Legendary football commentator John Motson has died at the age of 77, the BBC has announced.
Motson – whose career in broadcasting spanned more than half a century – covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and over 200 England games during his long career.
A statement released by his family read: “It is with great sadness we announce that John Motson OBE died peacefully in his sleep today (Thursday).”
An announcement on the BBC Sport website read: “Legendary commentator John Motson, who had an illustrious 50-year career with the BBC, has died aged 77.”
After starting as a newspaper reporter in Barnet and at the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, Motson joined the BBC in 1968 as a sports presenter on Radio 2.
Motson’s commentary on Ronnie Radford’s famous long-range strike which helped non-League Hereford knock top-flight Newcastle out of the FA Cup in 1972 saw him take top billing on Match of the Day – pushing him into the spotlight and the affections of the sporting public.
His long career also took in two Olympic Games and Wimbledon’s memorable 1988 FA Cup final triumph against Liverpool at Wembley as the Crazy Gang beat the Culture Club.
Awarded the OBE in 2001 for services to broadcasting, Motson hung up his microphone for the BBC at the end of the 2017-18 Premier League season.
BBC director-general Tim Davie said: “John Motson was the voice of a footballing generation – steering us through the twists and turns of FA Cup runs, the highs and lows of World Cups and, of course, Saturday nights on Match of the Day.
“Like all the greats behind the mic, John had the right words, at the right time, for all the big moments.
“He will rightly be remembered as a legendary figure in British sports broadcasting, respected by those in the game, loved by fans and an inspiration to those who followed him in the commentary box.”
Tyler: We were friends and rivals, but I was full of admiration for Motson
Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler:
“I was very shocked to hear the news. I didn’t know John had been ill and I’m finding out now that he had been a little bit ill over the past year or so. I hadn’t seen him so much since he disappeared from the gantry, but I saw 45 years of him on the gantry!
“First of all, he was somebody I admired in terms of the profession enormously. His preparation was second-to-none, his attention to detail, his wish to know everything possible about the game he was about to broadcast. He was a real example to me for that.
“Before my first television game back in 1974, he sent me a telegram, which said ‘Talk little, but say a lot’. And I think that summed up John, really. He was economical with his words, but he punched them out when he spoke and they had great resonance.
“He was a funny guy away from the microphone, a bit quirky as a person, and had a great sense of humour. He helped a lot of people as well; he certainly encouraged me at the beginning and we virtually went round the world together, first of all when I was working for ITV and he was with the BBC and when I moved to Sky, the same thing applied.
“What I think helped him, though he might not have thought it at the time, was the rivalry with Barry Davies. I think the BBC did very well to push the two of them, with the two encouraging each other a bit like Ronaldo and Messi, to try and strive to those high levels. The Beeb were blessed to have two suich great voices.
“It is very sad that we have lost somebody who has been at the real top of a profession that I’ve strived to be part of. On the back of losing Dickie Davies in the last few days as well, broadcasting has taken a double hit.
“We were friends but rivals in a way as well, I suppose. Yet I was full of admiration for him and my deepest sympathies go to his family at such a sudden loss.”
Motson’s iconic moments
John Motson’s unforgettable voice scripted some of the most memorable football moments for more than 50 years.
During his distinguished career with the BBC, Motson, who has died aged 77, commentated on 29 FA Cup finals as well as 10 World Cups and hundreds of England games.
Here are some of those quotes which helped write ‘Motty’ into football folklore…
Ronnie Radford’s rocket
“Now Tudor has gone down for Newcastle. Radford again…. what a goal! What a goal! Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford – the crowd are invading the pitch… and now it will take some time to clear the field.”
In one of Motson’s first Match of the Day commentaries, Ronnie Radford scored a thunderbolt as Hereford equalised in their FA Cup third-round replay against top-flight Newcastle on a boggy pitch at Edgar Street in February 1972.
The non-League hosts went on to win the match in extra-time, and Motson identified the game as a turning point in his broadcasting career.
Crazy Gang beats Culture Club
In 1988, Wimbledon upset the odds to defeat newly-crowned league champions Liverpool 1-0 and win the FA Cup.
The Dons’ memorable triumph was secured by a goal from Lawrie Sanchez and an historic penalty save by Dave Beasant, who became the first goalkeeper to do so in the final of the game’s oldest knockout competition.
Motson confessed his pay-off line at the full-time whistle was “definitely spur of the moment” – but it helped sum up the sheer disbelief at the most unexpected of results at Wembley.
Gazza’s tears in Turin
Motson felt Paul Gascoigne was the most “outstanding English player” he had seen and was there to commentate on one of the defining moments of the midfielder’s international career.
The Tottenham youngster had produced some mesmerising performances to help drive Bobby Robson’s men on through the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup and to the semi-finals against West Germany in Turin.
After being shown a yellow card for a challenge which appeared to make minimal contact on Thomas Berthold, so ruling him out of the final should England have progressed, Gascoigne could not hold back his tears – and so captured the hearts of the nation watching back home.
“Oh dear, oh dear me,” said Motson, echoing the collective sense of disappointment, as Gary Lineker turned to the England bench and mouthed: “have a word with him”.
Brilliant Gazza sinks Scotland
After the disappointment of Italia 90, Motson, who shared England duties with Barry Davies, was in the commentary box again for one of Gascoigne’s finest moments when his goal helped Terry Venables’ side beat Scotland at Euro 96.
With England leading their old rivals 1-0 in the second half at Wembley, Scotland had been awarded a penalty, which David Seaman saved from Gary McAllister. Before the Scots could regroup, England went on the offensive and doubled their advantage through a moment of sheer genius.
Darren Anderton helped the ball on from out on the left wing towards Gascoigne at the edge of the penalty area. The midfielder – playing his club football in Scotland for Rangers at the time – promptly flicked the ball up over Colin Hendry with his left foot, leaving the defender stumbling to the ground, before crashing a right-foot volley past Andy Goram.
“Oh brilliant! Oh yes! Oh yes!” Motty declared as Gascoigne sprinted to lie on the pitch behind the goal, his arms wide in the ‘dentist’s chair’ celebration as team-mates gleefully sprayed water into his open mouth – which needed no additional commentary.
England get better and better
Of all the England matches Motson commentated on, it was the 5-1 victory over Germany in a World Cup qualifier in Munich back in September 2001 which he singled out as his favourite.
After falling behind to an early goal, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s men produced one of the most remarkable comebacks at the Olympiastadion.
Michael Owen soon had England level with a close-range volley and Steven Gerrard fired them ahead in first-half stoppage-time.
Owen extended the lead after the restart and completed his hat-trick in the 66th minute, with Motty blaring out: “Oh, this is getting better and better and better. One, two, three for Michael Owen!”
To cap a memorable night, Emile Heskey added a fifth following a swift counter-attack.
“I had experienced so many disappointments with England as a commentator, so this was a match that really will live long in the memory,” Motty recalled. “I never expected such a performance on German soil.”