Arlo White is, apparently, not interested in rest.
After a busy season calling Premier League matches for NBC Sports, White is heading to the U.S. to announce Chicago Fire matches on WGN-TV this summer. It might seem crazy, but for White, it’s a dream. His roots run deep in both Chicago and Major League Soccer, and he’s glad to be coming back.
White talked to Hot Time in Old Town at length about why he’s joining the Fire, his favorite memories of visiting family in Chicago as a kid, why he thinks the Fire will turn around their struggling season, and, of course, his role on the hit Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso.
This transcript of our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Patrick McCraney/Hot Time in Old Town: Last year, when it was announced you’d be calling Fire matches, (Fire SVP) Sean Dennison told me an amazing story of a chance meeting you had with Sean at Dan Majerle’s restaurant in Phoenix during Super Bowl week many years ago that led up to this moment where you’ll be calling Fire games. What do you remember about that day?
Arlo White: I remember it quite clearly. It was one of the best gigs to get at BBC Radio 5. I was one of the few in the office who loved NFL and loved American Football, which is why I was sent off to the Super Bowl five times in six years, which was just phenomenal! They’d actually send us out for the week to gather stuff from radio row, and get some interviews.
We’re in that restaurant. I knew Sean worked for MLS, and we just had this chance meeting, and we started chatting. I was at that time looking towards the States, keeping a close eye on Major League Soccer, because of the affinity I’d had for the country at least since I was 13 and I took my first trip to Chicago to see my Uncle and Auntie on the South Side. So, we kept in touch. My career went in a different direction with the Seattle Sounders, but Sean and I kept in touch through that, we’d see each other at league events, preseason, and MLS Cups. We’d kept in touch that entire time.
With Joe (Mansueto) taking over the club, and moving back downtown to Soldier Field, and the infrastructure of the club being as dynamic as it now is, the time was right to chat and see if I’d be interested. And, I metaphorically snapped his hand off, Pat! So here we are. It’s not a good negotiating position to snap someone’s hand off that quickly, but here we are, we’re a year down the line, and the pandemic is hopefully coming towards an end, and we can finally start doing some games—not as many as we had hoped in the first season, because of the Olympics, but hopefully we get off to a good start, and we can expand it in ‘22.
Patrick: I feel like, Arlo, you’ve cracked the code. You’re in England for the Premier League season, going to stadiums week after week, and now you’ve found a way to get paid to spend your summers in Chicago, which is pretty incredible.
Arlo: (laughs) I’ve got the commentator’s golden ticket, like in the Willy Wonka factory, haven’t I? It does feel like that. I’d like to think that having spent a couple of really good years in Seattle, and connecting with the fan base there, and then doing the national broadcasts for a year and a half, although it’s been seven or eight years since I’ve left, there was kind of a lasting legacy, I suppose, for the broadcasts I did on a local and national level. I loved my time in Seattle, and I loved my time in Major League Soccer, and I’ve always kept a finger on the pulse. It’s hard to follow a league as intently as I do the Premier League, but I’ve been returning to the U.S. on long holidays every summer anyway, and this is just a fantastic opportunity. So, yes, I do feel like a very, very lucky boy. I want to come with the intention with helping Tyler (Terens’) development, getting along with Tony (Meola)—those two guys are doing a magnificent job—and just sort of bring my style to the booth, in what is a dream scenario, to be in the booth at Soldier Field. It’s a dream scenario, Pat, I’m well aware of that.
Patrick: Going back to your childhood, I know you’ve been coming here since you were 13, what are some favorite Chicago memories?
Arlo: One of the favorites, if not the favorite, would be going to the first preseason game of the ‘85 Bears. I, sadly, wasn’t in Chicago when they won the Super Bowl, but to watch that team play their first preseason game in August of ‘86 was incredible. They played the Indianapolis Colts, who had Gary Hogeboom that night, and we started with Steve Fuller, but Mike Tomczak who I was absolutely convinced would be the next Dan Marino came in for the second half, and the Bears won. My Auntie and Uncle got us tickets by the Bears’ tunnel, so we were able to lean across, my cousin Billy and I, and we were getting high fives from the likes of Walter Payton, who was suited up for the game, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent, all these guys. I remember a very cool looking Jim McMahon strolling out in his street clothes, cool adidas sweatshirt, faded jeans, Ray Ban sunglasses on, and his spiky hair. He’d clearly had another round with Mike Ditka, and he’d been benched for this game. He was carrying a Gatorade paper cup, and I dread to think what was inside that cup. It was just phenomenal to be that close at that age, to these guys that I idolized from across the pond.
I also remember the first night that we landed, we went back to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Evergreen Park, and it was obviously pre-internet. My Uncle had some work that he had to get in to the office, and obviously there was no e-mail, so we had to literally drive downtown so he could deliver it. I was talking in his Buick on the Dan Ryan Expressway, and I kind of looked up and saw downtown Chicago lit up for the first time, and, apparently, my jaw hit the floor, and I didn’t blink for about three minutes. I was just absolutely spellbound by what I was seeing. That image—and that moment—stayed with me for the rest of my life. It sold me on Chicago, and it sold me on America, and it was the start of a life-long love affair.
Patrick: What is your perfect Chicago day?
Arlo: Well, that’s a great question. If I’d won the lottery, I’d wake up in the Peninsula Hotel, go down for breakfast there, then we’d go for some deep dish, then I’d go out to Wrigley for an afternoon, maybe sit in the bleachers out there for a couple of beers on a beautiful, hot summer afternoon, then drift back downtown after a couple of beers around Wrigleyville. Where would we have dinner? Good question. I’d go to Ditka’s in the evening, and soak in all of the memorabilia, and then a nightcap at the Peninsula bar.
Patrick: You’re going to be covering a Chicago Fire team that’s struggling right now. Is there a Premier League team that you see a similarity to, that might give Fire fans hope about what could be to come?
Arlo: There are a number of examples. Coming from Leicester, Pat, Leicester City the season before they won the title were bottom of the Premier League with nine games remaining, and won seven of them and survived that season, and then won the Premier League at odds of 5,000-1 the following season. It was an extraordinary story of how quickly when things click, things can change. As we know, there is no relegation in Major League Soccer, and it’s actually quite a forgiving system. You can start poorly. I remember when I got to Seattle the Sounders were not winning games, but then they went on a tear for the second half of the season, got to the playoffs, went deep in to the playoffs, and won the U.S. Open Cup. So, I know in MLS how quickly things can change.
I feel for the players and the coaching staff, because what they’re trying to do is evolve the entire club behind the scenes and on the pitch, and that has been clearly affected by what’s going on in the world with the global pandemic. But, there are good signs. The structure of the club, and the foundations of the club, I think is as healthy as it’s ever been. The future looks immensely bright, and on the field it’s going to get better. I’m absolutely convinced about that.
Being only seven points off the playoffs with only seven games played, there’s a long, long way to go. We know in this league you can gradually start taking points, build up to the end of the season, and if you can sneak into the playoffs, then it’s a brand new season. Obviously goal scoring is an issue, and that has to be corrected, but it’s a long season that’s just got started.
Patrick: You, Arlo, are known for very descriptive calls. Do you have anything prepared for this Fire team? Is there a Robert Berić “Meaty Slovenian Forehead” call that you’ve got up your sleeve?
Arlo: (laughs) No, but you’ve just given me the idea! If he thumps in a thunderous header into the top corner, it’ll be the “Meaty Slovenian Forehead,” and I will credit you on WGN-TV.
Patrick: I know you’re very big on the lip mic, and Tyler Terens is a headset guy. Will the lip mic be waiting for you at Soldier Field?
Arlo: Good question. I haven’t stipulated that in my contract, that could be an oversight on my part. But actually, the core reason for having the lip mic isn’t necessary at Soldier Field. We are often, Pat, so close to the fans, like for example at Arsenal, if I look over my right shoulder, there is a guy’s knee, a season ticket holder’s knee nudging me in the shoulder. With some of the fruity language that comes from those guys when they’re frustrated, I have to apologize all the time! Because we’re in a booth at Soldier Field, we don’t necessarily need the lip mic, and actually it’s gonna be nice to have the headset, and have both hands free for once! I’ll feel very free to take a swig of coffee, and it will be like old times at Seattle and with NBC (covering MLS), so I’m looking forward to getting back into the headset.
Patrick: Last one for you, Arlo. You are not only the voice of the Premier League, not only the voice of the Chicago Fire, you are also the voice of the AFC Richmond Greyhounds, a team that is near and dear to my heart. Are you going to be involved in season two of Ted Lasso? What can we expect there?
Arlo: I am involved in season two. I’ve done two days of filming, the last one was the day after the end of the Premier League season. I cannot reveal anything. There will be no spoilers from me, Pat, as you can imagine, because I do want to return to season three!
Obviously the Greyhounds, I won’t spoil it for too many people, but they will be playing in a different league than they were in season one, and that will bring its own challenges to Ted, who is only just managed to grasp the Premier League, so now he’s gotta get his head around something completely different. I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. We did the promo videos from NBC Sports when Ted was first born seven or eight years ago, and then for it to be revisited as a series, and to be considered for the commentator role was just incredible. Jason (Sudekis) and Brendan (Hunt) are such good guys. They’ve given me an opportunity as a non-actor to play myself, and I’ll be forever grateful for it. It was a really nice show—a really good show—at the right time. It was lovely to be part of something so positive at such a distressing time for the world. Hopefully it goes beyond season three! Let’s wait and see. I’m looking forward to watching season two myself.
White will call four Chicago Fire matches before he leaves on Tokyo Olympics duty for NBC: Saturday, June 19 at Columbus Crew (the final match at Historic Crew Stadium), Wednesday, June 23 vs. FC Cincinnati, Saturday, June 26 vs. Philadelphia Union, and Saturday, July 3 vs. Atlanta United. All matches will be on WGN-TV, CFFC Live (in-market), and ESPN+ (outside of the Chicago market).