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 fourth part, he describes the comeback to end all comebacks. His voice is synonymous with the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul, when Liverpool came back from the dead to win their fifth European Cup. He takes us through the chaotic night that would define Steven Gerrard’s career, from his own unique perspective.
It was the height of ITV in the Champions League. If you were of a certain age, then you will remember a time when every Champions League game that mattered was live on Tuesday or Wednesday night only on ITV. When the first face you saw was Des Lynam or Gabby Logan, and I had Andy Townsend, a really great friend and really great co-commentator in the post Ron Atkinson era.
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So ITV were by that time sharing the rights with Sky, the famous Steven Gerrard goal in the group stage which got Liverpool into the knockout phase is famous for Andy Gray bursting all over Martin Tyler's commentary with 'YOU BEAUTY!' That game was on Sky, but the semi-final, the infamous semi-final against Jose Mourinho's Chelsea - the ghost goal, they were both live on ITV with Andy Townsend and myself.
Since I'm giving you background, I'll tell you why Andy Townsend really mattered to me and to ITV. He was as serious about his broadcast career, and still is to this day, as he was about his football career. The night of the semi-final, we went back to a hotel in Liverpool, Andy and I together. He was fuming. He was fuming that we didn't have a camera angle which showed definitively whether Luis Garcia's goal had crossed the line.
Our director, the guy who calls the shots at the game, the person who decides which camera angle you see, is the most important person in an outside broadcast. We had the nicest man in the world, as well as one of the finest directors, John Watts. Nobody ever fell out with John Watts, you couldn't fall with John Watts. Andy laid into him when we got to the hotel, gave him a real bruising. It took John to take five steps back and explain that Liverpool wouldn't release the seats that would have needed to come out to have an 18-yard-box camera which would have been good for crossing the line. We just couldn't put the camera in. Obviously, Champions League games came in at two weeks' notice back then. He managed to eventually appease Andy.
But Andy was alongside me at the Ataturk Stadium, which is not in Istanbul, it's about 20 miles outside Istanbul. It's in the middle of bloody nowhere to be honest! Really odd stadium with no atmosphere at all, but boy did Liverpool dress it that night. The pictures from the night of all the red flags and scarves are amazing and Andy and I spent the half-time period moaning about Rafa Benitez and the team he had picked.
I was actually researching record defeats in European Cup finals, because Liverpool were 3-0 down going on 33. Milan scored their third goal on the stroke of half-time - it was out of the heavens. It was the most beautiful goal you will ever see. Kaka's turn and through ball and Hernan Crespo's little dinked finish. It was like 'let's all go home, you can have the cup. We just don't need any more of this.’
So we spent half-time trying to work out when a team had last lost a European Cup final by 15 goals to nil, and Rafa spent half-time trying to reorganise his team in a totally chaotic tableau which I've discussed many times with Jamie Carragher who was in there, Djimi Traore was substituted and went into the shower and then Steve Finnan had a bit of an injury so Traore was called back in. Finnan had a big row with Benitez because he didn't want to come off, Didi Hamman was coming on but nobody quite knew who was coming off. Rafa gave a team talk with counters on the board, and somebody pointed out 'You've got 12 counters on the board boss,' then he took two off and they only had 10!
So, how did they do it? Why did I say “Hello, Hello” when Steven Gerrard headed the first goal? I don't know. It was the biggest clutch of a straw I've ever made in my life. There was nothing whatsoever to suggest that two more would have followed in the next six minutes. But a little bit as with Manchester United in 1999, and the two sets of fans will hate the comparison, there was a bit of ‘name on the trophy’ about Liverpool that year. It wasn't a great Liverpool team, they played much better two years later against Milan and lost. But it was almost as if it was their time and their year. So 'Hello, hello, here we go' - here they come, you never know with this lot. Six minutes later, mission impossible was accomplished.
It is difficult when people ask me “What is your favourite ground to commentate on football?'' I mean, Anfield on a European night is special. I was in local radio around Merseyside and then in regional TV in the Wirral, across the Mersey from Liverpool. Liverpool kind of became my adopted hometown and I have some wonderfully happy memories around Everton Football Club and indeed Tranmere Rovers Football Club. But Liverpool is unique, it is unique as a city. It is almost the independent kingdom of Merseyside. The football club is unique. It has been fashioned in part by tragedy.
In Brussels I counted bodies. That was how reporting was done in 1985, you had to go there and find out yourself. I'll never forget that night. Then in the wake of Hillsborough, a young guy went to that game and never came home who wanted to be a commentator. I'd shown him around the radio station, Ian Whelan. So, I'm not a scouser, I'm a Manc, the worst kind of adversary, but that is a very, very different city. Yeah, they sang You'll Never Walk Alone because that is what they do. Did any of them really believe they were coming back into the Champions League final? Not on your life. It just wasn't happening. It really wasn't. They had an awful first half.
You know, they didn't get an awful lot better at 3-3. Milan were still the dominant force, Traore made a goal-line clearance, Jerzy Dudek made a save from Andriy Shevchenko he could never explain to you in a million years, Carra made a hundred blocks. Gerrard played three different positions that night, it was maybe the greatest individual performance I have ever seen him give, and that is saying something. When Serginho came on he went to right-back and looked after him. So to get through to penalties was an absolute miracle.
The picture of Shevchenko walking forward, he looked like he was walking forward to a firing squad. I mean, I said something about him, I didn't say he wasn't going to score, I was never going to say that, but I said "the weight of the world on his shoulders", and he just didn't want to be there. He really didn't. He took a miserable penalty.
Some people ask 'Do you prepare lines ahead of a commentary?' Of course you do. It is not cheating. That's research. You can't prepare lines for “Name on the trophy”, because you don't know the team is going to equalise in stoppage time. You can't prepare a line for “Hello, hello", because you don't know they are going to score three times in six minutes. But you know that one team or another are going to lift the cup at the end of the evening so a chart that has got the nature of the achievement, I think, is an essential for a commentator preparing for a cup final because you know one or the other is going to win somehow.
I think probably the line that a lot of people remember from the trophy lift is "The European Cup is back in Liverpool hands, and this time it's for keeps!" That was the fifth one, you get to keep the trophy after five. That was probably a line that I was pleased with, maybe even proud of, did it come off the top of my head? No, of course it didn't! I'd written that the night before!