Football News

John Motson: Tributes and iconic photos shared as the ‘voice of English football’ passes away

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:30, 23 February 2023

Legendary commentator John Motson has passed away at the age of 77.

Affectionately known as ‘Motty’, he enjoyed an illustrious 50-year career with the BBC, covering 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and 29 FA Cup finals before hanging up his trademark sheepskin coat in 2018.

Motson, who began as a reporter on the Barnet Press and Sheffield Morning Telegraph newspapers before joining BBC Radio Sheffield and then Radio 2, entered the national consciousness in 1972 when he narrated the famous FA Cup replay between Hereford and Newcastle which included Ronnie Radford’s now iconic 30-yard strike.

Motson wears his famous sheepskin coat, one of which was exhibited at the National Football Museum.

Initially assigned for a five-minute segment it was promoted to the main game with Motson excitedly capturing what has since gone down as an unforgettable moment in televised sport.

His enthusiasm behind the microphone coupled with his ability to echo the experience felt by fans in the stands laid the groundwork for him to ultimately become the BBC’s preeminent announcer on Match of the Day and live commentary, directly replacing their original star commentator, Kenneth Wolstenholme.

Motson also covered more than 200 England internationals with his FA Cup final coming in 1977 as a late replacement for the then number one commentator, David Coleman.

Champagne gifted to mark Motson’s 100th England game (November 2001).

Coleman stepped aside in the 1980s and for the next 20 years, there was a perceived rivalry between Motson and Barry Davies for the top job. In a nearly three-decade period, starting from 1979, the son of a Methodist minister was the BBC’s voice on major finals such as the FA Cup, European Championship and World Cup. This run included his record-breaking sixth World Cup final in Berlin in 2006 and his 29th FA Cup final in 2008.

The corporation’s inability to secure broadcasting rights for the Champions League ended up being his biggest regret. “The way the contracts have worked meant I’ve never done a Champions League match,” Motson said. “I’ve never had the opportunity because it has always been a Sky or ITV event but Manchester United against Bayern Munich [in the 1999 Champions League final] is the one I’d have liked to have done.

“My opposite number at ITV, Clive Tyldesley, did Manchester United winning the Champions League with two goals in the last minute,” he added. “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 in his St Albans home, 1988.

Motson’s final game for Match of the Day was between Crystal Palace and West Brom in 2018. After the full-time whistle, Motson received a framed copy of the programme from his first and last matches at Selhurst Park from Eagles boss Roy Hodgson.

In that same year Motson, who became an OBE in 2001 for services to sports broadcasting, was honoured at the British Academy Film and Television Awards (Bafta) for his “outstanding contribution to sports broadcasting”.

Motson launches the Disney Aim High ‘Motty Commentary Masterclass’ (2015).

“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.'”

In 2018 upon his retirement, Motson was honoured with the Bafta’s Special Award in recognition of his 50-year career.

Gary Lineker, Jamie Carragher and Clive Tyldesley were among those who posted messages of condolence.

Major English clubs including Manchester United and Liverpool paid tribute:

Barnet, who Motson supported after beginning his career in journalism there in 1963, announced they will hold a minute’s applause in their next fixture against Aldershot Town.

“There have been many Barnet FC Legends over the years and it is fair to say that John Motson is up there with the very best of them,” said club chairman Anthony Kleanthous.

“We will miss him dearly and our deepest condolences go to his wife Anne and son Frederick.”