Jim Rosenthal pays tribute to his great friend and ‘king of the mic’ John Motson

Jim Rosenthal has saluted the “king of the football mic” following the death of respected commentator John Motson at the age of 77.

The broadcasting contemporaries enjoyed a friendship dating back to the early 1970s as they established themselves as household names in British sports coverage, and Rosenthal has little doubt over Motson’s place in that pantheon.

He told the PA news agency: “The reality is there are so many football commentators now that it’s very hard for anyone to grip the nation like Motty did because there were only two shows in town and let’s be honest, the BBC was the main show and Motty had that era.

“I know he and Barry Davies were always played off against each other, but it was possible for commentators to dominate sports. Motty dominated football, Peter O’Sullevan dominated racing, Bill McLaren dominated rugby.

“It was a different era and in that era, Motty was king of the football mic beyond any doubt.”

Motson freely admitted that his commentary on the Ronnie Radford goal, which contributed to non-league Hereford’s 1972 FA Cup giant-killing act against Division One Newcastle, launched his career in earnest.

John Motson File Photo
Tributes have flooded in for the legendary John Motson (Adam Davy/PA)

However, his gift for producing the right phrase at the right time, as he famously did to sum up Wimbledon’s FA Cup final victory over Liverpool in 1988, served him well throughout his working life.

Rosenthal, 75, said: “He was iconic, just a wonderful broadcaster. He came out with big lines when it mattered – ‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club’ – and a voice that was instantly recognisable as well. You only needed a couple of words to go, ‘That’s Motty’.

“He had a wonderful career and away from it all, was always generous, a generous human being with his time.

“He’s been a great friend for a large number of years. We played together in our little commentators’ football team – and he was a vastly better commentator than a player, as he would admit.

“It’s a sad day for broadcasting, it’s a sad day for a lot of people on a personal level as well.”

Motson was renowned for his research and was never afraid to employ a statistic, although Rosenthal insists he always did so to good effect.

He said: “He blazed that trail, really, and he did it himself with his own work. But he did use the stats very well. He dropped them in when they should be there, not because he had them.”

However, so intense was he when in the throes of his art that Motson could sometimes be lost to those around him.

Rosenthal said with a smile: “When he went into – we called it ‘The Tunnel’ – he would just be concentrating on something, on a game or a commentary or an aspect and you couldn’t get through to him.”