To many, Martin Tyler is the voice of the beautiful game that we call football, a voice heard in Champions League and World Cup finals- notably in the FIFA video game series too.

He’s amassed hundreds of thousands of minutes commentating games at the very elite level of the sport, but it is in non-league where he has spent just as much of his time, if not more.

Semi-Pro sat down with the icon himself in an exclusive 40 minute interview to discuss his love for Woking Football Club from the lens of a fan, a coach and a commentator. 

The fan

Family ties are normally the explanation for when football fans decide which club to hitch their wagon to, but this was not a sentiment Martin could follow.

He described his father’s family as “not sporting at all” while his mother’s side resided in his birthplace of Chester, not close enough for him to follow after moving to Surrey almost immediately after being born. 

Obvious options based on proximity would’ve been Fulham and Chelsea, two First Division mainstays in the 60s, but it was Woking that won Tyler over.

He explained, “It was a kid next door that took me. I was eight years old and we went on the bus at the end of our road which fortunately went straight to Woking’s ground.

“It was a case of ‘do you want to go to football?’ ‘Well yes’ and the rest is history really. I’ve often wondered what happened to the guy next door.

“We moved house not long after and I started getting the train to Woking by myself. Luckily my parents would pay for my rail season ticket so I could get to school, so I could keep using it on the weekends to get to the ground.”

His first two games as a fan was a 4-1 victory followed by a 4-1 defeat, teaching him a valuable lesson in the highs and lows the game has to offer, a notion he has not forgotten since.

A couple of years into supporting the club, Tyler recalled the moment which stuck out the most in his memory when following The Cards.

“I think I probably would have been about 12 when we got to the Amateur Cup final and won 3-0.

“Funnily enough, quite recently I was visiting the goalkeeper who played in that game. He’s in his late 80s now.

“Most of that squad are sadly no longer with us now but the ones who are, we try to keep in touch with when we can.

“There were 71,000 at Wembley and it was a happy day.”

The game might be most important for the fact it was the start of many commentaries he would go on to do under the Wembley arch.

He recalled: “It was my first ever commentary because I went with a schoolmate who was a year younger than me and my dad could never take me because he was a shopkeeper.

“So my friend’s dad took us and I had to describe most of the match to him as he was so nervous that he couldn’t even bear to watch after 15 minutes gone in the second half, so I count that as my debut.”

His affinity to Woking would eventually offer the opportunity to upgrade his view of non-league from the gantry to the sideline, in unlikely circumstances.

The Coach

Tyler’s journey into coaching started at the age of 60, and in unlikely circumstances.

Since 2005 he has followed Alan Dowson to various clubs in the South-East, starting at Walton & Hersham. 

He recalled: “I met him by complete coincidence. He coached my son’s team and I started to help out.

“I was just a dad who was free on a Thursday at 5pm, which not a lot of dad’s were.

“The game has changed a lot since then so you’d see a game on most days a week now, but 20 years ago there weren’t many Thursday games then so I could help put cones out and what not.

“When he asked me to join him at Walton & Hersham I thought it would be for the programme notes. “ He joked.

A couple of hundred games later and Dowson, the man from Gateshead, had climbed into the National League South at Tyler’s beloved Cardinals.

Four years at Woking provided some memories that would stick out in an extensive archive of nostalgia.

“The playoff semi-final in 2019 was pretty special when we were 2-0 down at home to Wealdstone with 12 minutes to go and went on to win 3-2 in normal time. I watched it over the other day actually on YouTube and it’s goosebump stuff.

“I didn’t get to go to the final and it wasn’t as nearly as dramatic but we won.

“I was commentating on Brighton vs Manchester City on the final day at the same time and I told everybody not to tell me what was going on at Woking against Welling.

“Gary Neville showed me his phone at the end saying Cards are promoted and I went ‘God we’re playing Notts County’.”

He had commentated on Notts when they were a first division side in the 90s, and the next season he was shaking hands with County players after Woking had beat them 4-1, adding to the list of Chesterfield and Stockport in heroic wins for The Cards whilst Tyler was a coach.

His time as coach had realised many of the wildest dreams he would’ve had when he was supporting an amateur level team throughout his childhood.

He said: “It was strange in a way after being a fan for so long, but it was a privilege to do that.”

Tyler and Dowson left Hemel Hempstead in the summer after keeping The Beavers up on a short-term contract, and he’s not ruling out further coaching roles.

“When you’re nearer to 80 you’re just happy to be up and about. I’m about to do my steps in a minute actually.

“There’s nothing contractually obliged to say I have to join Alan wherever he goes.

“It’s a case of if he wants me there wherever he goes next and it works for me, I’ll do my best to help.

“When you’ve worked together for so long you argue from time to time, but at the end of the day he’s very much the boss.” He laughed.

The Commentator

A Sunday ritual for most Premier League fans would be to have Super Sunday on the TV and for Tyler to be describing all the action unfolding.

Although he never officially commentated on non-league games consistently, he’s had his fair share of mixing his work with his passion.

“I hadn’t done much until I got to do the FA Cup games.

“I did Woking vs Barnet which Woking won 1-0 live on Sky and then Millwall when we drew two all at The Den.

“WIth other teams I do the early rounds of the cup usually, York City this season in fact.

“It’s probably easier for me to do the games as I perhaps understand it a bit more having been a non-league fan and now a coach for the last twenty years.”

His love for the English pyramid holds no bounds.

“I don’t really separate it from the Football League and what I’m proud of as an English football fan is that the pyramid exists.

“It didn’t always exist. I remember when Woking couldn’t get relegated because every league was locked off from each other.

“Even when I was first working in football it was very different to what we’ve got now and it’s great how far we’ve come.”

In reflection of his career which has spanned 50 years, Tyler couldn’t pick out his favourite goal to commentate, nor would he want to.

He did consider what he would have done differently.

“I often wonder what I would have done had it not panned out this way, but it has.

“There’s one or two things I would have done differently but not many.”

After leaving Sky Sports last year, Tyler continues to be a voice recognised globally, but his love for the game will always be rooted in the local level. A true footballing legend.