''And Solskjaer Has Won It!'' Clive Tyldesley, Man Utd And That Night In 1999

At the Camp Nou in May 1999, Clive Tyldesley said five words that would change his life...
11:05, 15 Jun 2022

Clive Tyldesley has commentated on some of the most iconic moments in football history. From World Cups to Champions League finals, he is the voice of the sport for a generation of football fanatics. Now, in a five-part series, he has talked The Sportsman through some of the most important matches across his career, from his unique perspective. All five games feature in Clive's series of Commentary Charts, which are now available as part of his latest business venture.

In this third part, he describes arguably his most famous night. 1999 Barcelona, Manchester United vs Bayern Munich in the Champions League final. Somehow, in the most crucial moments, he found the words that would define a generation of Man United fans. Here's how he saw it unfold. 

It was the most important night of my career. The late, great Brian Moore retired after the 1998 World Cup final. So 1998-99 was my first year as a senior television football commentator. I think I was probably still on trial, ITV had invested in my future, they had the Champions League contract, they needed two senior commentators. The likes of Martin Tyler and Alan Parry had been waiting for Brian to retire and had moved on elsewhere, so I was the next in line.

It was the climax of my first season as a senior football commentator on TV. It was my first 20 million audience. I mean, we just don't get 20 million television audiences anymore, they were a rarity back then. Twenty million, it was nearly half the country watching. If you mess up, well, I wouldn't be having this conversation with you now had I messed up that night.  

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I actually did mess up that night, because the first goal, scored by Bayern quite early, directly from a free-kick, Mario Basler... as it flew past Peter Schmeichel, a static Peter Schmeichel, I said "Deflected and in!"  It was only when I saw the replay that I realised it went straight in. I have it out with Schmeichel every time I see him because - who was the best individual player in that Manchester United team? 

You could make arguments for David Beckham, Roy Keane wasn't actually in the team that night, Paul Scholes, they were both suspended. Ryan Giggs, Dwight Yorke or Andy Cole you could make an argument for, but actually the best goalkeeper in the world at that time was Peter Schmeichel. Was Beckham the best midfield player in the world? Well, maybe not, Zinedine Zidane was around. But no doubt about it, Schmeichel was the best goalkeeper. And he messed up. He let it fly past him. I can only assume that it had gone past him because it was deflected, so, with a minute to go of my first major final as a senior commentator, there had been one goal and I had got it wrong. So thank goodness for Teddy and Ole because they saved me. 

David Beckham whips the ball in from the right hand side
David Beckham whips the ball in from the right hand side

I found some words for that extraordinary climax, and those words are part of people's memories. Certainly those who watched it on television, those 20 million who watched it. "Can they score, they always score," "Name on the trophy", "Solskjaer has won it" - yeah, they are things that I said at critical times that will always be part of the soundtrack when people watch those games back, and I feel very blessed for that to be the case. I feel very lucky and honoured to be a small part of people's recollections of that final. 

There is only one cardinal rule in commentary. That is not to call the winner across the line until the winner has reached the line. The Devon Loch rule. I broke it at that moment. If Bayern had gone down the other end and equalised, and it had gone to penalties and they had won, and they would have won because Germans always won penalty shootouts then, an effigy would have been hanging outside the Arndale Centre of yours truly. For that night, forever and a day. I'd have had half the Wythenshawe estate on my case.

It felt like the winner, obviously. I mean, sometimes you blurt those things out. You do it less so with VAR now funnily enough. But sometimes you blurt those things out and then you add - surely? But I didn't that night. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates the winning goal in 1999
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer celebrates the winning goal in 1999

We will talk about television images that you don't forget. This was an era where Germany and Bayern Munich were all powerful and a generation of English football fans had never seen German football fans reduced to disbelief in the way they were that night. Some of the close-ups of the Bayern fans at the end, it was like they had witnessed some terrible human tragedy - it really was - they were the expressions on their faces. The famous cameo of Lothar Matthaus, hugely decorated captain, the only thing that is missing from his collection to this day is a European Cup/Champions League winners medal. 

He came off almost to wash his hands to go and get the trophy. He came off with seven or eight minutes to play and the close-up of him sitting there helpless, when it got away from them. The image of centre-back Samuel Kuffour beating the ground in... not frustration, you couldn't call it frustration or even exasperation... in defeat. The victory that had been snatched away. 

Bayern hit the woodwork twice in the last 10 minutes. In the build-up to those two goals, Bayern hit the woodwork twice, they could have been three up and out of sight. It wasn't a great final to be honest, United didn't start playing until those last seven or eight minutes. You know the name on the trophy thing I came up with - people ask what was all that about? 

It was fate, it was almost as if this treble had been written in the stars. The penalty save that Schmeichel made from Dennis Bergkamp in the final minute of the FA Cup semi-final, to keep them in the FA Cup. The fact that on the final day of the league season they came from behind against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. Then, the semi-final of the Champions League where they were two down in no time in Italy and came from behind and won that. There was almost like a gathering narrative here that this is Manchester United's year, and I just said it. Almost like the name had been engraved on the trophy a couple of months earlier. 

That sense of wonderment was captured by the greatest post-match interview ever given by any football man - Sir Alex Ferguson - THE Sir Alex Ferguson's first reaction to Gary Newbon "Football, Bloody hell." As in, ‘don't ask me, I have no idea.'

My relationship with Alex Ferguson was a professional one that had a lovely personal backdrop. I knew and worked with one of his sons and actually stayed at the house in Wilmslow. And my predecessor Brian Moore had a really good relationship with him.

I'd like to think Sir Alex saw these commentary charts which I prepared for every game, which he took and hung in his office, and saw I was serious about what I do. I've had that kind of reaction from football people on a number of occasions through the years. If they can see that you are giving the proverbial 110 per cent to your job, which is what they are doing as a matter of course for their jobs, even though I can't pass 15 metres with any accuracy or power, there is respect. There's a respect that you take your job seriously and you do it to the best of your ability. I think that fostered a genuine friendship between us, but it was a friendship that was founded on his trust, his professional trust with me. 

I had the two biggest rollockings of my life from Sir Alex Ferguson. I kind of got away with it because I was innocent on both occasions. If I had ever broken that trust it would have been over. 

But I'll finish by saying this about Solskjaer's famous winning goal. It is a set piece. In 1999, if there was one footballer on the planet that you wanted to take that set-piece, it was David Beckham. In 1999, if you were playing a near-post corner, if there was one footballer on the planet that you wanted on the near post to flick the ball on into a dangerous area, it was Teddy Sheringham. And in 1999, if there was one player on the planet that you wanted to come off the substitutes bench to be alert and ready and good enough to take a difficult chance, it was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

That's not luck, that's talent.

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