Clive Tyldesley Lifts Lids on Iconic Commentary From the 1999 Champions League Final

​‘Can Manchester United score? They always score.’

‘Cleared. Giggs with a shot…Sheringham.’

‘Name on the trophy.’

‘…and Solskjaer has won it.’

‘Manchester United have reached the promised land.’

These are the iconic highlights from one of the most famous few minutes of commentary in English football history. Up there to rival Kenneth Wolstenholme’s legendary ‘They think it’s all over…it is now’ in 1966 and Martin Tyler’s cries of ‘Agueroooo’ from 2012.

It is, of course, the 1999 Champions League final as Manchester United completed the third and final leg of their historic treble, and that voice belongs to Clive Tyldesley.

As ITV’s senior commentator, Tyldesley is synonymous with the Champions League in the UK. He has worked on 17 finals in all, starting in 1998, but those in 1999, 2005, 2008 and 2012, all of which were won by English teams, remain among his best known work.

“Champions League is in my blood, really,” he told 90min in the latest episode of Voices of Football.

“The 1999 final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich came at the end of my first season as ITV’s senior commentator. Brian Moore had retired after the 1998 World Cup finals, so that was my first season as number one.

“Even though they had brought me into the organisation, back from the BBC two years earlier, specifically to understudy Brian with an eye on looking to the future, such was the portfolio that ITV had at the time, that had I not been up to the job they would have replaced me.

“In many respects, broadcasting to 20m people, and broadcasting that climax of that final to that number of people – if I’d have messed up, you wouldn’t be talking to me now.”

The story of the game is well known. Manchester United, having pulled off an unlikely win in the semi-final second leg against Juventus just to be there, had won both the Premier League and the FA Cup in the preceding 10 days and were seeking the first ever treble by an English club.

Meeting Bayern Munich in Barcelona, Alex Ferguson’s team, without suspended pair Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, found themselves trailing inside the first few minutes as a result of a Mario Basler free kick. Bayern later hit the post and the bar, but ultimately failed to extend their lead.

Substitute Teddy Sheringham then grabbed a desperate equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time, swinging his leg at a weak shot from Ryan Giggs and directing the ball into the bottom corner. Moments later, Sheringham flicked on a corner and fellow substitute Ole Gunnar Solskjaer instinctively stuck out a boot and diverted the ball into the net past Oliver Kahn.

“It was a really poor final,” Tyldesley recalled. “It was a big game for me – and I did feel a little bit of pressure – but it was quite reassuring to have Brian with me. We travelled to the Nou Camp together that day, it was boiling hot in Barcelona. I was there ridiculously early.

“There’s something about an empty stadium before a big occasion, which is very, very atmospheric. I quite enjoy those moments alone several hours before a game, before they open the gates. It’s almost part of the build up as much as doing all the preparation you do beforehand.”

Commentators are often asked how they prepare themselves to deliver their iconic lines, and Tyldesley offered: “The classic answer is ‘how can you prepare anything for a match which isn’t great for 85 minutes, where Manchester United’s dream is ebbing away, and they make a couple of substitutions and score in the 91st and 93rd minute?’

“You cannot prepare for that. What you can prepare for, and what you should prepare for, is to editorially think through ‘what victory will mean for Manchester United tonight, what defeat will mean for Manchester United tonight’, and put together some strands of thoughts.

“Not precise words,” he explained. “Not ‘Manchester United have reached the promised land’, but something which is almost biblical – the event has that slight melodrama about it because it’s so unreal. How they got there, how the game evolved.

“Even though the actual phrase comes off the top of the head, the thinking that goes on beforehand can get you ahead of the game. In that sense, no it’s not something that has never happened before, because great football matches have happened before.

“I think about football commentary as broadcast journalism. And journalism is about: what’s the story? There will be a story, an old fashioned tale that we’ve got to tell.

“I always think that if I’ve done my job well, then what I’m saying towards the end of the game will be the kind of thoughts that will appear on the back page of the newspaper on the news sites the next morning. Somehow, we’ve got a grasp of the significant and the importance of the story.

“I think you can prepare for those things in advance.”

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