John Motson was the fan with a microphone who never lectured us on climate change or ‘yuman rites’… his commentaries were part of the soundtrack of our lives
There will be a minute’s silence for John Motson at football grounds across the country this weekend. Millions of fans who grew up watching Match Of The Day will be saddened to learn of his death.
His commentaries were part of the soundtrack of our lives. We’ve all got our favourites. Take your pick.
‘Villa . . . and still Ricky Villa . . . ’ from the 1981 FA Cup Final replay is mine, for obvious reasons, as the Argentine scored the winning goal for Spurs against Manchester City.
Motty wasn’t as eloquent as some of his contemporaries and a few of his more famous quotes can sound contrived, like his ‘Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club’ when underdogs Wimbledon humbled mighty Liverpool at Wembley in 1988.
Yet he was always one of us, a fan with a microphone, living the dream. Even when he came across a bit Alan Partridge we forgave him.
There will be a minute’s silence for John Motson, has died at the age of 77, at football grounds across the country this weekend
His 50-year career stretched well into the modern age of multi-millionaire mercenary footballers, but in his trademark sheepskin coat — much favoured by well-heeled Mods in the 1960s — he harked back to an earlier, simpler age.
Despite covering ten World Cups, ten European Championships and 29 FA Cup Finals, Motty is still best remembered for his breakthrough commentary in February 1972 when Southern League giant-killers Hereford beat First Division Newcastle United 2-1.
Tellingly, he was last seen in public recently at Sutton United, another non-league ground where he had commentated in 1989 on the home side’s third-round FA Cup victory over Coventry City, who had lifted the trophy two seasons earlier. I’ve bumped into Motty at Barnet’s old Underhill Stadium in North London, where he cut his teeth as a cub reporter on the now-defunct local paper.
And there you have the essence of the man — Barnet, Hereford, Sutton United. All a million miles from Barcelona, Highbury and the San Siro, which Motson also graced with distinction over the years.
He never lost touch with the grassroots, these days so sadly neglected as the rich clubs get richer and the poor get poorer.
I always admired Motty, maybe because he had a similar early career path to me — local rag, local radio, freelancing, regional evening paper. There was nothing precious about him.
Our paths crossed when I presented the BBC flagship football phone-in 6-0-6 for five years in the dim and distant. I have fond memories of an especially long and thirsty lunch with him and the Spurs legend Garth Crooks, at a Cypriot-run steakhouse in Southgate.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those ‘The John Motson who knew me’ pieces. I only bring it up because when I heard yesterday that he had sadly passed away in his sleep, I remembered the reason for that lunch.
John Motson was always one of us, a fan with a microphone, living the dream
It was 25 years ago, almost to the day, and Motty had unwittingly become the target of an early incarnation of wokery, with which we have become wearily only too familiar today.
As Sky’s money had poured into the game, attracting players from all around the world, Motty happened to mention in an interview with the BBC’s Eleanor Oldroyd that it was becoming increasingly difficult from a distance to identify players during commentaries.
His faux pas was to observe: ‘With more black players coming into the game, they would not mind me saying that it can be confusing.’
This was long before the social media sewer of Twitter was a blink in anyone’s eye, but the political class went ballistic. Back then I was also writing a sports column in the Mail and leapt to his defence, pointing out that he didn’t have a racist bone in his body.
At Spurs we had trouble telling the difference between the Norwegian Steffen Iversen and the Dane Allan Nielsen, strikingly similar blond-haired Scandinavians.
I don’t suppose my column made the slightest difference. But what really tipped the balance in Motty’s favour was the intervention of Garth Crooks and Ian Wright, two of England’s best-known black footballers.
Wright pointed out that if Motson was guilty, then so was he. When he’d first come face to face with his new Arsenal colleague Luis Boa Morte he did a double take. The guy was his doppleganger.
‘Blimey,’ he said, or words to that effect. ‘It’s me.’
is 50-year career stretched well into the modern age of multi-millionaire mercenary footballers, but in his trademark sheepskin coat he harked back to an earlier, simpler age
The fact that two prominent black professionals were prepared to stick out their necks to defend Motson proved just how much he was loved by those in the game. Would he have got away with it now, or would he have been ‘cancelled’ instantly both by the BBC and the wider football ‘family’? What do you think?
We now live in a world where fatuous virtue-signalling in the form of knee-taking and rainbow laces and all the other woke gesture politics forced down the throats of football fans is considered de rigueur.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told you I hate everything about football, except the football. And even that drives me mad sometimes, because of the gratuitous cheating, shirt pulling, diving and so on.
At the time Motson was mortified, as you might expect from the son of a Methodist minister.
There was always a whiff of the 1950s about Motty — an old-fashioned, very British correctness and reluctance to cause offence which he carried with him to the last.
And although he was an accidental celebrity, we knew nothing about his politics.
You can’t imagine Motty on social media pontificating about climate change, or delivering a patronising lecture on yuman rites at the start of a World Cup, like some of his successors.
As he got older, and as we all get older, those traditional values have increasingly come into conflict with fashionable, virtually Maoist, cancel culture which seeks to enforce conformity of view and crush the last vestiges of free speech.
There was always a whiff of the 1950s about Motty — an old-fashioned, very British correctness and reluctance to cause offence which he carried with him to the last
Everything is now viewed through the prism of wokery, especially in the right-on broadcast media.
Yesterday, flicking through the channels, I stumbled across Sky News — nearly always a mistake these days, since the company was taken over by the American corporation Comcast and twinned with Black Lives Matter.
They were showing a clip of Motson talking about his life and career. He was walking across the pitch at the Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, where his dad took him to see his first game in 1952.
The young Motty was hooked. And at the end of the film he held up the programme he bought ‘like every young boy’. As the programme switched back to the studio, the female newsreader immediately felt compelled to point out in apologetic terms:
‘Boys and girls.’
Eh? How many girls went to football in 1952? And even if they did, so what? This was Motty’s story, not a Roald Dahl-style rewrite of history. Still, the woman reading the news was probably told in her ear by her producer to correct Motty’s innocent but now unacceptable sign-off.
We have to pretend that the sexes — or is it genders? — are equal when it comes to football.
Mail columnist Graeme Souness was recently reprimanded for talking on Sky about football being a ‘man’s game’. And don’t get me started on the ‘player’ of the match nonsense. Sometimes you can turn on — or rather immediately turn off — what we must now call ‘the men’s’ football to find it being discussed by three women.
Where’s the bloke, love?
It was 25 years ago, almost to the day, and Motty had unwittingly become the target of an early incarnation of wokery, with which we have become wearily only too familiar today
Look, I know the world moves onwards and sideways and nobody wants to go back to the days of hooliganism, wet legs and cold Bovril on the terraces.
But the magic went out of football for me when they pulled down the old White Hart Lane and replaced it with a futuristic leisuredome.
It was another one of those ‘Day they knocked down the Palais’ moments, like the end of the five o’clock football results bulletin on Saturdays. And that’s the way the death of John Motson feels, too.
Let’s hope wherever Motty is today, it’s always Hereford United, 1972.
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