Fletcher will be in the comment box for Saturday's final between Manchester City and Inter Milan. Photo: Andrew Fox
Like most commentators, Darren Fletcher has his own rituals. He rewatches every game he works on, ideally before going to bed that night. That is his intention on Saturday when he will be covering his eighth Champions League final, despite the fact that the match starts at 22:00 in Istanbul.
There is another tradition before the European Cup final. “As a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, he always took me to football games,” he says. Grandpa Horace, who died almost 20 years ago, never missed a broadcast when Fletcher was on the radio. “When I first started doing my job, he was the proudest man in the world.
“On the final day of the Champions League, I always go to the commentator position a little earlier than everyone else, and just sit down and spend 10 minutes with him.” Here his voice is clinging, and it seems that he is ready to cry.
We meet in a large gastropub outside Nottingham, where Fletcher knows the owner and the menu. This is where they make high-end ham with egg and chips (Fletcher) and spinach and pumpkin nut dumplings (Gibbs, I panicked).
He speaks with the precision you've come to expect from a BT Sport mainstream voice since its launch ten years ago, and with a remarkable ability to pick up right where it left off when it was interrupted. However, he doesn't rate himself in one important area. “I am not the most confident person in this regard. I don't speak English very well, I'm quite a normal well-rounded child.
“If I could improve myself, it would be so. But I don't think I have that skill set.”
Despite this, or perhaps because of it, he finds a way to capture the most important football moments. There has been a lot during his time with BT Sport covering the Champions League. Return of Liverpool against Barcelona, Spurs against Ajax, Chelsea reaching the final in 2021. Fletcher was there for all of them, and his comments have an unpretentious edge over colleagues who may seem more contrived.
Consider his handling of Spurs winner Lucas Moura in Amsterdam in 2019, a moment that needed no embellishment. (Click on the video below to play the commentary.)
“Here's Dele Alli, here's Lucas Moura”, then moving up to a higher register he has never reached since: “Oh, they did it! I can't believe it! Lucas Moura with the final blow of the game “Ajax players fall to the ground. Tottenham Hotspur reach the Champions League final.”
“I just didn't expect it to happen at all,” he says. “But if I could come back and do it again, I wouldn't do it.” What would he do differently? “Perhaps use better words. Probably better.”
“It was a very emotional year for us because of what happened to Glenn,” he says, referring to Hoddle, who suffered a heart attack at the BT Sport studio earlier that season. “Glenn was with us that evening in Amsterdam, and subconsciously I must have realized how important it was for him when he scored the goal. Next to me was Jermain Jenas, a Tottenham player, his emotions were clear, he was in tears. And I just screamed like crazy.”
Few changes are expected in the short term as BT Sport rebrands as TNT next month and Fletcher will only praise his co-stars Steve McManaman (“One of my best friends, an absolute joy”), Lucy Ward (“Revelation this year. She was gorgeous”) and Robbie Savage, with whom he duoed on 606, and Soccer AM rivals Fletch and Sav. “Everyone who was near me and with him was always on the verge of a quarrel with one of us.”
His work brought him closer to the players who received the garlands, which is useful for son Luca, who is 14, and in the Nottingham Forest books. He struggled to master the skill his coach named after Frank Lampard, so Fletcher introduced them at the game and Lampard showed him how to perfect it in the parking lot.
More recently, Luca wanted to improve his header and Fletcher Sr. was able to ask Rio Ferdinand. “He said, 'When I played with Vidic, he did this.' He never thought about the opposition. He used to be in the right starting position and then only see the ball.
“Luca tried, barely missed a header in his box and scored three goals in five games.”
Sounds impressive parenting, which Fletcher felt improved by the absence of a father. He left the family when Fletcher was five years old, and Fletcher is frank about his feelings. “It pissed me off when I was a teenager. It probably robs you of some of your self-confidence, makes you a little more vulnerable. I think it has made me a better father and a more dedicated person. But I think it gives me a tougher look. It makes it hard to get to me.
“When someone like that hurts you like this, the door comes down. But there are people in the world who are worse off than me, and this jerk is not around.”
It's a hard-won perspective that shapes his worldview. He constantly tells me that he doesn't need compliments from other people, but it should be noted that he is a man at the top of his game.