“A major verbal punch to the nose.”
Clive Tyldesley has recalled having a run-in with legendary Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson ahead of a crucial Champions League game.
For fans of a certain vintage, Tyldesley was the soundtrack to United’s greatest season. As ITV’s main football commentator, he added colour and drama to the club’s Treble season.
His immortal soundbites include, ‘Roy Keane with a captain’s goal for Manchester United’, ‘full speed ahead Barcelona!’ and, of course, ‘AND SOLSKJAER HAS WON IT!’
However, like so many of his media contemporaries, Tyldesley incurred the wrath of Ferguson.
It was November 1998 and United were in Barcelona to play the Catalan giants in the Champions League group stages.
The clubs had produced a thrilling 3-3 draw in the group opener at Old Trafford in September, and with two wins and a draw in the intermittent three games, United needed to avoid a defeat to keep alive their hopes of reaching the knockout rounds.
Prior to the game, however, Tyldesley crossed paths with Ferguson. Speaking to the Football Ramble, the commentator recalled the incident.
“I didn’t know it was coming,” began Tyldesley.
“There is quite literally shock and awe, shock that I’d walked into this, a major verbal punch to the nose, and awe at the scale and intensity of it.
“Mine [hairdryer treatment] didn’t last very long. You don’t argue back, even though I did have an argument back, it was a total misunderstanding and I hadn’t really crossed him, but his perception at that moment was that I’d crossed him badly.
“It wasn’t the time to point out that he was wrong, so I took it on the ears for the 15-20 seconds that it lasted. I guess I went bright red, I did feel as though my body temperature had risen a few degrees.
“And then I made my exit. I’d only just arrived in a taxi with the lovely Bob Wilson to receive the private insight track briefing that Sir Alex very kindly gave commentators before a major Champions League game.”
Clive Tyldesley on his run-in with Alex Ferguson.
Providing the context for Ferguson’s angry tirade, Tyldesley explained that he had read Hugh McIlvanney’s preview of the Barcelona-Manchester United. In the book, the legendary Scottish journalist – who co-wrote Ferguson’s 1999 book Managing My Life – said the manager was considering playing Wes Brown ahead of Phil Neville at right-back in order to deal with the aerial prowess of Rivaldo.
“I read between the lines, I knew the relationship Hugh had with Sir Alex, so I had Wes Brown on my teamsheet.
“Unbelievably, the night before, I was in a hotel in Barcelona and got into a lift, and who got in with me but the late Neville Neville [Phil and Gary’s father].
“Lovely man and from ground to whatever floor we went up to, Neville confided in me that Phil was concerned he might be left out of the team. All I said to him was that if, and I definitely used the word I-F, he is left out of the team Nev, it will only be because Rivaldo is tall and he might prefer Wes just for this game.
“Well, Nev didn’t go straight to bed. He phoned Phil to inform him that Clive Tyldesley knew the team already and that he wasn’t playing, Wes Brown was playing in his place.
“So Phil told Gary and Gary confronted the manager at breakfast the next morning, you know what’s coming here, and said, ‘how come Clive Tyldesley knows the team and we don’t’. I didn’t know the team – I had only read the Sunday Times.”
Tyldesley subsequently “walked onto” Fergie’s hairdryer.
⏪ Barcelona v Manchester United 😍
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) March 26, 2019
Brown did, in fact, start the game ahead of Phil Neville, although it failed to keep Rivaldo quiet as the brilliant Brazilian scored twice in another scintillating 3-3 draw between the clubs.
United proceeded to draw 1-1 with Bayern Munich in the climactic group game, which was enough to see both teams progress to the quarter-finals before they eventually met once more in the final.
You can listen to Clive Tyldesley on the Football Ramble’s Book Club here (his Ferguson anecdote starts around four minutes in).