20 years ago Manchester United won an incredible Treble, winning the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League. Some of those European nights were made all the more iconic by Clive Tyldesley commentary. The former ITV commentator spoke exclusively to SPORTbible.
'United have seen the away goal and they have raised it,' 'Manchester United have reached the promised land,' 'Can United score? They always score,' 'Name on the trophy,' 'And Solskjaer has won it!,' every Manchester United fan would instantly recognise those commentary lines.
For as iconic as much as the Treble season of 1998/99 was much of it was made even more so by Clive Tyldesley on commentary, we spoke to the former ITV commentator about that night in Barcelona.
What did you think of the Champions League final?
"The final was not a good game. They looked unbalanced with Ryan Giggs on the right and David Beckham in the centre. It was the obvious for solution for Sir Alex to bring Blomqvist in on the left in the absence of Scholes and Keane but it didn't really work. They were behind in six minutes and, whilst Bayern never dominated the match, they looked reasonably comfortable going into the last 10 minutes. They were a very practiced European campaigner, they had huge experience with the likes of Khan and Effenberg and Matheus. They were probably the last team in the world that you wanted to be a goal down to in a cup final."
How did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham's substitutions change the game?
"All I can say is that Ole's arrival in particular did change things. He didn't come on till about the 81st minute, he forced a save with his first touch, with a header, there were a couple of other half chances around that time, around 86/87 minutes, to the point that Ron Atkinson [on co commentary] actually said 'if they equalise they'll go on and win this,' he felt that there had been a momentum shift, that it maybe had come too late, but for the first time on the night United were carrying something of the threat that we had come to expect from them and obviously when you get into the anxious closing minutes then even a team as experienced as Bayern Munich might start to get a little nervous."
What do you remember about the goals?
"All I'll say about the goals is that they are two very skilfully taken goals. Amidst all of the mayhem in the penalty area with Schmeichel coming forward and people mishitting and miskicking the two finishes are wonderful. Terry Venables was in our studio that night and he knew Teddy Sheringham better than anybody and I'll never forget his post match analysis for the equalising goal. He said that any other forward in the world would have followed the ball and had his back to goal when Ryan Giggs mishit the shot from outside the penalty area which sent it back into the box but Teddy was side on and he said if he had his back to goal all he would have been able to do was lay it off but because he was side on, even though he didn't make the best contact with the ball, he was just helping it on his way, he was just wafting it into the net and that was just Teddy's footballing intelligence, a perfect illustration. That in it's own way, even though it was a scrambled goal, was a brilliantly taken goal.
"Then when you look at the finish for the winner. Beckham's delivery, you can count on. Sheringham winning it at the near post, you can count on. But Ole's body position isn't great. Why would it be? The ball's coming quickly to him, he's on his heels and he's just literally like a batsman he angles his foot, to almost deflect the ball up into the roof of the net. But it has to go upwards as well as forwards. In order to score he has to get some elevation. To come up with that angle, that reaction, when you're off balance, in that moment, in that situation tells you an awful lot about Ole as a finisher. It is supremely well taken goal. Two set pieces but nonetheless two quality finishes."
Do you think that Bayern already thought they had the game won?
"Mattheus had gone off the field, almost to wash his hands to get ready for the trophy presentation, Basler, who looked as if he was the match winner, had gone off cheerleading the fans, and there was a triumphant feeling about Bayern and their supporters at that time that was part of the story."
What were the scenes like at full time?
"There's a particularly apposite image of Lothar Matthaus sitting helpless on the bench with his socks down, as I say, having come off almost for a comfort break ahead of the trophy presentation. Knowing that this had slipped away from Bayern, because they were on for the treble too. And then Kuffour showing his frustration, anger and disappointment in a different, more dramatic way. in many ways for me the most haunting images on the German side that night were just the look on the fans faces. It wasn't even disappointment it was disbelief. It was shock that these mighty, confident German champions had allowed this to slip through their fingers in the way it had."
Was there a point where you felt that United were going to win the Treble?
"The Schmeichel save from Bergkamp, at some point the rest of us began to feel that this had been written and that this was now the fulfilment of some sort of biblical or Game of Thrones type prophecy that was starting to take shape. It doesn't guarantee you, it's not what actually takes you to the finishing line, but momentum is a great thing in football and if you start to think that things are falling into place for you in any situation then it does give you an extra impetus and extra belief. "
A lot of your lines in commentary are iconic but what made you say 'Name on the Trophy' and 'Solskjaer has won it' before full time?
"It's a contravention of the first rule of commentary, which is don't call a winner before you get to the final whistle. And had Bayern Munich gone down the other end and equalised, and it had gone to extra time and penalties, and they would have won it on penalties, then I'd have been looking for a job the next day. All of that stuff that people repeat back to me, it comes off the top of your head at the time and it certainly felt like he'd won it and I went with it, as with everything else, so it was written, he had won it.
"Things like 'name on the trophy' and 'Manchester United have reached the promised land,' they seem to fit now. I'm not sure why I said 'name on the trophy' except that that's how it had seen from the moment Schmeichel had saved Bergkamp's penalty and there had been so many 'name on the trophy' moments in the meantime that there was a certain element of some kind of prophecy coming true. Maybe the promised land thing just came from that, it seemed almost biblical, it was old rather than new testament."
Roy Keane was missing in the final through suspension but how incredible was his performance in the semi final second leg against Juventus?
"The Keane yellow card moment was extraordinary on so many levels. He was played into trouble by Jesper Blomqvist, he took one from the team, and he took the biggest one for the team that anyone could ever take and, rather like a top batsman who had been dropped on 99 he just took guard again and went on to make another 100. Honestly, the yellow card made no impact on him whatsoever, he just carried on as if nothing had happened and that was the focus and intensity in Roy Keane's game. It was almost as if someone needed to go and shake him and say 'you do know you're out of the final,' people say he played with even more determination I don't think he did. He just brushed it off like a speck of mud that had landed on his face and just went back into his groove and carried on playing like he had been playing before, which just tells you so much about Roy."
And what about his goal?
"It's a very good header, and a very good delivery, surprise surprise, but it's a very good header, a very skilful header. The lack of any jubilance, that sort of business like attitude towards football that Roy had, all those quotes we remember like 'We are just pieces of meat,' and all that stuff. I know him quite well as an individual and he's actually quite self effacing and a different type of person than you might imagine. He is competitive, he did play football as a professional, he shut down a lot of the emotions that can be distracting in any performance art or any performance industry and treated as a business and heading that goal was just part of it, he was just going to work and that's what he did. It's a very skilful header and whilst it was a very uplifting moment for Manchester United, again rather like the yellow card, he didn't blink, he just peeled away and ran back to the centre spot and went about trying to score the next one."
What does the Champions League final mean to you?
"I didn't kick a ball that night and I'm a very small part of the story but as with a memorable movie maybe I was the lead violin in the orchestra that played the soundtrack. Whenever the game is mentioned, the fact that probably 99% of people who watched and remember the game experienced it with us on ITV rather than live in the Nou Camp means that our commentary, and very much our commentary with Ron Atkinson alongside me.
"The late, great Brian Moore retired from broadcasting after the 1998 World Cup final. I had returned to ITV in 1996 with an eye to understoodying and eventually succeeding him. While my greatest mentor was another ITV commentator, boxing commentary, the late great Reg Gutteridge, Brian was something of a father figure to me in my career and so to pick up the baton from him at the start of that season was both very exciting and very challenging. Anybody in our business we can only work with the materials we're given and from the group stage onwards the material I was working with was sensational. ITV had exclusive rights to the Champions League at that time and I commentated on every single Manchester United match along the route from the start of the qualifying all the way to the Nou Camp. The final was the end of an extraordinary journey which had taken in the FA Cup, which we also had rights, and the Premier League title. In terms of my career it was my first year in a job I still hold and, not to put too fine a point on it, if I'd messed up those last three minutes we may not be doing this interview now. They'd have probably gone and found someone else."