A new Premier League season will be truly be upon us when Martin Tyler, the doyen of English football commentators, utters his famous matchday intro. Long one of the most recognised voices in the world, there was a time when Tyler preferred to play, rather than talk, a good game.
Martin Tyler has just abandoned the policy of what seems like a lifetime. He’s done a dummy run of the catchphrase starved Premier League addicts hanker for.
“And it’s live!”
“In truth, I’ve just done one for the camera, which I never do. They wanted me to do one, so I’ve done one. No no, I don’t practise it. It’ll come on the day, hopefully.”
A packed diary of promotional duties at Sky HQ in Isleworth, West London have left “The Voice” a touch weary, but full of apologies that he might have delayed anyone.
If he is known as The Voice in these parts, the voice is known in most parts.
Sky’s chief commentator since the Premier League began, he still struggles to compute the breadth of the football boom since those afternoons when he travelled to matches checking roofs for satellite dishes, fretting if this thing would take off, wondering if he made the right call leaving ITV.
“How it’s multiplied has been unbelievable. It’s just an extraordinary explosion of football.
“How Sky got the Premier League deal, I don’t know, and probably don’t want to know, but they did. So we were charged with the responsibility. I have to mention Richard Keys and Andy Gray, who did a fantastic job.
"And Geoff Shreeves has been on the journey as well. So we all grew together. Football as an industry recognised the possibilities. Manchester United, in particular, led the way with the commercialisation of the game.”
And the game put his voice in every outpost on the globe.
“And the FIFA computer game as well. I was in Rio for the World Cup and an eight-year-old kid pulled my coat and said ‘FIFA’. And I went ‘no, no, I’m here for the television’. And he was ‘no no FIFA FIFA’.
“His dad came over and he spoke better English and it transpired he’d recognised my voice from the FIFA game. The boy was from Ecuador, watching his country play in Brazil, but he played FIFA in English. Just incredible.
“I can remember when I started at ITV I worked with Brian Moore who was a wonderful broadcaster. He had a private office but he was next door. I was quite close. And he’d be on the phone and it was like having the television on. I couldn’t get used to it, hearing this familiar voice.
“And now when people say it about me, it’s sort of an out of body experience to think the way my career has gone and to be able to be that recognisable.”
Listening to Martin Tyler is a sort of out of body experience too. The kind you could slap some kind of ‘wellness’ label on and market as a retreat.
There is no requirement for questions, just the odd nudge, as he skips lightly over some stepping stones of a life in football.
He defied NUJ advice to travel to the 1978 World Cup, despite concerns about the country’s ruling regime. “I had to go. But you went with your eyes wide open.”
Eyes long trained to find beauty in a game so many link only to squalor and greed.
“At the World Cup in South Africa, I remember some Afrikaners ended up sleeping in Soweto, which was a very dangerous thing for them to do. But because of the World Cup, it brought people together.
"I think it’s a force for good in a troubled world. Some of the things we’ve seen in football, where political adversaries meet on the football field and it’s all peaceful and sporting, it’s been a privilege.
“Not to be too pious about it, but I’m proud to be involved in something that’s pretty universal. And that gives you a reason for communicating and a way of communicating even though you may not speak the same language.”
Sky employs 12,000 people in Isleworth, in a cluster of cavernous buildings.
How many can trace their wage-slips to Nottingham Forest’s 1-0 win over Liverpool on August 16, 1992?
“The turning point was the Premier League. We had never had anything exclusively that really the business could hang its hat on.”
Tyler’s enthusiasm for his employer sounds less the words of a company man, than a man who enjoys the company.
“The joy of working with Sky is that everybody who works on it really cares about it. Right from the start here, every cameraman, every soundman, everybody here who was involved in the early work was as passionate about football as I was.”
That passion may not have come from his ironmonger dad in Surrey, but his stock in trade did. “He could fix anything, I couldn’t do anything.
"My brother had all those genes. But we lived above the shop so I could hear him talking to the customers. He had this beautifully modulated voice. I remember thinking he sounded incredible.”
An ear for smooth talk but not an instant affinity. Tyler affects a slight Cockney twang to suggest he was more interested in talking a good game. “I was like, talking like, football, you know.”
Since he seldom inserts himself into tactical analysis on-air, it’s easy to forget Martin Tyler has more coaching experience than any of his co-commentators. And played to a good standard.
“We just won the Ryman League, the Isthmian League. I’m assistant manager at Hampton & Richmond. We are in the Conference South now, the National League South, and we had our first game on Saturday.
“They are more interested in me as a coach, not because I’m the best coach but because I can tell stories, like what’s Jamie Carragher like, or what did Gary Neville say when he came back from the World Cup, which I can’t dare tell them. I can’t even tell you.”
If his dad gave him the tools, another famous voice had a crucial say in his destiny.
“I was still trying to be a footballer, Isthmian League, a good league, but I got a job helping Jimmy Hill ghost a column. Then I got offered this job in television behind the scenes, which meant working at weekends.
“I had to say no, because I’m a footballer. What sort of footballer was I? It doesn’t stand scrutiny.
“So I was doing this ghosting with Jimmy, writing a column every week, and I would hand-write it, I wasn’t a great typist. There was no other way of doing it, no emails or anything like that, so I wrote it out by hand, took it into him and he basically knocked it into his words.
“But I just used to put it through the letterbox. I was pleased to be helping Jimmy Hill - it was quite a big thing at the time. Anyway, one day I rang the bell. Why I rang the bell, I don’t know, but he was there. ‘Come in, have a cup of coffee, what are you doing?’.
“‘Oh, I’ve been offered a job at LWT, but I’ve just turned it down’.
“He went, ‘What? What sort of player are you? Do you really think you’re...’
“He said to me, ‘Go home, see if it’s still there, you never know where it will take you, take it’.
“He was a powerful man, a charismatic man, so I did it. We were still in pre-season so I then had to go to the manager, a guy called Micky Stewart. His son Alec became a famous cricketer. We were training at the Oval and I had to go to him on the steps of the Oval and say, ‘Look boss, I’m sorry but I’ve got the chance of a job, I’m going to have to pack it in’.
“He went, ‘Good luck son’. If he’d have said what I wanted him to say, ‘No, you can’t leave’, but he didn’t. I still see Micky now, he is 80 and he lives not far away from me.” Just one more gift on the long list Jimmy Hill gave football.
“Jimmy has passed away, but I had lots of opportunities to thank him and every time I saw him I did. He got fed up with me thanking him.”
Thanks again, Jimmy.
Sky Sports has a record 159 live league games this season - four times more than any other broadcaster - including Saturday 3pms for the first time ever. Upgrade to Sky Sports by calling 0818 904 082 and get HD with Sky Box Sets Free for 12 months.
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