Just as David Attenborough is the voice of the natural world, few could deny that John ‘Motty’ Motson is the voice of British football. He is an institution. He is a national treasure. He is the voice we all hear when England put on their white shirts and try not to lose to Germany again. He might be the man who once said For those of you watching in black and white, Tottenham are playing in yellow, but he is by no means a commentator people poke fun at. A professional of the highest calibre, Motty is as reliable in football as Bovril and meat pies are at half-time. Over the last thirty five years John Motson has been the leading commentator for all live football matches and other sports on the BBC.
Wearing his trusty and iconic sheepskin coat to brave the biting weather, mid-way through the season, Motson has, in his own words, just got better and better and better.
Born in Salford, just outside Manchester in Lancashire, on the 10th July 1945, John Walker Motson was the son of a preacher man. His father was a Methodist minister and a devout and active leader of some rather troubled areas in London. John’s faith was, and still is, very important to him, although he never felt the calling to follow in his father’s footsteps himself. Instead, young John’s footsteps led him to sport and, during his time at Culford School as a boy, he would follow them into what became his passion.
Culford boarding school for boys was just outside Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Due to his father’s need to constantly move around the country, this would be John’s new home throughout his teens. He would regularly take part in a number of school sports but sadly his favourite football was banned, although they would often play it in secret and get punished for doing so.
When his father took him to his first game at the age of six to see Charlton versus Chelsea, it made a huge impact on John and ignited the fires that would burn for years to come. Football was to be his life and even back then he’d admit to knowing it. The memory of this game has stuck with John ever since and he still quotes it as being a turning-point for him. Not a particularly competent football player himself, John went into journalism and landed a job as a junior reporter at the Barnet Press and then after that at the Sheffield Morning Telegraph.
Whilst at the papers, John suitably impressed all of those around him and eventually his hard work and persistence paid off, when he was hired by the BBC in 1968 to be the sports presenter on Radio 2. Only three years later, John was snapped up by the flagship programme Match of the Day and replaced Ken ‘they think it’s all over’ Wolstenholme, as primary commentator on the programme. It was a hard act to follow but little did the BBC know what they had in store with the young replacement Motty.
It wasn’t long after taking over from what many feared would be the irreplaceable Wolstenholme, that Motson’s reign holding the square microphone would become just as irreplaceable in its own right. From the early 70s up until the present day, John Motson has spent most of that time being the number one choice for all BBC football commentary, spanning league matches, FA Cups, European games, and of course internationals, splitting time with Barry Davies who called the World Cup Final in 1994 as well as the memorable England v Germany semi-final at Euro 1996.
He is famed for his sheepskin coat which might be something to do with the fact that he bought seven identical ones in Hornchurch in the 70s. He planned for the coats to last throughout his entire career. They sadly didn’t but then it’s a pretty good indicator of how long and successful his career has been.
In the brief period, beginning in 2001, that Match of the Day lost out to ITV for coverage rights to the Premiership games, Motson returned to his roots in radio and worked on BBC Radio Five Live. Alongside live commentary John has been a regular contributor to columns and articles on various BBC websites and blogs. Fans could even download a Mini Motty to stand on their computer desktop in a sheep skin coat telling them a few facts and figures about the games.
Away from football, Motson has used his unmistakable voice in a number of adverts, TV programmes, films and computer games. He (or rather his voice) appeared in the 2006 Aardman and Dreamworks animated film Flushed Away, where he played a rather type-cast but probably quite easy role as a football commentator. Together with co-commentator and presenter Mark Lawrenson, he has also provided the commentary for the EA Sports game FIFA, but has recently been replaced by Clive Tyldseley.
Being replaced is something John will quite soon have to get used to, as he recently announced that he will be retiring from commentary after the European Championships in the summer of 2008. His replacement certainly won’t be an easy one to find for the BBC, but there is strong and well regarded competition from the likes of Guy Mowbray, Jonathan Pearce and Steve Wilson.
John Motson will go down in both football and sporting history as one of the most familiar and well loved voices of all time. His expansive career has brought with it countless memories. Some we may treasure forever and some, such as the numerous England penalty shoot-outs, we may wish to forget. When asked how he regards his commentary he said It’s certainly a hobby. It also happens to be my job. I wouldn’t call it a breeze, but people who know me think it’s an obsession.