He was the voice of football in England for generations and is considered by many to be the greatest commentator ever. Former football commentator John Motson has died at the age of 77.
His big break for the television audience came in 1972, when the puny Hereford United defeated the great Newcastle United at home. Ronald Radford’s 1-1, a shot on a muddy pitch, went down in history as one of the most beautiful goals ever scored in the FA Cup. And with it the commentary.
Voice of every final and FIFA
“If Ronnie hadn’t scored that equalizer and his side beat Newcastle, I don’t think I would be talking to you right now,” Motson told a journalist half a century later. “It changed my life, I wasn’t tenured in television at the time.”
He reached the FA Cup final for the first time in 1977. After that he was the voice of every major football final at the BBC. ‘Motty’ eventually did ten European Championships, ten World Cups, two Olympic Games and 29 FA Cup finals.
Gamers know his voice from EA Sports’ popular FIFA games. From FIFA96 his commentary could be heard there.
Millions of Britons grew up with his voice on television. Where John Webster and later James Alexander Gordon and Charlotte Green read the football results in the block ‘Classified Football Results’ on the radio, Motson was the man of the commentary. He covered almost 2500 matches on BBC television since 1971.
The BBC put together a video of John Motson’s best work:
John Motson on his career as a football commentator | BBC Sports
Former NOS Studio Sport reporter Eddy Poelmann knew Motson well. At the 1974 World Cup in Germany, he mediated between Johan Cruijff and foreign journalists, including John Motson, who wanted something with the Dutch star for their newspaper or programme. “After that we kept running into each other everywhere. If I wanted to speak to trainer Alex Ferguson in England, for example, it went through Motson.”
Poelmann and his wife were at Motson’s home party when he retired. “He kept everything, he had shelves full of folders there. If you asked him about the 1979 FA Cup Final, he would pull out his written match notes.”
The two last spoke last summer, when Poelmann called his friend for his birthday. “He had some health problems but was very light about it then, just like his age.”
Motson’s voice belongs to England as Big Ben and ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ belong to England.
“England is in love with his voice,” said NOS presenter Tom Egbers at the BBC farewell to Motson in 2017. “A voice of crystal. Motson’s voice belongs to England as Big Ben and Upstairs, Downstairs belong to England. “
“When you hear him, you feel that you are in a stadium. No jokes, no extraordinary sentences. He can get excited in the same way as a supporter behind the goal.”
Pen, not laptop
In the farewell conversation with the employer who remained loyal to Motson for decades, his modesty is striking. He mentions the number of cameras on a football field when asked about the biggest change in all these years. He didn’t mind that he couldn’t look back on moments on the field in his early years – the replays weren’t added to the recaps until editing. Above all, it forced him to look closely. “Just like the referee, without tools.”
He took notes with a pen until his last game. Motson was not into modern technology, did not use a laptop. He called as often as he could before a game with the coaches of both teams, “or someone else I knew at a club”, to find out about tactics, line-up or injury. It was part of his preparation.
His last game was in London. Crystal Palace v West Bromwich Albion. Afterwards he was honored on the field and treated to minutes of applause. He received it timidly and later said that it really was not necessary at all. “I was just doing my job.”
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