The football world has been saddened by the death of legendary BBC commentator John Motson at the age of 77.
Motson covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and 29 FA Cup finals in a 50-year career for the BBC, providing the soundtrack to some of football’s most iconic moments.
The great challenge for any commentator is to find the perfect words to describe extraordinary events on the pitch and frame them in the right context – and ‘Motty’ was a master.
We celebrate just some of his most iconic commentary lines here.
Legendary commentator John Motson has died at the age of 77 – leaving us with fond memories of his iconic lines to describe famous football moments
John Motson at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, Mexico, during the opening ceremony of the 1986 FIFA World Cup, one of ten tournaments he covered
Motson pictured with his wife Anne – the pair had been married since 1977 and have one child
‘It’s Radford again… what a goal, what a goal!’
Hereford United 2-1 Newcastle United, FA Cup third round replay, February 1972
The commentary that launched a young Motson’s BBC career. Match of the Day only intended to show a small clip of this match, with the focus being on Liverpool vs Leeds and Preston vs Man United.
Accordingly, they’d sent a 26-year-old Motson – who was essentially on trial at the Corporation and, by his own admission ‘not pulling up any trees’ – to a very muddy Edgar Street.
Ronnie Radford celebrates his iconic FA Cup goal for Hereford against Newcastle in 1972
Hereford’s players, including scorers Radford (top left) and Ricky George (centre left) celebrate their famous giant-killing of First Division Newcastle
JOHN MOTSON: LEGENDARY COMMENTATOR DIES AGED 77
But when Southern League Hereford stunned top-flight Newcastle, it topped the bill and Motson’s commentary was heard by millions.
The scenes of Ronnie Radford scoring from distance to equalise with five minutes to play, with Motson’s instinctive commentary, has become a moment that epitomises the brilliance of the FA Cup.
‘There was my match that was supposed to be a three minute edit at the end of the programme, propelled to the top of the show!’ Motson would later recall of his big break.
It’s a common misconception that Radford, who himself passed away in November, scored the winning goal given how many times it has been replayed. The actual match-winner was Ricky George, deep into extra time.
‘And still Ricky Villa!’
Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 Manchester City, FA Cup final replay, May 1981
The 100th FA Cup final in 1981 was Motson’s fifth behind the mic – or specifically his sixth because Ricky Villa’s mazy dribble to win it for Tottenham came in a replay.
Their initial game with Manchester City ended 1-1 and the second instalment was heading to extra time with the teams locked at 2-2.
Ricky Villa scores after his mazy dribble through the Man City defence to win the Cup in 1981
That was until twinkle-toed Argentine Villa collected the ball 40 yards out, danced around about four defenders before slotting home.
‘What a fantastic run,’ cried Motson. ‘Amazing goal.’
It remains one of the most cherished FA Cup final goals.
‘Tigana… Tigana… Tigana… PLATINI… Goal!’
France 3-2 Portugal, after extra time; European Championship semi-final, June 1984
None of the home nations made it to the 1984 Euro finals so only two matches were broadcast live in the UK – with one of those being the final.
In order to get there, hosts France played some mesmeric football at times and it seems a shame their play – and Motson’s commentary – was restricted to late-night highlights on the BBC.
Michael Platini celebrates after scoring the goal that put France in the Euro 1984 final
He was left breathless by a classic semi-final in which France defeated Portugal 3-2 with almost the last kick of extra time as Jean Tigana ran through and teed up Michel Platini to score.
‘I haven’t seen a match like this in years,’ purred Motty, not that most of the country got to see it.
France would go on to beat Spain in the final.
‘The crazy gang have beaten the culture club!’
Wimbledon 1-0 Liverpool, FA Cup final, May 1988
The wonder of the FA Cup is that upsets are not only the preserve of the early rounds. They sometimes happen in the final, too.
Sunderland in 1973, Southampton 1976, Coventry 1987 but especially Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ shocking all-conquering Liverpool in 1988.
Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ celebrate their famous FA Cup final win over Liverpool in 1988
It was a Wembley final that featured the first-ever penalty save in a Cup final, with Dave Beasant keeping out John Aldridge’s spot-kick. Lawrie Sanchez settled it with a looping header from a Dennis Wise cross.
Motson’s brilliant line and 80s pop reference came at the final whistle as Wimbledon were almost in disbelief at what they’d just accomplished.
He went on to say it was an achievement ‘that would have been impossible just a few years ago’, points out the ‘sporting gesture’ by Liverpool fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone and even mentions Princess Diana in the Royal Box applauding ‘one of the great Cup shocks of all time.’
‘England have done it in the last minute of extra time!’
England 1-0 Belgium, after extra time, World Cup last-16, June 1990
Many would be unnerved by the prospect of millions, potentially tens of millions, clinging on to their every word while commentating on a big game. Not Motty.
Having talked for over two hours as England toiled to beat Belgium and book a place in the 1990 World Cup quarter-finals, he still found one last, brilliant line as David Platt swivelled and volleyed Bobby Robson’s side through.
David Platt celebrates his sweet volley to send England into the 1990 World Cup last eight
‘It’s there by David Platt. England have done it in the last minute of extra time. England are through to the quarter-finals of the World Cup and Bobby Robson is ecstatic.’
It was one of the lines of commentary sampled by the Lightning Seeds in their iconic song Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home) in 1996.
‘Oh dear, oh dear me… Here is a moment that almost brings tears to his eyes’
West Germany 1-1 England, after extra time, West Germany won 4-3 on penalties; World Cup semi-final, July 1990
One of many nights since 1966 in which England’s World Cup dreams dissolved in tears.
Quite literally in the case of Paul Gascoigne, whose yellow card for a hefty tackle earned him a yellow card that would have seen him banned from the final.
As Gazza’s eyes welled up and Gary Lineker famously signalled to the bench to keep an eye on him, Motson summed up the mood of the nation.
Motson had the perfect words when Paul Gascoigne burst into tears back in 1990
‘Oh dear, oh dear me, he’s going to be out of the final if England get there, for the tackle on No 14, [Thomas] Berthold, Gascoigne has had his second yellow card of the tournament and here is a moment that almost brings tears to his eyes.’
Of course, we’d never know whether England would have coped without the mercurial Gazza in the final as they agonisingly lost on penalties.
‘Here’s Gascoigne… oh brilliant, oh yes!’
England 2-0 Scotland, European Championship group stage, June 1996
If that was a low point for Gazza, six years later we’d be celebrating his genius in another major tournament.
Motson had been sharing big game commentary duties with Barry Davies for a few years but he got to call Gascoigne’s inspired goal to sink Scotland in the Euro ’96 group stages – and his cheeky ‘Dentists’ chair’ celebration afterwards.
Gascoigne fires home his goal of genius as England beat Scotland during Euro ’96
Gazza’s cheeky celebration referenced the boozing of the England team pre-tournament
With Trevor Brooking still discussing the fall-out from David Seaman’s penalty save from Gary McAllister a few seconds before, England broke downfield and Gascoigne chipped the ball brilliantly over Colin Hendry before firing home on the volley.
The moment speaks for itself and Motson didn’t have to add much else but was composed enough to note: ‘What a pertinent answer to all his critics’ after he’d been slammed for drinking on England’s trip to the Far East ahead of the tournament.
‘Oh, this is getting better and better and better!’
Germany 1-5 England, World Cup qualifier, September 2001
One of the best nights in the history of the England team as they destroyed Germany in their own backyard to take a huge steps towards the 2002 World Cup.
Michael Owen was at the peak of his powers and scored a brilliant hat-trick, with Motson as ever capturing the mood of the nation watching on.
‘This is getting better and better and better,’ he yelled as Owen beat German keeper Oliver Khan for the third time to make it 4-1 in Munich.
Michael Owen was simply unplayable as England beat Germany 5-1 in Munich back in 2001
Motson admitted to looking at the scoreboard just to confirm it wasn’t all a dream
14.6 million watched the BBC’s live coverage and Motty signed off his commentary by saying: ‘It was night to say you were there.’
As he later recalled: ‘When the final whistle went I just looked at the scoreboard because I couldn’t really believe what I’d just seen. I had to look at it to confirm that is was really 5-1.’
‘Beckham…. Yes! He’s done it!’
England 2-2 Greece, World Cup qualifier, October 2001
Another iconic Three Lions moment came in October 2001 when David Beckham curled home the sumptuous last-minute free-kick that delivered England to the finals in Japan and South Korea.
With tension etched on the faces of everyone inside Old Trafford, who knew this would be England’s last chance to avoid a fraught play-off to reach the World Cup, Motson skilfully describes the scene as Becks sets the ball.
‘Everybody, bar the Greece supporters, praying for a goal… Beckham to take, the 93rd minute at Old Trafford…’
David Beckham celebrates his iconic goal to take England to the 2002 World Cup – another magical moment brilliantly soundtracked by Motson
When Beckham executed an inch-perfect free-kick into the top corner, Motson – and Trevor Brooking next to him – celebrated just like everyone else up and down the land.
As he recalled to Sportsmail on the 20th anniversary of the goal: ‘Commentators should, strictly speaking, be unbiased but when you’re with England you certainly have a bit of patriotic fervour.’
Trouble was, Motson didn’t actually know whether Beckham’s goal had definitely taken England to the World Cup because Germany’s game with Finland in Gelsenkirchen was still ongoing.
It’s why he said: ‘It’s 2-2 and England may still be going to the World Cup automatically.’
But sometimes you have to get lost in the moment and just hope.
‘Hold the cups and glasses at home… You can smash them now!’
England 1-0 Argentina, World Cup group stage, June 2002
If Beckham’s free-kick against Greece was redemption for his immature sending off for kicking Diego Simeone at the 1998 World Cup, his penalty in the 2002 finals themselves was sweet revenge on Argentina.
With the tournament in Japan and South Korea, kick-off times clashed with work and school hours in the UK, but that didn’t stop millions tuning in for the crunch group stage game.
Beckham smashes home from 12 yards as England beat Argentina 1-0 at the 2002 World Cup
It was atonement for the England skipper after he’d been sent off against Argentina in 1998
It fell to Beckham to drill home the decisive penalty and, as it transpired, send England through to the knockout stages at Argentina’s expense.
It was a slightly unusual line of commentary from Motty, but perhaps a nod to the fact people might still be eating their breakfast back home.
‘He’s done it again, David Beckham puts England in front,’ he continued after his crockery smashing quip.
‘GERRARD! He’s done it! Oh Steven Gerrard’
Liverpool 3-3 West Ham, after extra time, Liverpool won 3-1 on penalties; FA Cup final, May 2006
Of Motson’s 29 FA Cup finals, the 2006 barnstormer between Liverpool and West Ham surely ranked among the most exciting.
Steven Gerrard’s 91st-minute screamer to take it into extra time also ranks as one of the best seen on that grand stage.
Gerrard’s belter from long range takes Liverpool and West Ham into extra time back in 2006
After Gerrard saved them from defeat, Liverpool went on to win the final on penalties
And of course Motson was the right man for the job, screaming Gerrard’s name as the ball flew sweetly off his boot 35 yards out and into the net to break West Ham hearts.
‘It’s surely the best cup final of modern times,’ asked a man very well placed to judge.
‘You can’t excuse that, Zidane’s career ends in disgrace!’
France 1-1 Italy, after extra time, Italy won 5-3 on penalties; World Cup final, July 2006
Sometimes a football moment is just so shocking it makes you rubs your eyes in disbelief.
That was certainly the case when Zinedine Zidane head-butted Marco Materazzi during extra time in 2006. Amid chaotic scenes, it wasn’t entirely clear what had happened.
Luckily, with the benefit of replays, Zidane’s crime was clear for everyone to see and, as soon as he saw it again, Motson was emphatic.
‘You can’t excuse that. Zidane’s career ends in disgrace,’ before impressively reeling off a list of players sent off in World Cup finals.
Motson had absolutely no sympathy for Zinedine Zidane after his shocking headbutt on Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final