The Non-League Football Paper
MOTTY NEVER FORGOT HIS OLD ROOTS
JOHN Motson was best known for his commentary on some of football’s grandest stages. Not least 29 FA Cup finals, 10 World Cups and 10 European Championships.
But the man who witnessed some of world football’s greatest matches, including Italy’s iconic 3-2 defeat at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, never lost touch with his Non-League roots.
Which is hardly surprising, given his big break come courtesy of Hereford United, then in the Southern League, back in 1972.
Motson had been with the BBC since 1968, starting out as a sports presenter on Radio 2.
And when the Beeb sent him to Edgar Road for Newcastle’s FA Cup replay with the Bulls, he was anticipating a five-minute salvo on Match of the Day, most likely describing a plucky defeat for the NonLeaguers against the First Division giants.
As it was, Ronnie Radford and Ricky George, pulled off one of the competition’s greatest shocks. And Motty was off.
“Radford, now Tudor has gone down for Newcastle, Radford again .... oh what a goal, what a goal!”
Just 17 words from Motson. But within two years, he wasn’t standing in the snow in his fabled sheepskin jacket, he was at the 1974 World Cup.
By 1977, he was commentating on the final of the tournament that completely changed his life, taking the mic following a contractual dispute between David Coleman and the BBC. In many ways, Motson’s own career perfectly encapsulated the vagaries of football and the enduringly slim line between success and failure.
“If Newcastle had won it, the match would have been shown for about three minutes on Match of the Day,” Motson later recalled. “Then when Ronnie’s goal turned it, and Ricky George, who by coincidence was a friend of mine, scored the winning goal in extra-time, the match was propelled to the top of the running order and we had an audience of about 10 million.
“If Ronnie hadn’t scored that goal and Hereford had not beaten Newcastle, I don’t think I would be here talking to you now. It changed my life, in the sense I was on trial that year at the BBC, I hadn’t got a contract at that stage.
“I had been in radio, and they kind of borrowed me for a year if you like to see if I made out.”
Turns out, it was a punt well worth taking.
This, though, was a man who never forgot where he had come from. And enjoyed commentating on the lesser lights of the English game every bit as much as describing a goal from the boot of an England, Liverpool, Manchester United or Arsenal player.
Motson was born in Salford but spent his younger years in Lincolnshire, following Boston United. His first job came with the Barnet Press – and although he would remain famously impartial throughout his commentary career, his association with the Bees was a lifelong affair.
“I have a long connection with the club,” he once told the Radio Times. “I was a junior reporter at the local paper (the Barnet Press) that covered their matches.
“I’ve always lived around Hertfordshire and have looked for their results ever since.”
He even owned a set of Russian dolls, painted in Barnet’s colours, after his son spied them on a trip to Prague. His last trip to the Hive came in November 2022, when a Marvin Armstrong goal sealed a 1-0 win against Torquay United.
The club themselves were quick to pay tribute to him after the news of his death broke on Thursday.
“There have been many Barnet FC legends over the years and it is fair to say that John Motson is up there with the very best of them,” said the club’s chairman, Tony Kleanthous.