Motty – voice of a football nation for half a century

John Motson is ending his 50-year association with the BBC when he leaves the broadcaster at the end

John Motson is ending his 50-year association with the BBC when he leaves the broadcaster at the end of the season. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

'This is almost fantasy football.'

Norwich City's Jerry Goss serves up some fantasy football in Munich. Picture: Archant

Norwich City's Jerry Goss serves up some fantasy football in Munich. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Five words which summed up the feelings of Norwich City fans as the Canaries created history in 1993, and encapsulated the master of the commentary art, John Motson.

Motson's words came as Jerry Goss scored a stunning goal to set City on their way to a 2-1 win in Bayern Munich's Olympic Stadium during their Uefa Cup run – the only team ever to achieve the feat.

One of Motson's (many) great skills was to utter the words to perfectly match the moment forever.

One of the others was to know what he was talking about: former City physio Tim Sheppard has Motty's match notes from the second leg of that tie, a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road and they show all the facts and lines the great man would need. And that is another key to the great John Motson story: unlike some of today's commentators he didn't fill the gaps with inane twaddle. When Motson spoke, it meant something.

John Motson at Great Yarmouth Town's Wellesley Road ground. Picture: Archant

John Motson at Great Yarmouth Town's Wellesley Road ground. Picture: Archant - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2010


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As well as knowing their stuff, commentators really must have a distinctive sound: there is no point having every bit of information in the book if the delivery is run of the mill and bland. For Motson, painting the picture has come easily: the enthusiasm, excitement and wonderment is as genuine today as it ever has been, and that resonates with the listener.

As well as his visits to Carrow Road, the world's most famous sheepskin coat wearer also visited Great Yarmouth Town's famous Wellesley ground - home to the world's oldest surviving stand – in 2010. He was visiting the town to talk about his 40 years behind the microphone in an event organised by the club – although he admitted the story of the main stand was new to him.

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'I didn't know that previously – you learn something every day,' he said.

He had been accompanied on that trip by former player Ricky George, who played in Hereford's 1972 giant-killing of Newcastle United which helped launch the young commentator's TV career.

John Motson - a familiar voice for half a century. Picture: PA

John Motson - a familiar voice for half a century. Picture: PA - Credit: PA

He said: 'The FA Cup as a tournament was very good to me and I'd like to think I can still have some association with that because it was the Ronnie Radford goal for Hereford against Newcastle which really put me on the map in 1972.'

Motson, 72, is a veteran of 10 World Cups and more than 200 England matches, but is calling time in his BBC career after a 'farewell tour' of 18 Premier League matches this season and an appearance in the television station's FA Cup final programme.

'I just thought my 50th year in the BBC is 2018 and it has to end some time and I thought that would be a good note to go out,' he said.

'I also don't want to go into the area where people say 'he's been there too long', 'he's lost it', 'he's not what he was'.

'I wanted to go out while I was still commentating as well – or as badly – as I have for all those years.

'I didn't want to carry on and then people say 'oh dear me, we'll have to get rid of him'.'

Motson's CV includes more than 2,000 matches, 29 FA Cup finals, 10 World Cup finals and 10 European Championships.

'I've done six World Cup finals and I'm very proud of that record because I think (Kenneth) Wolstenholme only did five of those,' he said.

However, there is one surprising hole: he has never commentated on the Champions League because BBC budgets never extended to being involved in the race for its rights.

His choice of 'Champions League final I would liked to have covered' reveals the gracious side of the man: 'My opposite number at ITV Clive Tyldesley did Manchester United winning the Champions League (in 1999) with two goals in the last minute. I was proud of the way he did it but I would have loved to have done it myself, although I wouldn't have done it as well as he did.'

Motson's name will be up there with the genuine commentating greats: the likes of Kenneth Wolstenholme, David Coleman, Brian Moore and Barry Davies.

News of his decision comes hard on the heels of Brendan Foster's decision to step down after almost four decades as an athletics commentator – another man who knew when his race was run.

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