Nobody delivers the game to the American soccer public quite like Jon Champion. As one of the United Kingdom’s most acclaimed and highly respected football announcers, he began working for ESPN in 2009 in the U.K. In 2019, Champion joined ESPN full-time and moved to the United States to be the lead play-by-play voice for Major League Soccer. He now calls games both for ESPN and NBC’s Premier League coverage.

Champion’s voice has been inseparable from English football for fans worldwide for two decades. Since the Premier League’s launch, his commentary graced countless top matches, becoming the unforgettable backdrop for the sport’s most iconic moments.

Champion will be on the call for Saturday’s FA Cup final. We recently caught up with him to discuss the second consecutive Manchester Derby in the FA Cup final, his role as the bridge to American soccer fans, and the possibility of Premier League games being played stateside.

Champion believes Manchester United’s priority should be reaching halftime without conceding, ideally while level or even with a lead. He’s concerned about conceding first, fearing it would mentally cripple United. City’s dominance in recent encounters adds to this worry. An early goal for City could spell disaster, so caution is crucial from the start.

He highlights United’s ability to hold strong against top teams this season, drawing some matches. He suggests replicating that stubborn, resilient approach to frustrate City.

At the same time, he acknowledges that this strategy is somewhat defensive, prioritizing damage control in the first half. While not a particularly ambitious plan, he believes it’s the most realistic option given the vast difference in quality between the two teams.

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

Awful AnnouncingDo you think this is Manchester United manager Erik Ten Hag’s last game no matter what, or could a win save his job?

Jon Champion: “I tend to think that a win probably wouldn’t be enough to save his job. There is a parallel of a Dutch manager at Manchester United. Louis van Gaal was in charge of the 2016 FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace, and he, like Ten Hag, had to deal with the season-long speculation over his future. They won the final on a Saturday. And on Monday, he was fired. I’m not sure it’ll be as quick as that with Erik ten Hag.

“But if you’re asking me to asses the odds, I would say I’d be more surprised if he is in charge at the start of next season than if he isn’t.”

What would it take for Man Utd. to win the FA Cup?

“Well, they’re a side that are great at producing moments in games. Their problem is they don’t produce 90 minutes of threatening football. So, if they could produce a couple of moments — and they have got some outstanding players in their ranks, mostly the likes of Bruno Fernandes, the captain, the young Argentine Alejandro Garnacho — they can produce a couple of moments and catch Manchester City off guard. And if City are maybe a degree or two under for whatever reason, maybe they’ve celebrated the Premier League title a little too vigorously, then there is that chance.

“If there’s one thing that the history of the Manchester Derby and whatever context has told us over the years, it is that surprising results (happen) from time to time. I’m not going into thinking that Manchester United is in any sense without hope, but I do see Manchester City as very strong favorites.

What would it mean for Mant Utd. to capture that moment?

“First of all, it would offer them European football next season because if they win the FA Cup, it’s a backdoor route to getting into the Europa League — the secondary competition. So, that would be good. It would help them to attract a better class of player over the summer, because at least they’d be able to offer them European football when they go out into the marketplace. It would be, I think a positive send off for Erik Ten Hag at the end of a difficult two-year tenure (assuming he does go). It would probably allow him to put it on his resume, and that helps in terms of getting his next job. If he does step away from Manchester United, he’s doing so on a positive note.

“I think the other context is just that Mancunian rivalry because it’s difficult to state strongly enough just what a football city Manchester is. Red against blue, City against United; the vast majority of the people that live there support one or the other. It’s a football-obsessed city. And I just think Manchester United have taken so much punishment at the hands of the neighbors (Manchester City) since they initially came up as a threat and then surged past Manchester United with all the Abu Dhabi investment.

“I just think that their fans are desperate for one good day against Manchester City, that they can hang their hats on for a while. There’s a bit of pride restored. I think, really, that if you’re a Manchester United fan, that’s what you’re hoping for. That they have one of those rare isolated good days against Manchester City. In much the same way when Manchester United were the dominant force, occasionally, Manchester City would have a good day, and their fans would celebrate that for years to come until the next one. Now, the roles are revered and that’s where Manchester United are on this.”

What do you make of back-to-back FA Cup final(s) being Manchester Derbies, and who does it mean more to?

“I think it means more to both of them. The fact that there’s a Manchester Derby rather than Manchester City against someone else or Manchester United against someone else, I think, adds significance to the occasion for them, as well, because of the aspect of local bragging rights. Manchester City they were originally the so-called ‘noisy neighbors’ when they first had this huge injection of cash and became the super club that they now are. They’ve taken over the entire neighborhood, and the balance has swung.

“So, Manchester United want to try to reject that balance to whatever degree they can. It’s strange, isn’t it? We’ve had FA Cup finals ever since 1872. This is the 143rd FA Cup final; last year, it was the first-ever Manchester Derby in an FA Cup final. And then, what do you know? 12 months later, we have another one — and a historical one at that. It’s the first time that the same two teams have contested the same final two years running since 1885. So, statistically, this is quite an unusual occurrence. I think it’s one that people are prepared to celebrate because we got the two great Manchester rivals at very different points in their cycles. Manchester City’s on top of the world, and Manchester United really, frankly, as low as they’ve been for an awfully long time.”

What do you make of Manchester City becoming the first team in 135 years of English football history to win four consecutive top-flight titles?

“In isolation, it’s a tremendous accomplishment. Hat’s off to them, and they’re probably — I think it’s difficult to say definitively because how do you compare eras? But they’re probably the finest team that the Premier League era has seen. The Premier League goes back to 1992. I don’t think we’ve seen a better team in that time. You could have arguments, debates, and ballroom discussions over whether Manchester City are better than the great Liverpool team of the 1970s or better than the great Manchester United team of the 1990s. But you’d never conclusively settle those arguments. But what you can say is that in the Premier League era, this is the greatest, consistent, sustained run of success that any team has had.

“And further to that, I do think that Manchester City are playing a brand of football that is more refined and is more consistently successful than anything we’ve ever seen in England before.”

What’s the difference between calling MLS games and games in England?

“I mean, I had for years calling MLS games while living in the U.S. and it was a great experience. But it was a very different experience to working in England, for which I did many years before and which I’m now doing again at this stage of my career. I suppose the biggest thing is the facilities. The fact that if we do the FA Cup final, there will be 30 cameras around the pitch and all sorts of bells and whistles — replay sources and nice angles and maybe a couple of wire cameras and steady cams on the side, which adds to the spectacle. Whereas with MLS, generally, we were restricted by budget, so perhaps you would get eight, nine, or 10 cameras on a game there. It’s also the fact that all the people who work on the English games are doing it maybe five or six times a week. So, they’re very much in the groove. That’s another difference.

“And, I think, as a commentator, because MLS is a relatively new league, there’s not a great deal of history. As a commentator and announcer, you’re engaged in being a storyteller, and sometimes, it’s a bit more difficult to find the stories in MLS because there isn’t as much history to go at. Whereas with the FA Cup final this week, I’ve already got a few things in my head. These are things that I can work into storytelling that are just not available to you if you’re doing MLS because it doesn’t have the back story yet.”

What do you make of the Premier League potentially playing games in the United States?

“I mean, I get the arguments. I get the arguments on both sides, really. The thing that concerns me about it is just that we have such a balanced season in the European League. In the case of the Premier League, you have 38 games, and you play 19 at home and 19 away. And home advantage is such a big thing in the sport that it concerns me slightly that you’re potentially undermining that balance in the league if you remove a home game from a team and, say, play in Florida.

“I just think there’s an awful lot of hurdles to be crossed, even though FIFA is gradually moving towards the point where they’re giving a sense to overseas league games being played in a particular territory. I think there’s a lot more thinking and talking to be done before we actually get to this stage of putting that into action.”

What’s your perspective on being the bridge to the American soccer fan?

“I mean, the first thing is that it’s a great privilege to be one of the voices that are regularly welcomed into people’s living rooms and across people’s devices in the U.K. I first embraced broadcasting, specifically for the U.S. audience, when ESPN hired me for the 2014 World Cup. It was an eye-opening experience for me because of the scale and also the extraordinary knowledge of the American soccer public about English football, which I think is widely underestimated.

“One of the things I like about broadcasting to America is that I can broadcast to America in the same way I would broadcast to the U.K. because you don’t have to worry about explaining things, particularly because the knowledge is there, and the appreciation is there. The other thing I really like about broadcasting to the U.S. audience and that they’re a very appreciative bunch by in large, and quite often, you’ll be at a Premier League game, and there will be U.S. soccer supporters who’ve made a big trip over to watch the game at one of the English stadiums, and they’ll come up and say how much they enjoy NBC’s coverage or ESPN’s coverage. And, you can have a bit of a chat with them.

“Whereas there’s a bit of a tall poppy syndrome in the U.K. whereby if you seem to be successful at what you do or you got some profile because of what you do, you’re in danger of having your head chopped off. That’s not the case with the American soccer public. They’re a much kinder, more appreciative group. So, it makes it a great job to have and one that I regard as a real privilege.”

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.