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John Motson retirement: Favourite memories of legendary commentator

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After 50 years in the commentary box John Motson has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

But what is it like to work alongside a broadcasting legend? What pearls of wisdom has he passed on?

And why did Mark Lawrenson enrage Motty during a huge live game?

BBC Sport spoke to some of the people who know him best to find out more.

‘I hear all football commentary in his voice’

Guy Mowbray, BBC Match of the Day commentator

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From birth we have grown up listening to his voice. Watch an old clip on YouTube and it instantly takes you back to being that age. You think: “This is football”.

In the modern era there is so much football on, and so many commentators, that nobody can ever be that prominent. When I was growing up he, along with Barry Davies and Brian Moore, were the voices of football.

Whenever I think of commentary, even now, I hear it in his voice. It is a legacy that will never be repeated, none of us working now will do 50 years in the business.

Even now he’ll ring me to ask my opinion on how to pronounce a new player’s name, or tips on a team that I’ve seen recently, and I find it such a privilege. It makes me feel proud. He set the benchmark for preparation.

‘I made him angry at Euro 2000’

Mark Lawrenson, former Liverpool defender and BBC pundit

Until you have commentated I don’t think anyone can realise how difficult it is. When you are the England commentator it is the most difficult job of them all – you cannot make a mistake and the guys are consumed by not getting anything wrong.

I have seen Motty have career highs and lows. I was there in New York when he had just been told he would not be commentating on the 1994 World Cup final, and was there alongside him when he perfectly called Zinedine Zidane being sent off in 2006.

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We have had plenty of laughs together down the years. When you travel with him it’s a bit like looking after a six-year-old. At the airport he’ll be asking me every 30 seconds: “Where do we go now? Where do I have to check in?”

In Zurich at Euro 2008 we had to print our own tags for our luggage and he was left completely bemused by the machine. He’s not the most technically minded!

I have been with him all over the world where he may not be recognised – until he speaks! Not many people can be recognised just by hearing their voice.

He can have the odd tantrum and the angriest I made him was at half-time of the Euro 2000 final between France and Italy when I accidentally spilt a bottle of water all over his meticulously coloured notes. It was a river of green, blue and red.

Garth Crooks was crying with laughter behind me and I had to try to defuse the situation by telling him he didn’t need his notes, he was an expert! Two substitutes then combined to score the golden-goal winner but he called it spot on.

He has raised thousands of pounds for charity down the years by auctioning those team sheets off too. He is so prepared. On matchday I would leave him be until five minutes before we were on air as he is in the zone.

‘Don’t get too impatient’

Ian Dennis, BBC senior football reporter

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I sent Motty a letter in 1988 and his reply was the catalyst for me to become a commentator. He was an inspiration in many ways.

After that letter I followed his advice and bombarded every radio station I could asking for work experience. The two key attributes he highlighted, of opportunity and enthusiasm, are still what I tell people you need now.

‘We all have a Motty impersonation’

Andrew Clement, executive football producer of the BBC

Motty is always the most thorough and prepared, with nothing left to chance and it was always a badge of honour for him to have the teams confirmed before anyone else. We have all grown up with him and we all have a Motty impersonation, which means that sometimes you have to be careful doing an impression when he is in the room!

It is phenomenal how long he has been doing it. He knows everybody and everyone knows him – he is greeted with enormous affection wherever you go. He’s still capable of delivering great moments.

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‘A gesture I’ll never forget’

John Murray, BBC football correspondent

When I was first asked to commentate on a game for Match of the Day it was not too long after I had become a regular 5 live football commentator. It was an FA Cup tie at Telford and I remember early that week John calling me, totally out of the blue, to wish me well and offer me a few pointers.

It was something that meant a great deal, coming from him, and a gesture I’ll never forget. As it turned out the match was postponed because of a frozen pitch!

When people ask me what my favourite lines of commentary are, I don’t think there are too many better than his “and the Crazy Gang have beaten The Culture Club” on the final whistle of the 1988 FA Cup final when Wimbledon beat Liverpool.

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‘He has been the best for generations’

Former Everton striker Graeme Sharp

Motty called my goal against Liverpool in 1984 the best in a Merseyside derby in years and when someone has commentated on thousands of games down the years that means a lot.

I’ve bumped into him many times since I stopped playing and he is still the same. He has been the best commentator on TV for generations and a fantastic servant down the years.

He is very knowledgeable about football and he will be a big miss. He was top drawer – the best and a joy to listen to.”

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‘It has never been about him’

Steve Wilson, BBC Match of the Day commentator

When I moved from 5 Live to Match of the Day full time in 2001 I was suddenly part of a commentary team which consisted of John Motson, Barry Davies, Tony Gubba and me – the stuff of my childhood dreams.

I soon found that not only were these broadcasting legends superb commentators, they were exceptional people. I have to say that John in particular went out of his way, with frequent phone calls and occasional lunches, to make sure I was getting all the advice, wise guidance and feedback on my work that I could ask for.

I remember him describing a live football commentary to me as probably the longest continuous, unscripted piece of TV anyone is ever likely to be required to produce – and when you think about it that’s true. To be doing that to the highest standard, always under serious scrutiny and considerable pressure, for 50 years is extraordinary.

However, what I like most about Motty – and I think the audiences get this too – is that it’s never been about him. There are plenty of people who seek celebrity and who just want to be ‘on TV’, no matter how they go about it. That’s not Motty.

John just loves watching football and talking about it – all the rest is secondary. That’s the enthusiasm that people could hear in his famous commentary on Ronnie Radford’s goal in 1972, Wimbledon’s amazing FA Cup win in 1988, England’s crushing of Germany in Munich in 2001 and countless other matches.

It’s a strange thought that he will no longer be on Match of the Day after this season, even stranger that that will make me the longest-serving commentator on the programme. But for his interest in helping me back in 2001, I might not have lasted more than a couple of weeks!

I will miss him and so will the millions for whom Saturday night means Match of the Day.

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‘It is good to be nervous’

Conor McNamara, BBC commentator

My first radio commentary was the 1997 FA Cup final. Just before the studio handed over to me with the teams in the tunnel, they played out on-air an audio message from Motty.

They had told him they had a rookie commentator making his debut. I was sitting at Wembley and listening to this for the first time. He said to enjoy it and let the game flow. He mentioned that the first FA Cup final he commentated on also involved Chelsea and gave his trademark Motty chuckle at the coincidence.

It was a huge buzz for me at the time and definitely helped build up my confidence on the day. I was only a 20-year-old kid, but to hear a legend like Motty talking about me as if I was one of his peers was pretty awesome.

Years later I would regularly do commentaries alongside him and he would be a bit anxious, double checking stats or confirming some detail or other. That shows how all-consuming football commentary is for him. He didn’t just go through the motions – he would be on edge to make sure that he was getting it right.

For a younger commentator like me, this was actually very reassuring. If even the great Motty gets a bit nervous before broadcasts, well then there is no shame if the rest of us feel those butterflies in the stomach too.


Source: BBC Suffolk