The death of John Motson is the death of the last ‘voice of a sport’

The sudden death of John Motson – the BBC’s legendary football commentator – at the age of 77 on Thursday has prompted plenty of fond reminiscence around ‘Motty’s’ best moments, iconic quotes and most famous gaffes.

Anyone over a certain age, with at least a passing interest in football, can picture Motson in his sheepskin coat, lip mic thrust into his face and still hear his boyishly enthusiastic tones waxing lyrical about something happening on the pitch in front of him.

His endless supply of niche and almost arcane statistics, in an era where finding those stats was infinitely harder than just logging on to Wikipedia or doing a quick Google search, became his calling card.

He left an indelible mark on the UK sporting consciousness and most football fans will be able to recall at least one iconic Motty moment ­– for better or worse.

From the “What a goal! Radford the scorer, Ronnie Radford. And the crowd are invading the pitch!” during Hereford’s 1972 FA Cup giant-killing of Newcastle United that launched his commentary career, to the more poetic “The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club” as unfancied Wimbledon shocked juggernaut Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final.

Motson soundtracked Paul Gascoigne’s exquisite goal for England against Scotland at Euro 96 (“Here’s Gascoigne. Oh brilliant! Oh yes! Oh yes!), David Beckham’s crucial penalty against Argentina at the 2002 World Cup ("Hold the cups and glasses at home. You can smash them now! David Beckham has scored for England!") and Michael Owen completing his hat-trick in England’s 5-1 demolition of Germany in 2001 ("This is getting better and better and better.").

Yet his slip-ups also endeared him to the audience, from “Whether that was a penalty or not, the referee thought otherwise” to “Seaman, just like a falling oak, manages to change direction” and “It’s so different from the scenes in 1872, at the cup final none of us can remember.”

Even if you preferred long-time commentary rival Barry Davies’ more considered, poetic style to Motson’s statistical blizzard – head of sport at the BBC, Jonathan Martin, once told Motson “Barry commentates from the grandstand and you’re commentating from the terraces" to differentiate their approaches – ‘Motty’ was undoubtedly the voice of football for a generation, probably multiple generations.

John Motson was renowned for his sheepskin coat and lip mic (PA Wire)
John Motson was renowned for his sheepskin coat and lip mic (PA Wire)

During his more than 2,000 televised games, including 29 FA Cup finals and 10 World Cups, he became synonymous with football and his death is a sad reminder that he is one of the last ‘voices of a sport’.

When you think of football in the UK, you think of John Motson. It is the same way that rugby union became synonymous with Bill McLaren, athletics with David Coleman, snooker with Ted Lowe, F1 with Murray Walker, darts with Sid Waddell, horse racing with Peter O’Sullevan or boxing with Harry Carpenter. Those names and voices helped elevate and mythologise their respective sports. They were the friendly, knowledgeable voices beamed into your living room in an era where your television choices were limited, so invariably the whole country was watching.

The modern media landscape – with countless channels and streaming options – makes it nearly impossible for one commentator to become so inextricably linked with a single sport. Whatever their virtues (or flaws), the likes of Sam Matterface, Guy Mowbray, Robyn Cowen or even Martin Tyler will never achieve the same notoriety in football as Motty.

That’s not to disparage Andrew Cotter, Michael Atherton or *insert your favourite commentator here* – all are superb broadcasters and objectively just as good as the legendary names above. However, the era of a commentator being just as recognisable as the stars of a sport are long gone.

The death of John Motson is the death of the last ‘voice of a sport’. Quite simply, there will never be another Motty.