Martin Tyler, the understated but authoritative British play-by-play voice of ABC/ESPN's World Cup telecasts, is grateful the tournament has been well received in the United States. But he has avoided reading comments about his work, good or bad.
"There's been some nice things said. The privilege is mine to be in this seat holding the microphone," he said during a conference call Thursday. "It's just a joy to do it if you feel you're giving some pleasure.
"It's the players that give the pleasure. It's reflected glory. It's my job just to make sure everybody understands as much as I can impart."
The 64-year-old native of Chester, England, has called the action with passion and just the right pitch to his voice to convey context without forcing emotion. Americans have come to recognize his voice during the tournament, which has averaged a 1.9 household rating (up 36% from 2006) and 2,984,000 viewers (up 45%) through the semifinals on the ESPN networks.
To Tyler, the semifinal match between the Netherlands and Uruguay wasn't merely good, it was "an eventful match with some glorious goals." And the misplay by England goalkeeper Robert Green against the U.S. in the teams' first-round draw wasn't a mistake, it was "one of the softest goals you'll ever see at this level of football. It doesn't often happen in schoolboy play."
He pulls no punches, and although this is his ninth World Cup assignment he retains the enthusiasm of a novice. He blends that with encyclopedic knowledge and a love of the game so deep that when he's not describing English Premier League and Champions League games for Sky Sports, he serves an assistant coach for low-tier Kingstonian in the Isthmian League Premier Division.
Tyler, a former college and semipro player who got his first broadcasting break filling in on a regional network's Second Division telecast, will call Sunday's championship game between Spain and the Netherlands in Johannesburg alongside analyst Efan Ekoku. It can be seen on Channel 7 at 11:30 a.m. PDT and will be preceded by a one-hour pre-match show.
Tyler resolved before the World Cup began not to change his style for supposedly soccer-ignorant Americans.
"The truth is any audience for the World Cup consists of a huge extra dollop of people who wouldn't watch regularly games in any country, and that goes for my own country, in England and around Europe," he said. "So you're always looking to help those who have just come to visit this wonderful spectacle."
Tyler said he favors Spain on Sunday but would consider it "just a marginal surprise" if the Netherlands should win.
"Spain has been nearly setting the agenda and reminding us all that the actual game is a passing game, a team game, and they've played well as a unit," he said. "They haven't been over-spectacular but they've been very consistent and they've been a joy to watch. Efan and I had the privilege of watching them dismantle a really exciting German team [Wednesday] in Durban. To do that, they have to be very good."