When England’s players were being racially abused in Bulgaria and the TV cameras captured a look of bemusement on Raheem Sterling’s face, commentator Clive Tyldesley asked millions of viewers: “What must he be thinking? I can never know. This will never happen to me.”
Tyldesley has been striking the right note on our screens for more than 35 years.
And as he goes into his 13th major international tournament hoping Gareth Southgate can bring an end to 55 years of hurt, he is well placed to talk about the England manager and the controversy that surrounds the national team over their determination to take the knee to highlight the fight against racism.
Tyldesley, 66, knows the subject is a minefield.
In his new book, ‘Not for me Clive, he devotes an entire chapter to the subject under the heading ‘Big Ron.’
Tyldesley was on the microphone when Ron Atkinson used the worst kind of racial slur to criticise Marcel Desailly.
He was at Goodison Park in 1988 working on a Merseyside derby for Liverpool’s Radio City when a banana was thrown at John Barnes.
And he was in the Selhurst Park commentary box when Eric Cantona’s kung-fu kick delivered instant retribution to an abusive Crystal Palace fan.
Tyldesley feels that the furore around taking the knee is being mistakenly construed as a black and white issue, with no shades of grey.
He said: “When it comes to the issue of taking the knee, the only people we haven’t heard from are the people who are booing.
“There has to be an appetite and initiative to reach out to these people and ask them exactly what their issue is.
“Instead, we have a group of well-positioned commentators pontificating on the subject despite the fact that they will probably never meet the people they are offering an opinion on.
“How do we know what they are trying to say if we don’t ask them?
“The argument against racism should be the easiest thing in the world to win because it’s about a fundamental human right.
“But I don’t think the conversation about how we tackle the issue is really happening.
“You are construed either as woke or an infidel.
“People are so certain about their views that if you don’t agree with them they will cast you into the fiery inferno.”
Tyldesley added: “I think I have a duty as a human being to ask what it’s like to be black? What’s it like to not know where the money for your next meal is coming from? What’s it like to be disabled? What’s it like to be gay?
“Empathy is trying to walk in the shoes of others. That’s all any of us can do.
“When I was writing the book, I was mindful that someone could take half-a-sentence and turn it back on me.
“But communication is more important than ever at the moment. We need open discussion. We can’t just ignore people we don’t agree with.
“The one thing we should have learned over the last few years is that if you ignore the disenfranchised then one day they will come back and bite you.”
Southgate has been steadfast in his support of his England players taking the knee during the Euros despite the negative response of some supporters in the two warm-up games in Middlesbrough.
Ironically, the England manager scored Palace’s equaliser on that infamous night in January 1995 when Cantona decided to take his own retribution.
Southgate is close to Tyldesley, to the point that he was a guest at the commentator’s wedding when he married his wife Susan.
Tyldesley said: “I certainly wouldn’t try to claim Gareth is the best coach in the world, but he is the best England manager I’ve seen.
“We’ve seen what his strength is over the last week in the way he has supported his players and given them a stable platform to perform.
“With Gareth, what you see is what you get. He isn’t presenting a PR image.
“Our national football team is in the hands of a thinking man, a compassionate man, a sensitive man, a diplomat.
“He leads in a very 21st century way. We’ve seen him clinch his fist when England scores a goal. But at the same time, he won’t ceremoniously kiss the badge.
“The danger is that we tend to get bored with our England managers and use the qualities that they possess as a stick to beat them with.
“So please, if we get a bad result, let’s not put up a cross and get the nails out.”
* Clive Tyldesley’s book ‘Not for me, Clive’ is published by Headline.