As soon as I heard the sad news of John Motson’s passing this morning, I immediately began writing this eulogy. He was a legend in football (the phrase is used a lot, but rarely justified, but in this case it’s more than necessary) and he was broadcasting at its best.
When I was growing up in the 1990s, sports commentary was simple. Athletics was David Coleman, Formula One was Murray Walker, Snooker was Clive Everton. However, football had more than one commentator. The BBC had John Motson or Barry Davies, ITV had Brian Moore and Sky’s voice of the press was Martin Tyler.
Motson’s colleague at the BBC, Davis, was a versatile person. As well as football, he also commented on boat racing and attended Wimbledon for two weeks. Motson’s strength was purely football.
Affectionately called “Motti”, he had a statistical grasp of all information. His enthusiasm for the game was evident, and his voice rose when he was very excited. I really loved it.
Motty was one of the contestants on Fantasy Football League, a soccer comedy show that aired in the mid-1990s. Led by David Baddiel and Frank Skinner, they asked celebrities to create a fantasy football team and discussed the progression of the competition between football-related comedy sketches.
The competition had several participants who clearly had no interest in football or had little knowledge of how the concept worked. I recently found all the old episodes, where Motty took the League very seriously.
Motson’s big break came in 1972. He was sent to Hereford United vs Newcastle United for his FA Cup replay. The game was originally scheduled for him to appear for five minutes in Match of the Day, so he wasn’t expecting much.
The game became one of the biggest shocks in FA Cup history and was shown as the show’s main game, with Motti proving himself to power on the BBC.
Hereford’s first goal of the game by Ronnie Radford that day is replayed many times each year and Motti’s voice in the background is the soundtrack to Giant Killer. The run-up and celebration of the team’s two goals remains an iconic and enduring moment in 1970s football.
Motty could (and often will) cover the game’s quieter spells with quirky facts and stats from his vast knowledge base. He sits on encyclopedic knowledge, watching Davis better explain what’s going on around the game and has a great way of keeping quiet and letting the crowd’s reaction to events do the talking. I felt joy in telling people about it.
Motty was also known to wear a sheepskin coat, which became his trademark. Leaning forward, wearing a flat cap, clutching a mic while taking a report, Motty captured a cool but supremely professional look.
In 2017, Motti announced that he would retire after the 2017/18 season. He was greeted by positive people in every game he commented on during that final season. He has been the voice of football for nearly half a century and has become a football legend.
The commentary box was Motty’s second home and he couldn’t leave. After retiring from the BBC, he picked up a microphone and only two months later he joined radio station TalkSport.
If the likes of David Attenborough and Stephen Fry can be described as “national treasures,” then I don’t see why John ‘Motty’ Motson isn’t firmly on that list. I know you’ll see the list of national treasures in league table format, but it was his love of the game.
In true Motty style, we’ll end this tribute with some stats and facts about this great man.
FA Cup Final Comments: 29
Eligible World Cup Finals: 10 (including 1974-2010)
Eligible European Championships: 10
First radio commentary: Everton v Derby County, December 1969
First TV play: Liverpool v Chelsea, October 1971
Total number of games commented: 2000+