John Motson dead: The BBC commentator was the ‘voice of football’ for 50 years

“And yes, the Crazy Gang has hit the Culture Club.”

Just one of the iconic lines, from an illustrious career covering 2,500 games, that marked John Motson out as an outstanding football commentator.

That summary came at the end of Wimbledon’s shock FA Cup final win over Liverpool in 1988.

It was among a highlight reel run of 50 years with the BBC, covering 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and more than 200 England matches.

Popularly known as “Motty”, he was known for his sheepskin coats and his encyclopedic knowledge of the game.

For many, part of their youth will be gone when they die at the age of 77.

“A brilliant commentator and the voice of football in this country for generations,” said former England striker and BBC colleague Gary Lineker.

His distinctive opinion was suggested by hours of painstaking research, using a scrapbook maintained by his wife Anne.

Every big moment provided Motson’s masterpiece. In 1981 it was “Villa… STILL RICKY VILLA! Great run! He’s scored! Great goal!” describing Ricky Villa’s winner for Tottenham in the FA Cup final replay against Manchester City.

Twenty-five years later, he was in the job as Zinedine Zidane was sent off for France in the World Cup final.

“And the referee has gone over now with his hand in his pocket. He’s been told about it. It’s off, it’s red, it’s Zidane! You can’t excuse that – it’s a disgrace to a career Zidane!” said Motson as he joined the play.

He almost lost his love of football after commenting on the 1989 FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest at Hillsborough, which resulted in the death of 97 Liverpool fans.

Milestones of John Motson

The son of a Methodist minister, Motson was born in Salford in 1945 and grew up in Lewisham, south-east London.

He was sent to boarding school at Culford near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and his love of football developed when his father took him to games during holidays.

Motson started out as a reporter for the Barnet Press and Sheffield Morning Telegraph newspapers before joining the BBC as a sports reporter on Radio 2.

If the commentary is about timing, it could not have been in a better position for their Match of the Day attack during the famous FA Cup replay between Hereford and Newcastle in 1972.

“Radford again… OH what a goal! Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford – with the crowd invading the pitch.. and now it’s going to take a while to clear the pitch. out.

When Hereford won 2-1 – thanks to Ronnie Radford’s long-range strike and Ricky George’s winner – the game was promoted from five minutes to the main game, with Motson on the microphone.

“I was still on trial that year on TV so it was a big day for me. I went down there thinking Newcastle would win comfortably,” he recalled years later.

“The guy I drove down to Hereford for the game was called Billy Meadows, he was centre-forward. He took me down with Ricky George, who was coming on and scored the winning goal in extra time after Radford beat 40- yarder.

“Billy then drove us home, as they both lived near me in Barnet, and we sat in Billy’s front room and had fish and chips and listened to American Pie (by Don McLean) before Match of the Day came on and then, I was surprised. surprise, my game was put to the top of the show.

“I never looked back after that because the BBC realized I could comment on important games.”

Despite competing with the equally respected Barry Davies, Motson was the BBC’s voice of major finals such as the FA Cup, European Championship and World Cup for most of the period from 1979 to 2008.

That run included his record sixth World Cup final in Berlin in 2006 and his 29th FA Cup final in 2008.

Motson was an energetic stats machine compared to Davies’ poetic, languid style.

They belonged to a golden generation of BBC commentators including the likes of David Coleman, Peter O’Sullevan, Bill McLaren, Murray Walker and Harry Carpenter.

Those voices were synonymous with sport in an era before multi-channel viewing options.

“These days anyone can download a thousand and a half of the statistics from the internet,” said fellow commentator Gerald Sinstadt when Motson resigned from the BBC in 2018.

“John’s gift was that he did his own research. He knew the key stats and the ones that would make a point when the moment came.”

Motson was there for ‘Gaza tears’ when England were beaten in the 1990 World Cup semi-final and again when Paul Gascoigne scored against Scotland at Euro ’96.

Of all the England games he commented on, the 5-1 win over Germany in a World Cup qualifier in Munich in September 2001 was his favourite.

“Oh, this is getting better and better and better. One, two, three for Michael Owen!” he said as Owen sealed the hat trick.

In the same year, researchers using voice profile analysis found that he had the “perfect pitch, volume and rhythm”.

And it was introduced to the internet generation when the BBC Sport website introduced a ‘Mini Motty’ desktop toy that would deliver football updates.

Motty took up commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live before deciding to quit the BBC and was behind the Match of the Day microphone for the last time during Crystal Palace’s 2-0 win over relegated West Brom in 2018.

Already an OBE, he was honored at the British Academy Television Awards, for his “outstanding contribution to sports broadcasting”.

Motson, who went on to work for Talksport, is survived by his wife and son Frederick.

He was once asked what made a great commentator.

“You have to have a decent voice, you have to understand timing, know when to speak and not to speak. You are the eyes and ears of the audience,” he said.

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