John Motson: A titanic voice which seeped into the very soul of football
John Motson, who has died at the age of 77, will be remembered as a truly titanic voice of sport.
He provided a soundtrack to the beautiful game for half a century and his voice seeped its way into our footballing souls.
Little wonder that tributes came from far and wide yesterday to the commentator every man, woman and child knew simply as ‘Motty’.
The son of a Methodist minister, Motson fell in love with football from an early age. He first worked in local newspapers and radio before moving to the BBC, where his big break came commentating for Match of the Day on an FA Cup third-round replay between Hereford and Newcastle in 1972.
The game at a muddy Edgar Street became part of folklore. Cue Motson: ‘Oh what a goal, what a goal. Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford. And the crowd are invading the pitch.’ Motson soon became established with Auntie and took over from David Coleman as the main man on the biggest occasions by the late 70s.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, Motson was in his pomp.
My favourite Motty moment came at a European Championship semi-final between France and Portugal in 1984 and it wasn’t even live on television.
A wonderfully passionate and evocative commentary that captured Motson at his best, full of childlike joy. ‘Platini. Goal! Platini for France. With a minute to go. It’s 3-2! I’ve not seen a match like this in years,’ Motson shouted. It was magic stuff.
Perhaps his most famous line from FA Cup finals – a once huge public event that became his own – was his, ‘The crazy gang have beaten the culture club’ when Wimbledon stunned Liverpool in 1988.
But the lines kept coming. As others are rightly saying, Motson didn’t define one decade or even an era. He just went on and on, through the generations. There was ‘It’s dramatic, it’s delightful, it’s Denmark’ when the Danes surprisingly won Euro 92, while his, ‘This is getting better and better and better’ spoke for a nation as England thrashed Germany 5-1 in Munich in 2001.
Unlike his BBC colleague Barry Davies, Motson was rarely associated with other sports, apart from a brief time commentating at Wimbledon. He truly lived and breathed football, with that trademark sheepskin coat and breathless love of stats.
Motson’s final season for the BBC, in 2017/18, was almost a farewell tour, showing the affection he was held in by so many. Managers, players and fans lined up to herald the man almost none of us could remember the game without.
It’s terribly sad to lose Motson, but boy will that voice live on. I’m pretty sure it will be in your head this morning while you read this. Farewell Motty. And thank you for the memories.
‘He’s got the taste of Wembley in his nostrils’ …. classic clangers from Motty
You don’t spend 50 years on the mic without making the odd gaffe and John Motson often mixed magic with missteps, it was part of his charm. Here’s some of our favourites:
‘Whether that was a penalty or not, the referee thought otherwise’ – Motty deals with a contentious decision.
‘Gary Lineker has now scored 37 goals. That is precisely twice as many as last year’ – Counting is overrated
‘Middlesbrough are withdrawing Maccarone the Italian, Nemeth the Slovakian, and Stockdale… the right-back’ – Well, he wasn’t wrong.
‘It’s Arsenal 0, Everton 1, and the longer it stays like that, the more you’ve got to fancy Everton’ – John, we’ll miss you.
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