Tributes paid as former BBC commentator John Motson dies aged 77
Football commentator John Motson, who became synonymous with English football during his distinguished 50-year career with the BBC, has died aged 77.
Motson retired in 2018 after covering 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and more than 200 England matches.
‘Motty’, who began working for Match of the Day in 1971 and commentated on more than 2,500 games, was hugely popular with generations of football fans and was famous for his sheepskin coat.
Motson, who became an OBE for services to sports broadcasting in 2001, was the son of a Methodist minister, born in Salford, Lancashire. After starting out as a newspaper reporter in Barnet and at the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, he joined the BBC in 1968 as a sports presenter on Radio 2.
Motson’s commentary on Ronnie Radford’s famous long-range strike which helped non-league Hereford knock top-flight Newcastle out of the FA Cup in 1972 saw him take top billing on Match of the Day – pushing him into the spotlight and the affections of the sporting public.
His enthusiasm and deep knowledge of the game, its players and managers, earned him a place in the hearts of fans for five decades.
Current Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker has described Motson as “a quite brilliant commentator and the voice of football in this country for generations”.
Deeply saddened to hear that John Motson has died. A quite brilliant commentator and the voice of football in this country for generations. He’ll be very much missed. RIP Motty.
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) February 23, 2023
Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler said he was the standard-bearer for those that followed.
“John was the standard-setter for us all,” Tyler said. “We basically all looked up to him – his diligence, his dedication, his knowledge. He was a very serious broadcaster but he was a real fun guy to be around.”
Fellow commentator Clive Tyldesley wrote on Twitter: “As a teenager I just wanted to be John Motson. Nobody else.”
As a teenager I just wanted to be John Motson. Nobody else. Terribly sad.
— Clive Tyldesley (@CliveTyldesley) February 23, 2023
Motson’s long career also took in two Olympic Games and Wimbledon’s memorable 1988 FA Cup final triumph against Liverpool at Wembley as the Crazy Gang beat the Culture Club.
Motson hung up his microphone for the BBC at the end of the 2017-18 Premier League season and after his final game – Crystal Palace v West Brom – he was invited on to the pitch.
Palace boss Roy Hodgson made a special presentation and Motson was warmly applauded by fans.
Motson, educated at Culford School near Bury St Edmunds, began a career in journalism as a reporter in Barnet in 1963 and in 1967 he worked for the Sheffield Morning Telegraph.
His broadcasting career began the following year as a sports presenter on BBC Radio 2 and his big breakthrough came in 1972 when his commentary of Hereford’s famous upset of Newcastle in an FA Cup replay earned him a regular slot on Match of the Day. Motson later said that he owed his commentating career to Radford’s stunning goal.
Motson called his first FA Cup final in 1977 when he replaced David Coleman for Manchester United’s win against Liverpool and from 1979 to 2008 he commentated on every FA Cup final for the BBC.
He was also the BBC’s voice for other major finals, including the European Championship and the World Cup.
In September 2017, Motson announced he would retire from the BBC at the end of the season and in 2018 the corporation celebrated his career with three special programmes, Motty Mastermind, Motty – the Man Behind the Sheepskin and Countdown to the Full Motty.
BBC director-general Tim Davie also described Motson as “the voice of a footballing generation”, steering fans “through the twists and turns of FA Cup runs, the highs and lows of World Cups and, of course, Saturday nights on Match of the Day”.
Davie added: “Like all the greats behind the mic, John had the right words, at the right time, for all the big moments.
“He will rightly be remembered as a legendary figure in British sports broadcasting, respected by those in the game, loved by fans and an inspiration to those who followed him in the commentary box.”
Barry Davies, who often vied for commentary duties with Motson on high-profile matches, paid tribute to his former BBC colleague.
“It was competitive and we both did our best. His best worked out to be better than my best,” Davies said on Sky News.
“He will be remembered as the man with the finest record of commentary on the game of football that has existed, the figures absolutely proved that.
“He deserves every compliment that will be offered to him.”