“No fucking dumb questions”, said English TV Sports Presenter Clive Tyldesley at the University of Westminster’s Harrow Conversations.

Considering these opening words by one of Britain’s most iconic football critics, you can safely assume Clive Tyldesley has been asked his fair share of ‘fucking dumb’ questions.

The student audience at Harrow wold be making no such mistake.

The lively hour conversation was marred by other such profanities, which only seemed to captivate the audience more.

I am no football fan having been raised in a country where the national sport is rugby and where football has always played second fiddle. Despite this I found Clive Tydesley’s talk probably the most charismatic and brutally honest of all Harrow Conversations that I have attended.

It was not necessarily the content of Tydesley’s conversation, but rather he knew his audience and appropriated his manner to suit his younger crowd. The words ‘know your audience’ were repeated numerously, and Tydesley is evidently comfortable in talking to a live broadcast of 8.9 million as he is speaking to a crowd of 30 students.

“Good communication is inclusive”, Tyldesley repeated.

Clive Tydesley is an impressive figure. Most students of broadcast journalism aspire to be at his level one day. On paper he seems to have the epitome of a perfect broadcast career. Since 1998 Tydesley has been the main football commentator for ITV. He has commentated on eleven Champions League finals, many FA Cup Finals and numerous World Cup and European Championship matches. He initially began his career in radio before joining Liverpool’s Radio City in 1997 and then moving into sports. He counts football legend Andy Townsend as not only a collogue but a friend, and he commentated on the poignant friendly match between England and France on Tuesday.

The job of a live football commentator is much more multifaceted than one might originally presume. For the two hours that we listen to on a Sunday, weeks of preparation have been in place. “Good preparation is a commentators safety net”, said Tyldesley.

His role is not to dictate or even inform what we see on the screen, the cameras do that for us. Rather, Tyldesley has to carefully enlighten his audience as to the context of the match, the players, the formations and tactics of each team, without of course overstating the obvious. He also needs to have an immense amount background knowledge on the players, the team itself and even the coach. For someone who cannot boast ever having played football at a professional level it is a vast amount of knowledge that must be learned. A live football commentator has to be of the right opinion, have the right essence and communicate to those who do not know as much about the subject as others. And of course if there is even the slightest of glitches a swarm of social media criticism will soon be followed.

But for all of that, Clive Tyldesley loves his job. It is really evident from someone like myself in the audience who has no particular aspirations to even go into broadcast, let alone in sports presenting, that Tyldesley has a real drive and passion to communicate to his diverse audience the game and nature of football.

“Don’t communicate to your manager, communicate to your grandma” he said.

He is not a presenter who creates a divide in his audience. Rather, he attempts to communicate to every one of his 2 million listeners, be it the granny at home who is watching football for the first time, to the fanatic who has seasonal Arsenal tickets.

“Know your audience” he said again. “In mass communication we must communicate with the back row of the class”.

It really was a captivating talk from the man who is considered the voice of football for many of England’s listeners. Tyldesley gave us just the right amount of information regarding his career to not seem tedious or over indulgent, with the perfect amount of confidence to not seem arrogant.

 

“Know your audience” he said again as his parting words, “their profile, characteristics and spread. And always ask yourself, what’s the story?”.

The final sentiment of an hour long conversation, undergrads and postgrad journalism students alike went back to their classrooms with a new profound respect for their tutors and their constant plaguing and dissection of our work. “What’s the story?” suddenly had a whole new meaning.

Words: Catherine McMaster
Image: Catherine McMaster

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