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Martin Tyler - Football's "New Normal"

Just as one season finishes, a new one begins. Almost unbelievably, the Community Shield has already taken place. The FA Cup final and the Community Shield both played in the same month. Bizarre!

We caught up with one of the most iconic commentators in football history, Martin Tyler, to discuss the “New Normal” in football. Martin has been commentating throughout Project Restart so knows first-hand what football in empty stadiums has been like.

“I had commentated on behind closed doors games before so I had an idea of what to expect”, Martin told us. “Maybe the players took a little while to get used to it. They were concerned about their match fitness in the early games.”

What about his own matchday routine, did that change at all? “The main difference was driving myself to games which was prescribed by Sky Sports and the Premier League as the safest way to travel.”

We put it to Martin that empty stadiums must have made his job harder. Did he have to generate more passion in his commentary due to the lack of crowd participation? “I had the fake crowd noise in my ears so there was an atmosphere”.

But was it an eerie experience being in a huge stadium with no fans? “I just felt very privileged to be in the grounds. The Premier League and my bosses at Sky Sports did a fantastic job to make Project Restart happen”. Most football fans would agree. Any football is better than no football at all.

Looking back at the games that took place after lockdown, there weren’t many surprise results. Was the predictability down to the fact that fans can be the difference for the underdog? Martin remarked that “the fans are all-important for all clubs. I do think the 5 subs rule helped the bigger teams and I am pleased it has been discontinued”.

Despite the positives of football being back, there have been suggestions that this experience has potentially demonstrated that match going fans could become secondary. What matters most is who is watching on TV and keeping the TV companies and sponsors happy. Martin disputes that theory. “Absolutely not. The pandemic has highlighted even more that fans are still the lifeblood of the game”.

We then tentatively moved on to the subject of VAR, arguably the most controversial issue in modern day football. Is Martin a fan? “VAR is a work in progress. Everyone involved knows that it can be improved”. We asked him whether it made his job harder as he has to fill commentary time while the reviews are taking place? “There is often a sense of anticipation about the outcome of a review so it’s not a problem”.

Every football fan knows Martin as one of the game’s all time great commentators but some won’t be aware that he is also the assistant manager of National League side, Woking, the club he has supported since he first fell in love with football. How does he juggle the two very different roles, especially on match days? “My commentary work always takes priority”, Martin insisted. However, it’s not unusual for him to head straight to Woking’s ground to catch the remainder of their game after he’s finished his commentary work.

Clearly the National League is a world away from the cash rich Premier League. The pandemic has impacted businesses financially all over the world and we asked Martin how long he thought lower league clubs would be able survive without fans or with restricted attendances? What can and should be done to support the lower leagues at a time like this? Martin responded that “it is a top priority to get fans into the grounds. The Football Supporters’ Association’s Sustain The Game campaign is spot on and I support it.”

The “Sustain The Game” campaign calls for urgent action from the authorities to protect the existence of clubs throughout the game. It is backed by supporter groups across the country as well as former players and politicians. See the link at the end of this article for more information.

Project Restart saw a few changes in football, such as the previously mentioned 5 subs rule. In the European competitions, the single match ties sparked some debate. We asked Martin what he thought of the revised format and whether it was something that could continue? “Like with the Premier League restart, it was a great effort by UEFA to conclude their major club competitions and they were rewarded with some thrilling games. But don’t forget the two-legged ties have produced great drama as well – Spurs v Ajax for example.”

To conclude our discussion, we asked the one question that surely every football fan would put to Martin Tyler…

Gary Neville or Jamie Carragher?

Ever the diplomat, Martin stated “I am very fortunate to work with both. Great guys and excellent analysts.”

Roll on the 2020-21 season.

Thank you to Martin for his time.