Kick It Out’s resident blogger Asif Burhan will soon be travelling to his fourth FIFA World Cup. He recently spoke to ITV’s lead commentator and Kick It Out Raise Your Game mentor, Clive Tyldesley, about his World Cup memories as he prepares to commentate on his seventh successive tournament in Russia.

In the first of a two-part interview, Clive discusses what it’s like to commentate at a World Cup, balancing patriotism with objectivity, diversity and stereotypes and swotting up on different footballing nations.


Clive, you have covered many competitions over the course of your career, what makes commentating on World Cup matches different to any other?

“I enjoy the different flavour of the tournament. When I first visited Cape Town in 2010, I came away determined to revisit with my wife as soon as I possibly could. They are the doors that covering a World Cup open. The memories are not specifically of matches but of experiences of travelling.

“Being in a town square in the middle of France when two completely diverse nations are playing in that town and seeing many thousands of supporters from both teams having a fantastic time together, exchanging their passion for football from totally different backgrounds and cultures, that’s the stage the World Cup provides”.

When you commentate on England, you must feel a sense of patriotism but how much are you conscious of not coming across as jingoistic or even insulting towards our opponents?

“It’s very important to commentate to your audience and analyse what your audience is. These World Cup matches this summer will routinely attract six, seven, eight million viewers. When England are playing, up to 20 million.

“I think it’s important to recognise you are talking to a mass audience, to a lot of people who will be watching their only football of the year. You have to recognise the vast majority of those people will want England to win. We’re in a wonderfully diverse nation now, but when England are playing the vast majority of people will have a genuine commitment to an England victory.

“I won’t be making a conscious effort to avoid saying ‘we’. I probably will get through most of the games without saying ‘we’. If I lapse into that, as long as I am showing objectivity as a commentator even though the grammar of it may make some viewers uncomfortable, I actually think I will be in tune with the vast majority of the viewers if I show and exhibit in my words a desire for England to be successful. I think that’s part of the broadcast”.

During World Cups, people often lapse into easy stereotypes about certain countries and the way they play. How difficult is it not to stray into stereotyping a country and its players, particularly when nations often have an inherit way of playing?

“I hate lazy stereotypes and I want that to be absolutely clear. Most of what we define as political correctness is correct. I think it’s important we are responsible as broadcasters, that we are sympathetic to the possibility of causing offence.

“I think it’s important that we have a wider view of whatever it is that we are covering than anyone else watching. We will inevitably be broadcasting to people with very narrow views and therefore we won’t please all of the people, all of the time. I think it’s important we try as journalists to be able to take a step back whatever the occasion be it a national or sporting event and see it in a balanced and reasonable way. That for me is what being politically correct is about.

“What I would add to that, and I hope that it would be seen against the backdrop of what I’ve just said, is that one of the strange things about the World Cup is that the national teams of the various countries very often reflect a lot of the stereotypical views that the rest of the world has of each of those individual countries.

“English teams do tend to play with more heart and drive and passion than they do with technical ability. It is just a fact. As much as successive coaches are trying to change and develop the style of play, it is still what a German side would expect when they play against us.

“Obviously, Kick It Out does everything in its power as a body to provide fairness of opportunity. We shouldn’t forget that we do have historically and culturally, differences which we’re very proud of and we should glorify in and obviously respect other people’s differences. I think those differences actually are very often exhibited during the course of a World Cup and I think it’s great. I think it’s glorious”.

Although the World Cup is seen as a tournament for everyone watching on TV, does it feel like that when you are there? Is there enough diversity in the stadiums and in the media rooms?

“I’m more interested in opportunity than numerical diversity and that’s a big part of my commitment to Kick It Out. I think there’s plenty of evidence of advancement of opportunity for people of all races and genders within media. Whether it’s happening fast enough for some is a nuance of the argument.

“When you are working in a country as distinctive as Russia then you’re going to see a different culture than the one you’re used to at home.

“One of the wonders of the World Cup is it does brings together nations who wouldn’t normally play against each other and so it brings together supporters and journalists who wouldn’t normally come together. That’s part of the worldwide appeal of football and this is the biggest worldwide stage for football”.

What international teams have caused you the most problems as a commentator, either through pronunciations or a lack of information about their players? In those cases, do you need to work with media from other countries to swap information?

“The job is becoming progressively easier in that sense. I’ve got Russia versus Saudi Arabia on the opening night. Even 10 years ago it would have been very, very difficult for me to get any informed intelligence on the Saudi Arabian national football team.

“I have a personal relationship with Mark Clattenburg who’s an advisor to the Saudi Arabian FA on refereeing matters so he’s put me in touch with a couple of journalists. They’re helping me with pronunciations, with information on players, with an overview of the part that football plays in the whole Saudi culture. That’s all fascinating research and research that I can now do.

“Most of the barriers are being broken down in terms of getting good information. It’s a very different job to the one I took on when I was first broadcasting live from a World Cup in 1994.”


In part two Clive speaks to Asif about his most memorable FIFA World Cup moments and his own professional mentors before looking towards the month of footballing action ahead.