World Cup ties; Champions League finals; England internationals: If you’ve watched a major game of football over the past five decades, you’ve likely heard the iconic voice of Clive Tyldesley commentating on said game. We had a chat with the legendary broadcaster about working in his beloved sport, meeting Brian Clough, and studying Industrial Economics at the University of Nottingham…
How did you end up at the University of Nottingham?
Back in the late seventeenth century, when I was applying to university, I think there were no more than four media courses across the entire UK. I applied for a couple of them, but I didn’t receive an offer. My father, who was making a living in marketing at the time, encouraged me to take an Economics degree, because my school career was going reasonably well. The Industrial Economics course at Nottingham was a little more practical than theoretical, so in the absence of an offer for a media course, I - a little reluctantly - followed in my father’s footsteps. Then, during my three years as an undergraduate, I set about putting together a media CV of my own.
I became the editor of the university newspaper, and I was knocking on any possible door that I could to get experience within the media. I also joined DramSoc, and became involved with writing and acting in a comedy which was loosely based on the humour of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which we took to the Edinburgh Festival for two years running. If there’s anything to learn from my era, it’s that however good your degree may be, all the other stuff on your CV means so much too - your experience is an indication to prospective employers of your keenness to get out there, learn the ropes, and become part of a team. That’s how I made my own career happen.
You stuck around Nottingham for a few years after graduating. What kept you in the city?
Your first break is always your biggest break, and mine was with Radio Trent, which came on air the day I graduated. They were building the studios in Castle Street during my final year at uni, and I made it my business to loiter with intent around the building site and get to know the Programme Controller, whose office was based there. I managed to harass him to the point where, about two-and-a-half weeks before I sat my first final, I got a phone call telling me to stay away from the studios because of building regulations. I thought I’d blown any chances of employment, but then he said, “I think the only thing I can do to keep you away from there is to offer you a job.” I asked what degree I needed for it, and he said, “You don’t need a degree to make tea!” So just before I sat my last exams, I was given a role at my dream organisation - which, admittedly, took a bit of motivation away from my studies. That’s probably why I never got that 2:1…
I did my first voice-over over somebody’s shoulder during a news bulletin, and I did a late-night rock show during my first three months there, but I was always volunteering for any sports-related coverage that was available. Within a few months, I became the regular Nottingham Forest reporter - not only working on the games, but pretty much living at the City Ground, interviewing players and the manager, Brian Clough. To this day, Martin O’Neill is still one of my closest friends in football. I was roughly the same age as the players at the time, and it was in the era when you not only commentated on the games, but you went for a few beers afterwards - so I became good friends with a lot of the side, and Cloughie became a big part of my promotion, as he gave me so much time for interviews.
If you love football, it becomes a major part of your life - and you can have the same attachment to a football club or a player as you do a friend or family member
You’ve had an incredible career in football since your time at UoN. What have been some of the most memorable moments?
One of the most important was early on in my career. I was at Radio Trent, it was my first job, and it was there that I really learned that you have to behave on other people’s terms, not your own - any organisation will have their own culture and agenda that you have to follow.
I was interviewing Martin O’Neill at the City Ground, when they were a mid-table Championship side, and we went into the first-team dressing room when all the players had gone home, looking for a quiet spot for an interview. Halfway through our chat, Clough came in and interrupted us, and stopped the tape. He said to me, “Young man, do you play for Nottingham Forest?” And I said, “No, Mr Clough.” He replied, “Then what are you doing in the Nottingham Forest dressing room? This is for the players of Nottingham Forest. It is not for anyone else.” It might seem a little pedantic, but he was making a very serious point: When you come into contact with another organisation, you abide by their rules. Even now, when I walk into the dressing room of a professional football club, I step across the threshold and peer up wondering if this apparition of the great man is going to turn up and tell me off… But it was fair enough at the time - I shouldn’t have been in there! It’s how you learn to become a professional in your career - you have to uncover lessons on the job.
After five decades in the sport, is your passion for football still as strong as ever?
Well, if you love football, it becomes a major part of your life - and you can have the same attachment to a football club or a player as you do a friend or family member. It stirs emotions. It’s the reason why this job is such an exciting one. When you’re broadcasting to thirty million viewers in a World Cup semi-final, you properly realise that passionate sense of connection that so many feel to the beautiful game. You can have debates about what football is now, or where you think it should be, or where it’s going wrong - but it will always win over hearts and minds like nothing else. You become someone else during games, and I think that state of fever that you get from the sport will never go away.
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