If you’ve watched NBC’s Premier League studio show the last few weekends, you noticed someone whose voice was both new and familiar: longtime English soccer color analyst Danny Higginbotham.
And if you watched Higginbotham’s recent contributions to CBS’s online Champions League coverage, you might have noticed a painting on a wall in his home that looks suspiciously like a stretch of South Broad Street.
In fact, that’s exactly what it is. His wife, Nicole, is a Philadelphia native whom he married a decade ago. They met when Higginbotham was on vacation in the U.S., got married in Cape May, and now have two children.
The family has made regular visits to the Philadelphia area over the years, including summer stints in Wildwood with Nicole’s extended family. It felt familiar to Danny, especially the close connection between Philadelphia’s sports teams and their fans.
This year, he made the big move across the Atlantic to her turf, after a five-year run of calling Premier League games for Sky Sports. He became one of the best-known color analysts in England, working with broadcasters including Martin Tyler — who is to English soccer what Al Michaels is to the NFL.
But as his studio work has shown, Higginbotham is far from finished working in soccer. He also isn’t finished calling games. Next year, he will step into the Subaru Park broadcast booth to become the Union’s color analyst, alongside veteran play-by-play voice JP Dellacamera.
“He’s an American great,” Higginbotham said of Dellacamera. “I’m honored and I’m really looking forward to working with him [and] learning from him, learning his different ways, learning his information about the team, and building up a good relationship.”
The move ends the tenure of Tommy Smyth, the team’s color analyst since the middle of the 2016 season — and a close friend of Dellacamera’s for nearly 30 years. The two men called countless games together on ESPN before Dellacamera moved to Fox in 2011. Smyth said on Twitter that he might return in the future to do a few games.
Though the news is sudden, the hire has been in the works for some time. Higginbotham first connected with the lead producer of Union games, Jordan Strauss, and director of broadcasting Carl Mandell over a year ago.
In fact, Higginbotham might have joined the TV crew this year if not for the coronavirus pandemic. He made sure to watch all of the Union’s games this year, and said he doesn’t “want any supporters thinking that when I join, I’m just coming over with no idea about anything. … “It’s important that I get to know the players, which I have done, even if it’s meant staying up until 2 o’clock in the morning watching games.”
Higginbotham has also known NBC’s Premier League studio host Rebecca Lowe and CBS studio analyst Ian Joy for a while. Those connections and others helped Higginbotham get in the door at both networks. NBC has close ties to Sky, since both networks are owned by Comcast; and CBS soccer producer Shaw Brown knew plenty about Higginbotham’s work when Joy recommended him — including that Higginbotham played for Brown’s favorite English club, Ipswich Town.
Higginbotham’s playing career started at Manchester United’s youth academy, then wove its way through a number of English clubs. He helped Southampton reach the FA Cup final in 2003, and helped Stoke City, where he spent the most time, do so in 2011.
Of the teams that Higginbotham played for, Southampton is the one that most resembles the Union. The club has one of England’s most famous youth academies, having produced future Premier League stars such as Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Adam Lallana — all three of whom were in the pipeline when Higginbotham played there.
“When you speak to supporters [in England], it’s one of the things that they’re most proud about: players coming through, academy players coming through and really establishing themselves in the first team,” Higginbotham said. “If you’ve got a team like the Philadelphia Union and you’re wanting to bring some of the best young talent to the club, well, what a way to entice them by saying ‘Listen, you come here, look at the way we play — we have a definitive style of playing [and] you can have success, as you’ve seen by winning the Supporters’ Shield this season.’”
He also appreciates another way in which the Union resemble Southampton: Both clubs are willing to sell their young players on to bigger teams, and let them blossom on global soccer’s biggest stages. And in doing so, as the Union did with Brenden Aaronson, it proves the quality of the young players on the Union and across MLS.
“People may look at it and think, ‘Well, does it affect MLS in terms of losing the top players?’ I think it has the reverse effect,” Higginbotham said. “European teams are now coming in and looking and saying, ‘Right, OK, MLS is a decent standard.’ Because you wouldn’t pay that money otherwise.”