The iconic Martin Tyler sits down with Lucy Zelic to discuss growing up in a cricket household, playing and coaching football himself, his road to commentary, and memories of Les Murray and Johnny Warren.
When it comes to legendary football icons, there are very few who can command that title off the pitch, but English commentator Martin Tyler is one of them.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Martin for a number of years now and he’s charming, wildly intelligent, funny and will talk you about football at any given opportunity. This is a man who simply loves, worships and respects the game to within an inch of his life and after 45 years in the industry, he has carved out an enviable career that have seen his voice flood the homes of millions globally. He sounds like poetry and, to my delight, he reads like it too. I became emotional whilst listening to him recall his memories of Les and Johnny and also when he answered the question about his remaining bucket list matches to call. His class and professionalism have been cut from a cloth that may never produce a similar fabric again in our lifetimes. I am in awe of the robust enthusiasm and passion he still has for the beautiful game after all these years and I hope you will be too. Enjoy.
LZ: Martin, it's so great to chat to you during what's such a strange time globally for everybody. How are you coping with it all in the UK?
MT: Mixed. I think everybody's got a lot of personal space to analyse what they do, how they do it, who they are, even. The positive thing about it is that I do a lot of my commentary prep at home on my own anyway, so being here, where I am speaking to you from my house in Surrey, it's not unusual for me to be talking on the phone rather than talking to people face-to-face so that's made it a little bit easier to cope with. I have to say my cooking has improved because I've had a bit of help on that in different circumstances but now it's down to me. I'm probably in better shape because I'm doing some of these workouts and I've got an exercise bike, although it's almost as old as me, I didn't think that they had exercise bikes back in the day, but mine still works. I try to find the positives but, of course there are moments of reflection and not just football, of course we're blessed to have our lives in football and I include all the football fans in that - we're all part of the same family and we're deprived at the moment. But, there is a much bigger picture and we have to respect that and when it's right and we get going again, we'll all appreciate what we have that much more, which will be a good thing. I've never taken my career for granted, Lucy and I'm sure you haven't taken yours because we live in an ever-changing industry. We're not exactly on tenterhooks but we know the last show that we've done is the one that matters and we can't take anything for granted. So, living with uncertainty is perhaps less of a stress than for many, many other people but the best thing is, in England we've been really blessed with wonderful weather, we're into our fourth week of the lockdown now and most days have had sunshine that you wouldn't believe. You're obviously brought up to believe that everything over here is wet, or foggy, or nothing like the average climate in Australia, but we are being helped through these difficult times by some cloudless skies and it's nice to be able to say that.
There's been a lot of conjecture around the resumption of the Premier League and the way that various clubs have conducted themselves in response to the pandemic. What are your views on how it's all unfolded?
I don't want to quash the question but I wouldn't want to be the one making decisions on any of this at the moment because it's unprecedented. Whichever turn you take - and as you say, there are many, many possible scripts for it - there's going to be an anti-reaction to it. The thing about sport, there are so many vested interests and it's very difficult when you look at, say, how in this country, and I'm sure in Australia as well, how everybody has given every support to the health services, the wonderful medics who are helping this not get any worse than it has been, doing sterling work and risking their own lives in doing so. That's the kind of support that I wish football could find but it's almost impossible because there are so many, 'well, if this happens, what happens to my club?' and I respect all that and I can see those points of view so it's going to be very tough for any solution. In terms of the economics, I don't run a football club. I help at one in the National League - I coach at Woking for readers who don't know that - but we're still waiting for guidance from the league as to whether we're going to continue the season or whether it's going to be rendered obsolete, or whether we're going to have it decided by dividing the number of games into the number of points and still having a structure at the end so the season has an end. We're in the sunshine here in England but we're in the dark as well as far as football is concerned and I don't want to tilt any thoughts either way. Whatever happens, I can tell you I will respect it because I know, even if I have a personal issue with it from the club that I work at, I will respect those who are making the decision because they are scrambling around in all aspects of life, not just sport, to try and do the right thing for the majority. It's a real test of thought process and trying not to rush into things. We are where we are with it and today we are at one point and when people read this, we might be at another point so it would be wrong for me to say 'this is right' and 'this is wrong'. Good luck to those who are making the decisions, whatever they are and how it impinges on me as a commentator or in my little world as a coach, I will go along with that.
There are genuine concerns for clubs in the top flight which extends all the way down but those concerns becomes even graver as you go further down the leagues, particularly in the National League and beyond. You've been supporting Woking since you were eight years old, so this is a lifelong love affair for you that must have you worried?
I've been the assistant manager for the last two years, which has been very weird and not too many get blessed with that. I had to wait a long time to get on the team photo - I've been telling everybody, 'if you see the team photo, it's on the Woking FC website’, all the players are po-faced because that's the cool thing to do. There’s one person with a massive smile and it's yours truly because I can't believe I'm apart of all this. We've had a wonderful time; we got to the third round of the FA Cup last season and played Watford home which was a great thrill - my two worlds sort of collided in a non-league dugout against a Premier League team. We only lost two-nil and we gave a good account of ourselves and have a great relationship with Watford Football Club from that day onwards. Then, we got promotion via the playoffs into the National League Nationals so we're playing teams that have been in the football league like Chesterfield and Yeovil, Wrexham, Stockport County and Notts County, which is amazing. Clubs have to be able to fend for themselves in normal times - that's difficult. They don't rely on hand-me-downs and they do rely on sponsorship and the fruits of success, that's the reason why you're in it, to try to win it, whether it's a match or a competition, a cup - you get financial rewards for the club from those achievements. So, when the scenario is clear, for example, a restart date, I think everything will fall into place. I think and I hope. Maybe I am rosy-eyed about football - I do try and see the best in everything, but I hope and expect that all the clubs that are in existence now will be in existence in what may be a few months time, maybe only a few weeks time, to either resume a fixture list or start a new one.
Can we go back through your journey towards becoming the assistant coach at Woking and how that all came about?
Well, it wasn't planned. I'm a commentator - let's get this clear. In my diary, the dates that go in first, are the dates when I'm broadcasting and everybody in the non-league world, the clubs that I've been at understands that. I don't get paid, so there's no responsibility for me to be at the football club. I do get paid to commentate and that's where my loyalties lie. I've been very fortunate in the U.K. with Sky Sports and of course, in my relationship with SBS, which has now gone back to, I think I did my my first piece of commentary for SBS in 1989, something like that. I'd been in Australia for ABC for the 88' Bicentennial Gold Cup and I'd met some people like Les Murray and a guy who helped me a lot in those days, Dominic Galati (former SBS Head of Sport), who brought the connection between my voice and your station. That's what I think I was meant to do to - to talk about football. The shorter version of the story is, my son was playing when he was in his early teens 13 or 14 and we needed a coach and we got a guy who was a non-league player who coached them on a Thursday evening and I was the only parent - Thursday evenings are pretty good for commentators normally - I was the only dad who wasn't at work for the 5 o'clock on a Thursday, so I helped out. He then got the player manager's job at the club that he was coaching at and in a seven or eight month period, he got that team promoted. At the same time, my son was reaching an age where he was not going to play for that team anymore and he was going to go away to college so we had a 'thank you very much' dinner. I took him and his wife out to dinner and he said, 'look, would you want to come help me out at Walton and Hersham’, a small club in Surrey, ‘we've got promoted now, one level below the National League Regional?' I thought he meant as a media officer, but he actually said 'well you've been coaching the kids for me, come and coach.' I played at that level so I thought it would be quite nice. I wasn't very successful as a player but I said I could come and help out pre-season for the next season. Now, 15 years later, it's the fourth club we've been at, we've had promotions and won cups at every club we've been at, all down to him, I'm just the oily rag and I look after his back really. He's a great guy called Alan Dowson and he's had the Coronavirus incidentally and he's come through it but it was a nasty experience and it was a reminder to me that we are all human. Somebody as strong and tough as him had to go to hospital but he's absolutely fine now - I actually saw him yesterday for the first time since he was ill. So that's how it happened. He can pick up the phone to me and obviously I can talk to a few people in football when we're trying to get players and open a few doors for him but it's been fun. I wouldn't want to be a manager for all the tea in China, I really wouldn't because seeing what it does to him - it's bad enough for me but I can go off to Old Trafford or Anfield and think about football from a different perspective. It's all been a real surprise to be honest with you, because I just wanted to be a player! I had five years at that non-league level where I was more enthusiastic than gifted but I gave it a go, I probably gave it as much of a go as I could have done and then fortune favoured the talking about it rather than doing it. [Laughs] But this is where I am because of a lot of lucky breaks and a love of the game, really. That's the one thing that has been the constant right from the eight-year-old that you mentioned earlier, right through to the 74-year-old you're talking to today. I love the game. I respect it totally, I love the people who play it, who support it, the wider football family and maybe that's how I commentate because we're all in it together.
How did you come to know and love football? I've read that the reason you supported Woking FC because it was the first football that you'd seen but did you grow up in a household that worshipped the game or was this something that you discovered on your own?
That's a really good question because my mother came from a cricket family. Her father, her uncle and two of her brothers all played for Cheshire - that's a minor county, it's not the County Championship, but it's the next level and they were all very good. Well-heeled is an over-exaggeration but they had other jobs so they could play this minor county cricket and I grew up in that. The first ball that was thrown at me was a cricket ball and I met some amazing people. There probably won't be anybody old enough reading to remember this but when I was four years old, I've got a picture of me with a guy called Colin McCool, who was an Australian test player, who was playing league cricket up in the Cheshire area. He was a friend of my family and he just came to the house and then he played in England in county cricket after - he was a great, great cricketer. The sport in my household was cricket, nobody liked football. The cricket fraternity played hockey in the winter. Football was mine - I don't know how I got it. I was kicking a ball, I remember being given a football by my grandfather, who was one of the cricketers, on Christmas Day and by tea time, he'd confiscated it because I was kicking it everywhere. The boy next door took me to Woking when I was eight and the rest is history.
What about your foray into commentary? How did that all come about?
The facts of the matter are that I was not doing very well financially playing non-league football, in fact I was on the dole, which is the government's support for people who are out of work. I was getting a few pounds from playing football and a girlfriend of mine, who is still around - she lives in Munich and I occasionally hear from her - she played a big part in this because she heard via a friend of hers that there was a football magazine starting up in a big publishers called, Marshall Cavendish in Wardour Street which was right in the middle of London. Basically, the girlfriend said, 'you're useless, really. Your football is not taking you anywhere, you should do this, you love football. Why don't you do this?' I said 'I'm not a journalist'. Although I had written reports - I played for the University before all this happened - that was in Norwich, the University of East Anglia - and I used to write the reports for the University for the Students Union newspaper, largely because if I scored a goal, I wanted to make sure they got that right so I wrote it myself. I was a selfish journalist in that sense but I was just making sure that my part got properly recorded in the annals. [Laughs] Anyway, they gave me a phone number and they said 'ring up this guy, he's running it'. He was a Kiwi, actually, his name was John Ruck and he went 'look mate, this is top secret. How do you know about it?' and I went 'a journalist never reveals his sources', which is all I knew about journalism. That got me an interview, which got me a trial, which got me a four week trial and I started as a staff writer there. I could still play because it was not an up-to-date magazine, it was a historical thing and I ended up being able to train in the evening but they were happy for me to keep playing, so I had two more years playing because of that. In the time I was working there, the job took me into London Weekend Television to look at various goals, there were no recorders then. We were trying to find goals that illustrated points that we could write about, tactics and things like that. So, I met a few people, then the magazine came to an end, it ran for 75 weeks and you collected the magazine, it was like an encyclopaedia and it finished. They offered me another job and said 'you've done well here, we're doing a magazine called 'Golden Hands'. I said 'what's that about? Is that about goalkeeping?'. And they said, 'no, it's about sewing' and I said 'well, I can't really put my heart and soul into that like I have done into the other jobs here'. So from that point of view, I was thrust out of the door into the freelance market and I got a call from someone at London Weekend Television saying 'well, you came in and we're looking for some bright young chap to come and help out on our football Behind the Scenes - they were brand leaders; ITV Sport, them and the BBC, that's all there was. I said 'no, no I'm a footballer, I play on Saturdays, I can't come and do this'. So they basically said 'okay' and then I was writing some stuff for a guy called Jimmy Hill who was very famous in this country around that time and a legendary figure in the development of football in this country. He was a player who broke the maximum wage, he took on the football authorities and the whole escalation of wages is really down to what he did in the early 1960s. He was a big figure - a player, manager and then a television guru - and he was writing an article a week for the Sunday paper and he couldn't do it, he was too busy. Somebody had put me in his direction, so I was writing the article for him and I used to get a call from him on the Tuesday, write the article and deliver it to him - no internet, of course then, to his flat in London on Friday. Most days I just stuck it through the letterbox, it was all written in longhand and everything so he could read it. Then, this particular Friday, I knocked on the door and he was in so he said 'come in, have a coffee. What are you doing?' I told him the story - he had just left ITV to go to BBC where he spent a lot of his most famous television years - and he said, 'well, what have you done?' I said, 'I've turned it down’ and he said 'what!?' I said, 'yeah, I want to play' and he said 'well how good are you?' [laughs] He knew the levels I was playing. He said 'look, you're mad. Go home, phone them up, take the job because you never know where it might lead you.' Those were his very words. So, I went home, I picked up a phone expecting them to say no, the job had gone and they said 'no, come in next week.' That's how it started. I was Behind the Scenes and then I thought, 'oh, I want to be out on a Saturday afternoon, I want to be out at the ground' and the only way I could get out to the ground was to try and offer myself as a commentator. Because you're on the inside, you get the chance to do a bit and so, I did a couple of tests and it fell into place after that. I talked better than my touch on the ball and I had no training or anything like that, I just loved being at the games. I've told everybody, Lucy for the last 45 years, they say 'what do you do?, I say 'I shout goal for a living, that's what I do.' The first game I ever did, the only goal was after two minutes, by the away team so there wasn't much of a shout because the crowd were very, very small representing Sheffield Wednesday and it was a really difficult scenario to try and keep the match entertaining but I survived. After the first game, which was 1974, the producer who was an old school Englishman went 'look ol' boy, well done. We've got another game in a couple of weeks, would you like to do that?' My stock answer is people have been saying 'we've got another game, would you like to do that?' ever since.
You've been a staple in English football coverage since the 1990s when you got your job with Sky Sports as the main commentator which was off the back of the Premier League's launch in 92'. You're one of the most recognisable voices in sport globally, you've covered countless Premier League and UEFA Champions League matches, you're synonymous with some of the most iconic football moments and that's also linked to FIFA World Cup memories for us at SBS. It's just incredible. I still feel like you've got more to give but how do you take stock of everything that you've achieved in that period of time?
You said it's incredible for you, it's even more incredible for me because you have an out-of-body experience. I know what you're saying and it's very kind of you to say it but I don't live my life like that. I live my life to the next commentary, this is why this hiatus at the moment is a bit strange but we've all got to deal with it. Once it's done, it's done and if people have enjoyed it or - obviously as a commentator, you can't please everybody, I've had plenty of the other kind of comments down the years as well - but I only think about the next game. This has been a time for reflection, there have been a lot of old games that I've commentated on being shown on Sky Sports here and on ITV as well where I worked for 17 years after that breakthrough that happened back in the early 1970s. But, it's just a blessing Lucy. I can't really explain it any other way. I don't know what it is that works, I just try to be myself. It's not an act, I'm not an actor - I was in a film, a couple of times [laughs] but there were no awards coming up for that - so it's just me. I think anybody that loves football, I would be happy to sit down and talk to and that's the bond, if you like, between the arm chair and the chair I'm sitting in that the ground. I'm the link really between the glory on the field - and the glory is on the field, let's not forget that, the emotion is on the field - and it's just a matter of trying to transfer that through the role of commentator to those who are glued to the screen.
So what was the Martin Tyler like who first got the job and started commentating versus the Martin Tyler that we all know now? Is there a difference at all?
No difference. There's no difference at all. I look in the mirror so I know how old I am. I don't look in the mirror as often as I used to do. [Laughs] I suppose that's been a quite a nice part of the awful times we're going through at the moment. I've had the chance to remind myself that - I do know my own birth certificate - if it is coming to an end and because football is restructuring and things might change and broadcasting might change, I would still be happy to go and watch the nearest football match from my home with my memories of what I've been lucky enough to do to and to go and mingle with people at the level that I started at as that 8 year-old. I go to the ground where I went when I was 8 years-old now, until the lockdown, two or three times a week. I know exactly where I stood and a lot of the working people, the older generation, know that this is not something fabricated for the benefit of some PR exercise - it's true. My young self is there all the time and I'm blessed. I've got two fantastic children who I'm very proud of and a lot of memories but I'd like to make some more memories for the foreseeable future. You didn't know me when I was very young but, we've been around socially at World Cups and things like that - we're mates and we're all in it together, that's the team. I was talking to somebody earlier today about the Diego Maradona match against England in 86'. Maradona in that World Cup, which obviously had controversy, but also high class as well, I feel a bit sorry for the other players. [Laughs] Maradona's probably one of the few players you could say could actually win a game on his own and maybe with absolute brilliance and also with a bit of beastliness as well, he got the two goals that did win that game. But, it's togetherness and that's what I love about television is that we are a team. We assembled in Moscow from all different parts of the globe to try and make it work for SBS and for those who love the World Cup who get SBS on their platform and that's what we do. I'm just pleased to be a member of someone's team.
That's really nice to hear. Can you take me back to your introductions with Dominic Galati (former SBS Head of Sport) and how we managed to get you on board as part of our commentary team all those years ago?
It was in a stairwell at the Parramatta Stadium in 1988. He sort of door-stepped me as I was going up by him and he just said, 'look mate, I work for SBS, is there any chance you might do some stuff for us from England?' and I went, 'yeah, why not?' We had a chat and we exchanged numbers and I knew Les before then, I'd met him one or two occasions and also in that tournament as well. The following year, I did the Champions League Final from a booth in London for SBS but the year after that was 1990, the World Cup and I moved in my domestic occupation here away from ITV and in doing so, I lost my ticket to the World Cup in 1990. So, I phoned Dominic and said, 'I know you're covering the World Cup, is there any space for somebody?' He said, 'leave it with me'. There were 52 games so he rang back and he said, 'you're going to do 39 of them, is that alright with you?' I went 'yes, that's fine with me'. We did some off the monitors and not all of them were at the ground but that's part of the television industry and remains so today - it's not always practical or financially viable to send people to all the different venues. Then it really took off and that was all down to Dominic. It was a very new experience but it was very well received because we showed every game. I may be wrong, somebody reading might correct me, but I think it was the first time that had happened - every game had been shown live in Australia in the World Cup. Les and Johnny Warren did it with real love and care and it was a delight to work for them and work for Dominic, who was pretty much the boss. How we did it, it was a bit thrown together at short notice but it happened and I had some lovely letters afterwards that SBS forwarded on to me and I've still got them. When I do finally have to clear out all the football memorabilia I've got in my house [laughs], I should re-read them and probably not throw them out.
It sounds to me like you'd be quite sentimental. Is that about right?
No, you're pushing me in that direction, really. I'm just a big kid in an old man's body. [Laughs]
What are your memories of Les and Johnny like?
They used to walk a lot. When we were doing World Cups, they would walk away and I'd still be jogging but I used to want to walk with them because of their love for the game. For Les, I'm not a great one on pronunciation, I really try to do it, not many people bother now, maybe I'm out of touch with the way commentary is now. I like it to be the names as they are pronounced in their own land and Les as a Hungarian growing up in Australia, had obviously factored in some anglicisation, but he was pure. His voice on those city openers we used to have for the World Cups, where we brought people to where we were in the way the television can do - the modulation of his voice was amazing. We used to talk about how we're going to pronounce these names and he would be the governor. Occasionally I'd say 'in England, we're calling him this, do you mind if I do that?' I had a huge respect for that, he was a lovely warm guy. Johnny, obviously with the playing pedigree brought another dimension to it and he was in love with South American football. I think he was one of those that wasn't too pleased that England beat Belgium [laughs] I may be doing his memory a disservice. But, they brought the world game to Australia in so many ways and that legacy is extraordinary. I don't know what brought them together in the first place, some SBS Executive presumably can take all the credit but it was a perfect match. One memory I have of Johnny was the team sheet for the 98' World Cup Final where Ronaldo was in, and then out, and in again and I was rushing up and down the steps with these different team sheets and he was live on the air, back to the studio going 'no, no, it's different again now' and Johnny was sort of looking at me with these startled eyes [laughs]. Great, great people. It's always lovely to talk to you and to talk to SBS but in a way, I want to do it for them because I'm lucky enough to still be here and keep passing on the message. Be with us, it is the world game, it doesn't mean the other games aren't important, the other codes - no one's tried to make this a restricted monopoly. There's plenty of space for the other sports but the world game is a game because of its simplicity and because it brings communities together. It stops wars, occasionally it's created wars, [laughs] I think but it does have a fantastic force for good around the whole world.
Are there certain football memories that really stand out to you and hold a special place in your heart?
Well, they're not all commentary, memories, of course. In 1958, Woking - I'd been going there for four or five years and I was 12 - and the anniversary was actually on Easter Sunday, not Easter but the date, the 12th of April - Woking got to the final of what was then called a FA Amateur Cup, a non-league cup and played at Wembley in front of 71,000 people. I went to every round in the competition as a fan, went to the final and Woking won 3-nil. Funny enough, I've just had a text this morning - Tom Cleverley who's a Premier league player, who plays for Watford now, won the Premier League with Manchester United a few years ago - he texted me about something and we've become friends because his great uncle scored in that game for Woking. That's the thing about football, everyone reading will know this, there is always a connection to somebody through somebody. I sent it out online - we have a coaches forum at Woking, a WhatsApp group and I made sure they all knew, they're all miles younger than me so the anniversary was observed on Sunday. If you can imagine, your local non-league team going to Wembley and it was televised live on BBC, with 71,000 in the old design of the stadium - and to win. 3-nil doesn't do justice to the opposition, to be fair, two of the goals were quite late. One of the few regrets I have, is that the highlights were on television that night and I was 12, my dad said 'go have a little lie down and you can stay up and watch it’ and he didn't wake me up - I slept through. It was a long, long time, probably 25 years before I actually saw the goals again. Obviously the commentary, the World Cups, the Aguero moment, which I'm lucky to be associated with because I was the host broadcaster on the day. That was special and I think I said 'I swear you'll never see anything like that again' and I stand by that so I was lucky to be doing that but it's just doing it. It's just being asked to do the next game, knowing that I can still do it. It changes as you get older, you have more experience to draw on, getting up to the gantries is my fitness test really, that's why I've been on the exercise bike here. I've got to make sure when we go again in six months, if it's that long before I commentate again, that's quite a long time at my age! Of course there are some difficult times in there as well, it's not always been a complete breeze, but there's always the feeling that football was there long before I started and it'll be there long after I've gone and if I could do anything to help spread the word, so to speak, by my words, I'll keep doing it until they tell me to stop.
What about World Cup games? I remember you and I were speaking in Russia and you told me how challenging it was to call the England matches because you don't want to get too emotional or too carried away because of any perceived biases that could be linked with it. Here in Australia we've been known to do quite the opposite and embrace the emotion but how do you view your role in commentating on England games?
Lucy, I can only compliment you on your questions because it's another one that really hits the mark for me because it is difficult. I still feel the same when I do England games for England in England. I've always respected that there are always two teams on the pitch. My preparation is even handed. I don't like using the word 'we' and that's in England. It's difficult for the Australian audience because I know there are polar extremes about whether people want England to win or not. I found that out in an interesting way - that 1990 World Cup that I talked about, my first World Cup with SBS, my then-wife came out on the day of the England/Belgium game, which was the last game before a four day break, so we were going to spend a little bit of time in Rome and she knew Jack Charlton, who was manager of Republic of Ireland. The last game England won against Belgium somewhat fortuitously, with a great goal from David Platt and she was in the office when this happened so when we finally got away and we got together that evening, I said 'oh it must have been great in the office when David Platt scored' - she said they were gutted. I went 'what?' [laughs] so I learned the lesson then. My connections between, speaking the same language and the hereditary connections were shattered in that one comment [laughs] and I then checked it out afterwards when we all got back to work again and I found out, well of course she wasn't going to lie to me about it. I thought people were jumping around the office but they weren't so ever since then, I've trod carefully in the game. The one World Cup I didn't do for SBS, I did for ESPN in America and of course, the first game that was drawn out of a hat was USA versus England [laughs] so I was stuck in the same situation again. I want to be fair to everybody who does well on a football field because, as I said right at the start, I was a wannabe player and I know how difficult it is to do the things that they do. I did it for a certain level, no one could have tried harder than me but I got only so far so these guys, to get to the top and around the football pitch, playing international football, World Cup football, they're special people. They're special athletes. They've got temperament and talent, all in high doses. I have a huge respect for them. England have got knocked out pretty much every World Cup I've covered for SBS except for 94' but they weren't in it! You go away privately thinking it will be great, I'm a child of 66', I went to one of the World Cup games as a student then. One of the huge benefits of what I've done since then is meeting all the guys. Obviously, not all of them are still with us now but I written a book about it, I made a TV program about it and my heart is totally in that. But, in a game, I want the better team to win because that should happen and we know it doesn't cause' football has this strange chemical compound that makes it possible to win in adversity. If they do that, well, I'm happy for that to happen as well but I don't want to disrespect somebody because they're not actually from my country.
I want to ask you about about the people that you've interviewed. You've had the pleasure of dealing with so many big names in football over the years but there's one interaction with Arsene Wenger that I loved particularly, where post-match you asked him "am I too romantic to think that players should try and stay on their feet and not keep making problems for referees?" to which he responded "I don't say you are too romantic but you are romantic." Do you remember that interview?
Now that you mention it, I do. Arsene and I had a more of a cerebral relationship. The after-match interview is not an easy thing to do with winners, you've got to be careful to keep it not getting out of hand and with losers, you're lucky to get a loser sometimes who will talk to you. Arsene was as his image would portray. He was professorial and still is of course and he's having an influence on the way the game is played, taking on a consultancy role. We both nearly missed the start of the game because we were talking about why the riots were happening in the streets of Paris before a game in the sort of antechamber outside the dressing room. I was supposed to go up to gantry to commentate on the game and he was supposed to go into the dressing room to get his team ready to go out and play the game. It just went went on a bit longer than it would normally do but it was very deep and philosophical from his point of view and very educational from my point of view. Romance isn't dead. As a coach, which is a little part of my life and has been for 15 years, you do want to win and you really want to win by playing well. It's not the same if you win, luckily, it's just not the same because you know that that's not going to get you another win. I don't like this, 'you've got to win at all costs' - it's more of the nature of the pressure on the managers, not that they personally want to do that, but they know if they lose four or five games in a row that they'll get the sack. I've been with the same manager for 15 years, he hasn't got the sack, it's amazing - he's that good and I've been lucky to be hanging onto his coattails. We do know that so sometimes you have to take the win and just move on. I played for a team called Corinthian-Casuals based on the Corinthian spirit. The Corinthians were football historians, they were the club of the well-heeled, gentry of the early 20th Century and when they played the game, the goalkeeper stood out of the goal, apparently, if they gave away a penalty, they let the opposition just roll it into the net. They didn't do that when I played for the them! [Laughs] But, we were brought up in the right way as young players and that stuck with me, rightly or wrongly, it might be out of date. I think there's a nice, softer side to all things in the world, not perhaps what we're living through at the moment but generally, I think maybe life's just a little bit easier, I don't know. A lot of people will be saying 'you don't know what my life's like' so I can't say that but I do feel there's a bit more awareness of the spirit of things as well as the actual outcome of a football match. Doing it the right way in all aspects of life is something I've tried to do, I was brought up that way and it's not easy because you have to fight your own battles but there's a right way to fight those battles and a wrong way. Without sounding too pious, I try to do what I believe to be the right way, other people might say it's not.
What's your commentary preparation like and how has that changed over the years?
It hasn't changed. Yes, there's a bit more technology - I use a laptop rather than write stuff out by hand but I still find that I write stuff out by hand because that's the way I remember it. The one thing that has changed is the type of prep that you can look at, you can't look at now because the game's so fast. The natural pauses, like the back pass when the goalkeeper could pick it up, the game might get stuck in the muddy conditions - it doesn't now, it zips along on perfect, pristine playing surfaces. You've got to remember more and that's always a challenge for the older person. I've been looking back at my notes, I've been writing some retro stuff for our website, Skysports.com - please seek it out if you would like - and I look back on the older notes and I think 'yeah, I'm still doing that pretty much the same way'. In one way it is easier, because when I started, there was no way of recording other matches, that gradually came in. There was very little football on television apart from the restricted number of, maybe two games, highlights on BBC 2 and ITV, now you can pretty much look at players and identifying players is the most important part of the job. You can do your identification checks by sitting in your own lounge, on your own television because so many games are on. I think it's wrong to do all your research indoors, you've got to get out and talk to people and that's what I try to do.
Are there any people along the way that have truly fascinated you, whether that be footballers, coaches and maybe not fascinated you for all the right reasons either, just people that have really struck you and stuck with you throughout the years?
If I answer that question, we'd still be going in half an hour's time. Football people are fascinating. It's a privilege to catch up with the new wonders because you want to try and relate to the world that they're part of because there's nothing worse than being seen as a stick in the mud. I live quite close to Chelsea training ground, so if I go to a nearby village, maybe to do some shopping or have a coffee - of course we're not doing that at the moment - but I could bump into people like Mason Mount, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, young Chelsea talent Fikayo Tomori, they live around the area, so it's always nice to find out what they're like. It's not a robotic job, the game is not played by robots, it is played by people. I have always been fascinated because I wanted to be one of them. I am a little bit more one of them now because I'm coaching at a level of fifth tier English football so I get asked a bit more about me from other people than I would do as a commentator. But, I'm always inquiring as a commentator, which I stress again, it's my first and foremost occupation and love of doing and I'd love to know what they're like. I can remember a game earlier this season, Paul Pogba missed a penalty and Manchester United only drew and I said 'get Pogba on the final whistle because he'll do something' and he did. He pulled his shirt up over his head in embarrassment, he should have won the game for them, he knew it - because you know how they're going to be. If somebody else had done it, you would probably say, 'Harry Maguire might not have done that' so you try to learn about them as people, I never waste an opportunity to talk and I suppose that's why you've rung me up!
You've lent your voice to the FIFA video game series since 2006, which is just incredible. The line 'this is Martin Tyler and alongside me is Alan Smith' is iconic and will be cemented in history. How do you enjoy that and what what actually goes into it for those that don't know?
It's about 14 to 15 days work a season, spread out over several months. Obviously, it takes a bit of a toll on your voice so I do it on days when I haven't got a commentary the next day or that night. For Alan, it's that's the same really, we do most of it side by side, because that'll work for the interaction between the two, but we do, do stints on our own as well for certain aspects of the game. The skill is translating that into what's on the screen and how they do that is totally beyond me. There are no scripts, there are guide points, so they go 'we've got to do some free- kicks today and this free kick goes into the top corner'. So you go 'oh he struck that well, 'oh it's flown into the top corner', then you go 'here's the free-kick specialist, what's he going to do with this? Oh my goodness! He's put it into the top corner!' You do four or five reps on each sort of situation - they keep giving you situations and it's put together like that. People say, 'can we come in and watch you do it?' We do it in a sound studio in the same Wardour Street, believe it or not, where I had my first day as a journalist back in 1971, it's literally just across the road and so it's quite nostalgic for me to go in and do the work. They're very welcome, people can come in and sit in the main room while we're in the voiceover booth and look through the glass - they last 10 minutes - they're bored to tears. Ashley Young brought his kids in one day to have a look because they were fascinated by the game but then they're like 'what are we doing next dad?' and they're off. It does require a certain amount of concentration, a certain amount of discipline, a certain amount of stamina. Alan has been terrific, Andy Gray was very good beforehand and then Alan stepped in and he's a bright spark - we have a lot of laughs. There is a time restraint on it and we try not to corpse each other too often but he couldn't say 'Ligue Un' for one session and when I see him, because we still work together for Sky Sports, if I go 'ahh, Ligue Un, the results..' he just breaks down laughing. It's a silly little thing but there's a lot of camaraderie and that's the whole reason. That's why we're chatting today. We're talking at a time where we're talking about social distancing but we've been living in a world and our love for sport where, social togetherness has been right at the heart of it and please come back soon.
What a perfect way to summarise it. My final question to you is, is there anything still on your bucket list? Is there a game that you're still lusting after the opportunity to commentate on? Is there anything left for you to do?
The next game. We're talking at a time where I normally know what the next game is, even if we're at the end of an English season, I would have done the Euro 2020 but that's obviously now Euro 2021. But, this is a rare time where I don't have a 'next game' and I just hope that, that comes around soon enough. You used the word sentimental earlier but my sentimentality doesn't run to that, I want to be worthy of the gig and as long as that is still going to happen, then I'm happy but when it doesn't happen, there will be no regrets. There are things that I wish I could have done better, the curse of commentary - you cannot do a perfect commentary so every game basically has got some down points and when you come away from it, it's usually those that occupy your mind. I had no idea about the Aguero stuff until I went to dinner afterwards because it was the last game of the season, remember and we all went for a wrap party and they were playing it on their phones and sort of looking at me and I had no idea that it would be something that, eight years later, as it is now, that I get asked pretty much two or three times a week about - socially, if not even officially by a fellow journalist. You don't really look back, you look forward and even at my age, I want to look forward. I want to be helping the football industry get back on its feet and as I said before, shouting 'goal!' for a living again.