John Motson, the voice of BBC football commentary, dies aged 77
John Motson, one of football’s most iconic commentators, has died at the age of 77.
Famed for his sheepskin coats and encyclopedic knowledge of football, Motson worked for the BBC for exactly half a century between 1968 and 2018, beginning as a sports presenter on Radio 2 before becoming the most recognisable of all football commentators.
Known throughout the sport simply as ‘Motty’, Motson covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and commentated on almost 2,500 televised games.
He began working on Match of the Day in 1971 and, after being the subject of This Is Your Life in 1996, became an OBE in 2001. His death was confirmed on Thursday morning by the BBC after he died peacefully in his sleep.
The announcement was instantly followed by an outpouring of tributes.
Gary Lineker, the former England captain and Match of the Day host since 1999, said that he was “deeply saddened” by the news. “A quite brilliant commentator and the voice of football in this country for generations – he’ll be very much missed. RIP Motty,” said Lineker.
Former Liverpool captain and Telegraph columnist Jamie Carragher said that Motson was “an absolute legend of the game” and recalled growing up listening to his words.
David Baddiel, the host of Fantasy Football League on which Motson was a guest, said that the news felt “impossible”, adding that Motson was “a voice that, at one time, *was* football”.
Richard Keys, the former Sky Sports presenter, said that Motson was “the best for a very long time”. He added: “You turned football commentary into an art-form and set the benchmark for a generation to come.”
The son of a Methodist minister, Motson began his career by working as a reporter on the Barnet Press and Sheffield Morning Telegraph before freelancing for BBC Radio Sheffield and then joining the corporation full-time at the age of 23 in 1968.
England were World Cup winners at the time and Motson’s enthusiasm and expertise soon saw him move into football commentary and the flagship Match of the Day programme.
He was famously the commentator for the FA Cup replay between Hereford and Newcastle in 1972 when Ronnie Radford’s legendary 30-yard strike inspired a dramatic upset.
Motson rose to the moment with his memorable “What a goal! … What a goal!” narration amid a fan invasion onto the mud-packed pitch.
He became the BBC’s lead television commentator from 1979 until 2008, a sequence that included six World Cup finals but also the tragic Hillsborough FA Cup semi-final between Nottingham Forest and Liverpool in 1989.
Motson continued on BBC Radio and Match of the Day for another decade after standing down from live commentary before choosing to retire five years ago.
Motson’s final game for Match of the Day was between Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion in 2018, where he was invited onto the pitch after full-time and applauded by the fans of both clubs. Former England manager Roy Hodgson presented him with a framed copy of the programme from his first and last matches at Selhurst Park and a crystal microphone.
Motson was also a commentator for the vastly popular FIFA video games series by EA Sports, meaning that his voice remained instantly distinctive to a new generation of football fans.