Familiar British soccer voice John Motson (77) died
He was the voice of soccer in England for generations and, according to many, the best commentator ever. Former soccer commentator John Motson has died at the age of 77.
His big break for the television audience came in 1972, when the puny Hereford United beat the great Newcastle United at home. Ronald Radford’s 1-1, a peg on a muddy pitch, went down in the history books as one of the finest goals ever scored in the FA Cup tournament. And with it, so did the commentary.
Voice of the every final and FIFA
“If Ronnie hadn’t made that equalizer and beaten his team Newcastle, I don’t think I’d be here talking to you right now,” Motson told a journalist half a century later. “It changed my life; I didn’t have a permanent position in television at that time.”
In 1977, he got to do the FA Cup final for the first time. After that, he was the voice of every major soccer final at the BBC. ‘Motty’ eventually did ten European Championships, ten World Cups, two Olympics and 29 FA Cup finals.
Gamers know his voice from EA Sports’ popular FIFA games. Starting with FIFA96, his commentary could be heard there.
Millions of Britons grew up with his voice on television. Where John Webster and later James Alexander Gordon and Charlotte Green read the soccer results in the ‘Classified Football Results’ block on the radio, Motson was the man of commentary. He covered nearly 2,500 matches on BBC television since 1971.
The BBC put together a video of John Motson’s best work:
Former reporter of NOS Studio Sport Eddy Poelmann knew Motson well. At the 1974 World Cup in Germany, he mediated between Johan Cruijff and foreign journalists, including John Motson, who wanted something to do with the Dutch vedette for their newspaper or program. “After that, we kept running into each other everywhere. If I wanted to speak to trainer Alex Ferguson in England, for example, it went through Motson.”
Poelmann and his wife were at the party Motson gave at his home when he retired. “He kept everything, shelves full of folders he had there. If you asked him about the 1979 FA Cup final, he would pull out his written match notes in an instant.”
The two last spoke last summer, when Poelmann called his friend for his birthday. “He had some health problems but was very lighthearted about that at the time, as well as his age.”
Motson’s voice belongs to England the way Big Ben and “Upstairs, Downstairs” belong to England.
“England is in love with his voice,” said NOS presenter Tom Egbers at Motson’s BBC farewell in 2017. “A voice of crystal. Motson’s voice belongs to England like Big Ben and Upstairs, Downstairs belong to England.”
“When you hear him, you feel you are in a stadium. No jokes, no exceptional side sentences. He can get excited in the same way as a supporter standing behind the goal.”
Pen, not laptop
In the farewell interview with the employer who remained loyal to Motson for decades, his modesty is striking. He mentions the number of cameras on a soccer field when asked about the biggest change in all those years. He didn’t mind that in his early years he couldn’t watch back moments on the field – the replays were only added to the summaries in editing. Most of all, it forced him to watch closely. “Just like the referee, without aids.”
He took notes with a pen until his last game. Motson was not of modern technology, did not use a laptop or cell phone. He called as often as he could before a game with the coaches of both teams, “or someone else I knew at a club,” to find out about tactics, the lineup or an injury. It was part of his preparation.
His last match was in London. Crystal Palace against West Bromwich Albion. Afterwards he was honored on the pitch and treated to minutes of applause. He took it timidly and later said that he really didn’t need to at all. “I was just doing my job,” he said.