Clive Tyldesley on commentary and social media
One of the key aims of the Klick It Out campaign is to raise awareness about the impact of football-related social media discrimination.
As part of a series running throughout our campaign, we’ve talked to fans, players and broadcasters, most of whom are united in both their love of football and their experience of discriminatory abuse on social media.
In our latest feature, Clive Tyldesley, ITV Football Commentator, discusses reaction to his commentary during the clash between England and Russia on Saturday 11 June.
When someone starts a sentence with the words, ‘no offence but…’, you know they are thinking about saying something that you may not like.
Offence is a personal thing. The funniest joke you’ve ever been told can be decidedly unfunny or, worse still, unacceptable to somebody else. The larger the audience you are talking to, the more scope there is for offence. When the audience consists of millions of people that you have never met then you have to try to be mindful of the fact that you don’t know their thresholds of offence. Going public involves going beyond your regular circle of friends. You leave yourself open to being misinterpreted and misunderstood by people that have no knowledge of your personality and values. There is a responsibility of care with the words and views that you broadcast.
I say a lot of things during the course of a commentary. Some of them work, some of them don’t. Most of them are a matter of opinion, a question of taste. As Barry Davies once said to me, ‘one man’s commentator is another man’s pain in the a**e.’ (yes, Barry said a**e!).
None of them are specifically designed to offend anyone, the huge majority come off the top of my head as the game unfolds. If you speak without a script for an hour and a half there is a decent chance that some of what you say will come out of that word that Barry said.
The other night I said, ‘justice for the England 11’ after Eric Dier had scored an overdue goal against Russia. It was probably a bit glib on reflection but you don’t get time to reflect much during live commentary. Some people liked it, some didn’t, some took great offence at it. To my complete shock, it was perceived by some Twitter followers to be disrespectful to the campaign for justice following the Hillsborough tragedy. That had never entered my mind. I don’t suppose that any of those that took such great exception to what was a throwaway line have met me. They may not be aware that I was working in Liverpool at that time or that I knew one of the victims personally and the daughter of another.
I know myself that it was an innocent remark because I know my own passionate feelings on the subject but I did make private contact with Andy Burnham and asked him to ascertain if the families, the people that really matter in this case, might have taken similar offence. My own feelings are not important but I was shaken by the thought that any connection might have been made by those most affected by the awful events of that day in 1989.
There are lots of things that I don’t like. I don’t like the way Donald Trump is trying to make political capital out of mass murder. I don’t like the Leave campaign playing on racial fears for votes. I certainly don’t like the way in which the festive atmosphere of this tournament is being trampled upon by a few hundred yobs. There are much bigger things afoot than my upset at a bit of criticism but taking offence is making a judgment and there is a mad rush to judge these days. Judgment of everything from substitutions to criminality; it is an instant blame and resign culture. I don’t like that either.
A big part of my involvement with Kick It Out stems from my strong admiration for the organisation’s commitment to fairness and equality. Our rush to judge others on the flimsy evidence of gender or skin colour or whatever else forms our first impressions is one of the biggest human mistakes and Kick It Out is dedicated to countering these tendencies through better education and understanding. When you understand someone else better, there is less scope for offence and the tensions it creates.
I could take offence at some of the vitriol thrown at me on Twitter but I try to take stock instead. Because I worked on Merseyside during the time of those dreadful events in Sheffield and Brussels, certain words took on a clearer meaning to me.
A commentator on a different channel described the two early Dortmund goals at Anfield in the recent Europa League epic as ‘disasters for Liverpool.’ We had all observed a respectful silence for the Hillsborough victims just minutes earlier. I never use ‘disaster’ or ‘tragedy’ in a football context during commentary.
I don’t think anyone has a monopoly on the word ‘justice’ but perhaps it has taken on a different significance for some people since the long fight for it by the Families’ Support Group. I understand that.