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John Motson was cherished by millions… he’ll always be the sport’s greatest commentator

The day John Motson invited me into his cherished den, with scrap books, old commentary cards and memorabilia was one of those days you wish you could relive over and over again. Especially today.

John was bursting with pride as he showed the examples from 40 years of clippings and the books of detail and statistics he and his wife Annie made over the course of each season. 

He let me hold the BBC Sports Personality special contribution award and his Lifetime achievement award from BAFTA. He showed the three decades of yearbooks that were devoted to the team he supported. 

Thanks to his professionalism no one had never realised he had a team (and I won’t reveal the identity of the club).

John was always so welcoming in press rooms and kind and generous with his time. However, it was when I put together a documentary about the art of football commentary, that we got to know each other better.

Iconic football commentator John Motson passed away at the age of 77 on Thursday morning

ITV and talkSPORT commentator Sam Matterface recalls Motson's professionalism and warmth

ITV and talkSPORT commentator Sam Matterface remembers his warmth and professionalism

Matterface (left) pictured alongside Motson (right), who retired as a BBC commentator in 2018

Matterface (left) pictured alongside Motson (right), who retired as a BBC commentator in 2018

John, Clive Tyldesley and I recorded ‘It’s Up for Grabs Now’ over a long lunch in which we discussed the game and the role of a commentator. Clive and I hardly spoke, we were both fanboying.

In fact, it was that afternoon that laid the ground work for both coming to work with talkSPORT, and John and I would make more documentaries, that would end or start with a great pub lunch, and occasionally go to games together for the radio.

By then, after retiring from the BBC, his career had turned a full circle from his days in radio through and a glorious and wonderous journey in TV, but he wasn’t only a great football commentator, he was a huge football fan and a brilliant journalist. 

He was thoughtful about the game he loved, and he worked hard to ensure he could sprinkle nuggets of information no one else had.

Motty would usually only commentate on one game a week, we probably do three or four now. He would spend the week before attending other games, events and forums, making contacts. 

He would often be a guest in a director’s box, where they greeted him like royalty. As a result he knew everyone, and as time went on everyone knew him. It gave him extra information and knowledge for his commentary role.

You would regularly see him in the tunnel hours before the games hunting down the team, and if he got it earlier than he was supposed to, always a cherished moment for a commentator, he would share it with the others.

The game that changed his life, is the one he is probably still most associated with until this day. 

John Motson appears to show Sam Matterface a framed programme from one of his FA Cup finals

The iconic figure has long been an inspiration for young commentators

The pair became close friends, working on documentaries together and going for pub lunches

Matterface says Clive Tyldesley, pictured ahead of the 2022 World Cup, also fanboyed Motson

Matterface says Clive Tyldesley, pictured ahead of the 2022 World Cup, also fanboyed Motson

A third round replay at Edgar Street on February 5, 1972. As the junior commentator on the BBC roster, and on trial from his radio job, he was sent to cover a couple of minutes of highlights on what was fourth round weekend for everyone else. 

The production team expected it to be a walkover because Newcastle, then of the first division, we’re massive favourites to swat aside non league Hereford.

How wrong they were.

Thanks to his brilliant contact building, Motty had travelled to the game with two Hereford players. Ricky George, who scored the winner, and Billy Meadows who drove them! George didn’t believe he was going to get on! How wrong he was too.

When the Ronnie Radford screamer hit the net, it had taken John by surprise. Nobody had expected it go in but you would never have known.

‘Oh what a goal! Radford the scorer. Ronnie Radford! And the crowd are on the pitch. What a tremendous shot by Ronnie Radford.’

Ronnie Radford celebrates his iconic FA Cup goal for Hereford against Newcastle in 1972

Ronnie Radford celebrates his iconic FA Cup goal for Hereford against Newcastle in 1972


It was simple, it was joyful, it was iconic. It changed his life. Soon he was the main man calling cup finals and World Cup matches, and more iconic moments followed.

‘The Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club’ he offered as unfancied Wimbledon beat Liverpool in 1988 Cup Final.

‘It gets better and better and better and better!!’ As England stormed to a 5-1 win over Germany in World Cup qualifying in 2001.

John Motson will be remembered by his friends and colleagues, of whom there are many, as a warm, sociable, intelligent football man who was never short of a kind word.

The Hereford players of that famous win will remember him as the 13th man in that team.

He would often attend games as a guest in a director's box, where he was greeted like royalty

He would often attend games as a guest in a director’s box, where he was greeted like royalty

I will remember the motivating note in his book that he handed to me whilst we were in his office, and the text he sent to me after my first tournament leading the ITV commentary team. 

Everyone has opinions on commentators, but when John sent a message nothing else mattered. If he thought it was ok, it was fine by me. It was John Motson.

Growing up for so many of us sport was a much rarer find, and the commentators took on a special mystique. Richie Benaud was cricket, John Barrett was tennis, Bill McLaren was the Six Nations, Peter Alliss was golf – but football has always been the biggest of them all, and so was John Motson.

Sam Matterface is an ITV and talkSPORT commentator.


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