BRIAN BARWICK: John Motson was a true broadcasting legend

BRIAN BARWICK: John Motson was a true broadcasting legend who deserves all of the eulogies and even became more famous than many of the footballers he described – even his commentary charts were works of art

  • John Motson, one of the most notable commentators of his age, died aged 77 
  • Tributes have poured in for the BBC commentator from all over the spectrum
  • It’s a testament to how much he was loved and revered by peers and viewers  

John Motson was a broadcasting legend who ultimately became more famous than many of the talented footballers whose actions he brilliantly described week in, week out, for decades.

And, unlike in an era now, when broadcasters’ nicknames are thrown around like confetti — ‘Motty’ earned his — it was a genuine expression of affection. And used by everybody.

Motty was a commentator for the fan. He was a fan himself. He collected programmes, team-sheets, newspaper-cuttings — and with his mix of coloured pens would create a commentary chart for every game he covered, almost works of art in their own right. Many framed, now adorn the walls of lucky auction prize winners from the many charitable causes Motty supported.

John Walker Motson was quirky, a creature of habit, could be irritable, and irritating, but it was all based around his determination to deliver the best commentary he could — and the most accurate.

His voice, like that of long-time colleague Barry Davies, defined an era of football when the introduction of an independent regulator was never needed. I had the privilege of spending half of my professional life working closely with John, and his love for the game shone through on the national institution that Match of the Day was, and still is.

Tributes have poured in for the late, great John Motson who died this week aged 77

The former BBC commentator touched many lives in football – and with the viewers at home

Motty wasn’t perfect. He could get rattled if the commentary position wasn’t spot on, made his preference for a two-finger Kit Kat rather than one of the ‘Chunky’ variety for his half-time snack very clear, and like many of his contemporaries, hated commentating through glass windows on foreign assignments. But he was outstanding at what he did.

Motty was a one-club man. The BBC was his home. He knew he was commentating to huge audiences on World Cups, FA Cup finals etc. He was a household name. He even had a whole night’s schedule dedicated to him on BBC 2 as his career was drawing to a close.

He loved using a statistic. Too many for some, including me on occasions, but don’t all gifted broadcasters have an idiosyncrasy we all catch on to? Motty was trusted by players, managers and chairmen — but most importantly by viewers.

In the Eighties and Nineties, Motty and I spent many hours creating a series of video documentaries on club histories. I would put the pictures together and he would write the script and record his narration, normally 90 minutes long. Astonishingly, he’d do it in ‘one take’.

To celebrate finishing one film, Motty and I treated our wives to a one-day trip on the Orient Express. We took two other friends as guests. Motty spent the first hour of the journey in silence staring into space — and the next four hours of the trip as life and soul of the party. That was Motty.

Grounds across the country paid tribute to Motson with messages on screens pre-match

‘Motty’, as he was affectionately known, was a one-off who touched the lives of millions

Motty was a one-off, and reflected a time when football seemed that little bit simpler, and perhaps easier to love. He will be fondly remembered by all of those who knew him — and more importantly the millions of viewers who knew, with him at the microphone, they were in the safest of hands, and with stats to prove it. A walking Rothmans!

I last saw Motty and wife Annie at Wembley for England v Germany in September. I asked Annie what Motty was like as a grandad. ‘Brilliant’, she said and I’m sure he was.

Like millions of others, I was shocked to hear of his passing — and deeply saddened. He deserves all the eulogies.

Of course, his commentaries will live on — and he will remain one of the true cornerstones of the very best of British broadcasting. He would be in the first team. John Walker Motson OBE, ‘Motty’. RIP.

Brian Barwick is a former head of BBC Sport and editor of Match of the Day. Also a former CEO of the FA and chairman of the National League, Barwick is the author of ‘Sixty Years a Red… and Counting! A Lifetime’s Passion’, published by Pitch.

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