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Martin Tyler:

Anything can happen

Tyler's Diary: Part I: remembering an unlikely commentary debut

Martin Tyler - Martin Tyler Posted 6th June 2012 view comments

It was June 16, 1976.

I was working as an editorial assistant for London Weekend Television on London's South Bank, picking out hopefully the right pieces of action for a highlights programme of a semi-final of the European Championship.

Lewington & Hodgson: attention to detail

Lewington & Hodgson: attention to detail

I was assigned the first half and had finished my package just before the second half had finished. The game between Czechoslovakia and Holland was level at 1-1. Extra time loomed. We had planned for this. I would now be responsible for trimming down the first period of 15 minutes for the edit.

Because the game was not live Brian Moore, the commentator on site in Zagreb, had paused during the break before extra time began. He would resume at the re-start and he certainly did.

At 11pm at night I was the only possible option. Not even in the chorus line, now I had to take on the main role, or at least its part in the last act.

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The problem was that no one could hear him. The sound line had gone down. In my editing cubicle we saw the action, heard the roar of the crowd but not a peep from Brian.

Jeff Foulser, now a top independent television executive in his own right, was my youthful but senior ally that night. He popped his head in and said "the boss buys you!"

I had dipped my feet tentatively in the commentary waters at that stage and was very much at the novice stage. But at 11pm at night I was the only possible option. Not even in the chorus line, now I had to take on the main role, or at least its part in the last act.

Jeff himself did the editing. I watched extra time which was rich in drama. The Czechs scored twice to knock out the Dutch, who were a sensational team and reached the final of the World Cups either side of this tournament. The Welsh referee Clive Thomas took his tally of red cards in the match to three, with Holland finishing with nine men.

By now the programme, hosted by the famous World of Sport presenter Dickie Davies, was on the air. I was given a desk with a monitor and a microphone. After the highlights of the regulation time were screened Dickie announced that the link to Brian Moore in Zagreb had been lost, and that the commentator for the highlights of extra time would be Martin Tyler.

The rest was a blur and I am not sure how many people were still watching, certainly none of my friends or family.

So it was not in a stadium and the pictures were not live, though my words were, but that was my debut in the competition which is about to take over our lives for the next three-and-a-half weeks.

Field

The Dutch and the Czechs are there again in what seems to me to be an open field.

In 1976 the European Championship had just four teams at its finale. Now there are 16 and as Greece showed in 2004 it is foolish to discount any nation involved.

The next tournament in France will have 24 participants which I believe is a detrimental though democratic step. Steven Gerrard said recently that the Euros are harder to win than the World Cup. His valid point is that there are no easy or predictable games in a format of 16. Widening the base will change that.

So no predictions from me save to say that England will benefit from the general lack of expectation compared to previous over-optimism on the eve of major championships.

Roy Hodgson has served his time and deserves the chance to show whether his considerable coaching expertise can cross bridges for England which have been barriers too often. Ray Lewington, his assistant, is another believer in attention to detail.

All of us at Sky Sports wish the very best for Gary Neville who has been fantastic to work with over the past season. He has imparted a lot of wisdom from his world and made us all better listeners!

It starts against France and I have studied their three warm-up games very closely. In simple terms the French are very good with the ball but not so clever without it. You could argue that England are the opposite. It should be enthralling.

With the wonderful Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the London Olympics to come a good showing by the one British nation in Poland and Ukraine would be very timely. Good wishes to the Republic of Ireland as well.

And if you are feeling less than positive I can only point you to the last two occasions I was commentating for Sky Sports, the five minutes which took Manchester City from chokers to champions, and the extraordinary finale to Chelsea's campaign in the Champions League. Seeing was definitely not believing!

Remember also what fell my way in those television studios 36 years ago. It shows that anything can happen...

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