Heart of Football

A tribute to John ‘Motty’ Motson

I find the notions of mourning celebrity deaths a very odd concept. You didn’t really know them, you just knew of them, therefore it is hard to feel that attached to a movie star, singer, player etc. John Motson passed away today and this feels different. I couldn’t even guess how many games I’ve watched in my lifetime, and how many his dulcet tones narrated the event, but it feels like this isn’t just a celebrity death. I feel like he wasn’t just talking to the masses during these iconic World Cup games, I feel like he was talking to me.  

Even games like that famous Ronnie Radford FA Cup game all those years ago, I wouldn’t be born for another twenty years and yet I’ve seen the clip played so often that it feels like I was there. “Radford again. OH WHAT A GOAL! What a goal! Radford the scorer!” It shouldn’t have worked, it was a moment of sheer joy and delight – very un-BBC, and yet it was perfect, and set the tone for his glittering career.  

John ‘Motty’ Motson may not have broadcast a live game since the 2008 European Championship final between Germany and a Spain team who went on to put on one of the greatest periods of dominance ever seen in football, but he hasn’t been retired for too long. He hung up the mic for good in 2017, but for the in between nine years he was a featured commentator for Match of the Day, often taking on games close to his home in London. It was the perfect wind-down for all. He could commentate close to home, and the viewer still got to hear his iconic voice for a few minutes a week on a Saturday night. 

It’s easy to remember him for his more recent MOTD work, but let’s not forget that he was the voice of the sport for many years, laying his vocal chords to the BBC every two years for World Cup’s and European Championships. There are the obvious international finals, and of course there was the 5-1 between England and Germany. “Ohhh, this is starting to get better and better and better. One, two, three for Michael Owen!” 

Motty was a proud Englishman, but unlike other commentators, who shall remain nameless as this is a tribute article and not a vehicle for spreading anger, he was able to showcase his passion without coming across as bias. The Michael Owen line was probably grating if you were born in Berlin, Munich, or anywhere in Deutschland, but my main takeaway, as a Scotsman, is that it was joyous and passionate, not malicious. And on that note, let us not forget arguably his greatest moment as a commentator and as an Englishman. 

Beckham free kick to send England to the 2002 World Cup

2001. Old Trafford. England versus Greece. Additional time. England NEEDED a goal or they were not going to Korea-Japan for the World Cup. Step up David Beckham, and step up John Motson. As Beckham’s free kick struck the back of the net, Motson screamed out “He’s done it, England have done it, it’s 2-2. And England may still be going to the World Cup automatically.” In a later interview he stated that this was his most unprofessional moment as a commentator and that he just totally “lost it”. Some would say it was unprofessional; I would say it was it was the most iconic piece of commentary I can recall ever hearing. As previously stated, I am Scottish and yet this still has the hairs on my neck standing to attention. 

While this may be deemed ‘unprofessional’, this is one of the few parts of his career that can be categorised as such. He would pour his heart and soul into his research, his wife, Anne, would create a scrapbook documenting each and every game announced by her husband. He would in turn use this book to further his preparation for future games. It is a beautiful story befitting such a wholesome couple. 

I cannot quite put into words my adoration for this man. John Motson is a legend, pure and simple. The word legend is overused; in fact, so is the idea of “the word legend is overused, but”, but really though… I have written a more in-depth career review of John Motson for The Football Pink when Motty retired in 2017, but this is not that, this is but a tribute, and a thank you. John Motson has filled countless hours of my life discussing the games I loved, and adding colours to the games I wasn’t fussed about. Any QPR, Fulham, Palace home game found 6th or below on the Match of the Day billing. He could bring any game to life with his quick turn-of-phrase and inviting personality. 

My condolences to the Motson family. My condolences to his friends. My condolences to the myriad of colleagues he rubbed shoulders with over the years, his co-comms, his commentary competitors, and even those managers who didn’t always appreciate him at the time – I’m looking at you Sir Alex! My condolences to you, whoever is reading this, because if you’re reading this then you were likely fond of the man and enjoyed his work, and you probably feel like me. Mourn his passing, because he was great at his job, and he seemed like a truly lovely man, but remember to enjoy the memories, because John ‘Motty’ Motson has a lifetime of memories that shouldn’t ever be forgotten. 



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