along and the most important bit is now to spoil them! When Aguero happened I’d been doing the job 38 years, I’d been joking with my mates that I’d been ‘discovered’ after 38 years because that piece of commentary got talked about so much. I think I said at the time, ‘you’ll never see anything like this ever again’, it’s a once in a lifetime goal.
But you don’t know where you’ll need to be, all day it looked like Rob Hawthorne had got lucky being at Sunderland where Man United were about to lift the trophy until Aguero’s goal. But you just have to be ready, you can’t write things down and prepare for moments like that, they test your skills, your emotional skills as well as commentary skills because in those moments you have to be able to go to where the fans go.
I’m a football nut. I coach, I watch, I commentate. I’m taking my boots to Singapore because there’s a veterans game out there. It’s a way of life and you have to hope you’re in the right place mentally to deal with those moments. I was watching the women’s semi-final in the World Cup and you just can’t believe those moments happen, you’ve got to react to it in the best way possible. Laura Bassett’s interview afterwards was stunningly brilliant, her response to every question was perfect, she wasn’t putting on an act, she’s a top lady and she dealt with that moment brilliantly. She’s come out of it a super person and everybody who follows football can reach out to that, but again it is just another moment that you can’t expect to happen.
I’m a football nut. I coach, I watch, I commentate.
No two games are the same, I’m in my 41st year now and one thing you can be sure of is I never feel bored, because a game can turn on its head at any one time and one of the great skills of commentary is concentration. There was a game at Manchester City near the the start of the Premier League era against Arsenal, it wasn’t a great game by any means. But Ian Wright scored with the last kick of the game and all of a sudden Arsenal could potentially win the league and City were lower down the table and the narrative changes with one kick of the ball. Nobody else will remember that game but I do because those last minute goals test you more than anything.
On communication During that Aguero moment, the split screen was on just before Aguero scored because the Man United game had finished and the players were waiting for the City game to finish. It’s not constant communication, I ask the producers what’s going on, we didn’t have a monitor as I’m focusing on the game at the Etihad.
The focus is always on where you are, the viewers are watching your game for a reason and you have to carry on as usual, someone might tell me United have hit the bar but we might not show that because you risk missing something in your own game. If we’d have been on that split screen five seconds later when Aguero scored it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did, Balotelli had the ball just as it came back to us!
There was so much else going on too as QPR were fighting relegation, they’re the kind of challenges you hope you meet and the main feeling at the end is the relief that you didn’t get it wrong, that’s how you judge yourself as a commentator. We beat ourselves up over the moments that go wrong so you have to cherish moments like Aguero.
We all understand the privileges we have in the job but we all understand the pressure of it too.
On FIFA 16 It’s a very thorough operation, they don’t give us lines, they give us a scenario and may give us five different versions of that scenario. You go on and on covering all the bases, there’s no pictures, we don’t get to watch anything and it’s up to them to make it work. God only knows how it does, it’s not my side of things!
I finished the last one about a week ago, you can’t talk about everything because you don’t know who will play for who when the game comes out, occasionally we get a panic call if there’s been any major moves and we’ll come back in to re-record but there’s always something they can put in to cover it off. We do about 14 days on it, most of them with Alan but he might do a day without me and I’ll do a couple of days without him where they don’t need us commentating together.
My loyalty is to Sky but they’re happy for us to do it. Geoff Shreeves is on it, Jeff Stelling and a few others. Sky are happy that we’re reaching out to young people and I come across 10-year-old’s who are telling me to say this and to say that so it’s good that they’re taking interest in what I’m saying instead of being seen as an old fuddy duddy!
I’m definitely not a fuddy duddy, it’s awful people might think that! I do enjoy doing it and I do try and keep things within what I know, I’m a commentator and I don’t crop up often on chat shows, not that I get asked! But it’s nice to talk and do something like this because we’re talking about the main part of what I do and that’s what I and so many other people love…