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Thursday 25 November 2010
Focus on Clive Tyldesley

The commentary team for Saturday's live televised FA Cup game is Clive Tyldesley and Jim Beglin. As part of the build-up to the game, we took the opportunity to speak to Clive Tyldesley about his career as a commentator and his previous experiences of Wimbledon.

How did you get into commentating?

It was a combination of ambition and drive, plus half a dozen lucky breaks. In my experience, if you lean on a door often enough it will open.

I studied Industrial Economics and Politics at Nottingham University, and the first of my lucky breaks was that Radio Trent was just starting up at that time. I joined as an assistant, which was really the tea boy job. I wanted to get into sports commentary eventually, but my first break was to be given a late-night rock show where I was let loose on the student population for three months or so. It was pretty relaxed and I got to choose the music myself.

How did the switch to sport come about?

I just volunteered, and after a couple of months I was sent on my first assignment. I was lucky again because I was assigned to Nottingham Forest early in my career. In my first full season of commentating, Forest were promoted to the First Division (the forerunner of the Premier League) and Brian Clough was the first manager I dealt with on a regular basis. You learned to be light on your feet Ė it was an education dealing with him.

Was TV your next step?

No, that was quite some time later. I was at Radio Trent for about eighteen months and then I went to Radio City, Liverpool. I was there from the spring of 1977 and stayed in Liverpool until 1988. So, yes, I commentated on the Cup Final that year.

I had started working for Granada, and part of my assignment was to come back on the team bus on the Sunday. Iíve seen some of these tours take hours, but as you can imagine, this time it was a whistle-stop tour as there werenít many people there. I interviewed John Aldridge in a car in the car park, and he was in tears Ė playing in a cup final at Wembley had been his ambition.

Did you cover Wimbledon very often?

When I was at Radio City I came down to Plough Lane quite often. There wasnít a lot of space, so Iíd usually find myself outside the box, often sitting next to a Wimbledon supporter, and of course I was sounding excited if Liverpool scored. It wasnít intimidating, but it was very uncomfortable!

Did you cover other sports?

Yes, it was regional ITV in those days, and I covered rugby league as well as football. But in 1992, when Sky arrived on the scene, ITV lost their live First Division football and the rugby league too. I went to the European Championship in Sweden that summer, and while there I was invited to join the BBC. I was with them for four years, but John Motson and Barry Davies were well established, and although Iíd harboured hopes of succeeding one of them, it wasnít to be. So in 1996 I returned to ITV, and Iíve been there since.

My timing was another stroke of luck as that was the year that Manchester United did the treble, and I did the commentary on the European final, including those momentous last few minutes. Someone must have been happy with what I did as that cemented my place in the job.

Turning to our game on Saturday, how long does it take you to prepare?

Iíve already started [this was on Tuesday] and Iíve got the tapes from your two Ebbsfleet games and I saw most of the replay. Iíve got the programmes, and Iíve been onto both clubsí websites. I also met Graham Westley at the weekend at a league managersí dinner and had a good chat with him, so Iím already reasonably up to speed.

Iím covering the Rangers v Manchester United game on Wednesday, and as soon as thatís finished Iíll be turning my mind to Saturdayís game.

How does it feel going from such an enormous game to the Second Round of the FA Cup?

The FA Cup is always exciting for me. If I had to list the top ten games last year, about six or seven of them were from the FA Cup. There was Palace v Villa, the Leeds games at Old Trafford and Spurs, and many more. Thereís always something to grab your attention.

Were you disappointed when the game panned out to be us v Stevenage?

A game v Milton Keynes was obviously very attractive to the media. I know someone who is a close follower of AFC Wimbledon, and he gave me an education in the history, and that helped me to understand the feelings of many of your fans.

Iíve charted your story now and where you began. What strikes me is that there was no inevitability about your rise Ė it would have been very understandable if for some reason you had lost momentum. But you didnít. Looking from the outside, to have come this far is amazing and I respect that enormously. Obviously you want to continue upwards, but even if you werenít able to, what you have done so far is still a major achievement.

Turning back to you, do you ever listen to your own commentaries?

Yes, all of them. Obviously not every last word, but it is the only way to improve. I hate it when I make a mistake, and thatís probably the only time I lose my sense of humour.

Iím very aware that once you become familiar to viewers it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, hopefully familiarity breeds warmth and trust Ė I always remember that Iím a stranger being invited into someoneís home. But on the other side of the coin, if you get lazy then familiarity can quickly lead to contempt.

So you canít relax. The one true sin in this business is to sound as if you wish you werenít there. You canít let it sound like you would rather be somewhere else.

Thank you very much.