John Nicholson and Alan Tyers look at some of football's pundits and commentators and try to pin down what makes them good, what makes them bad, and what makes them ugly. This week, I say! Is it? Well! It's John Motson...
Sheepskin coat so famous that it became a shorthand for everything Partridge-like and naff about middle-aged football commentators. Unflattering NHS specs of the sort that suggest chronic loneliness. Unmistakeable voice.
Knowing random facts about players and shoehorning them into commentary, no matter how clunky that might make things sound.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Voice. Love it or hate it, it IS football on the TV. We hadn't heard Motty for a while until Saturday's Match of the Day and had semi-forgotten just how distinctive his style it. I say! Dear me! Saying a player's full name without further elaboration! Sounding like you might just have stepped on a plug while wearing only socks! Motty is still playing the hits. To be in your late 60s and still have a boyish thrill and giggle about you is a sign of a well-lived life.
Now sounds like a mad relation who shows up at your house barking phrases at random. But goodness gracious he has been doing this stuff for a long time. He has been on BBC TV since 1971. 1971! Most of today's commentators were still in shorts. Or not even born.
Tactical genius or tactics truck?
The Motson method largely consists of identifying players and telling you how many appearances they've made on a Tuesday. We cannot off the top of our heads remember him ever getting involved in a tactical discussion as such. Which isn't to say he knows nothing of football. Indeed, he's a reminder that the sport isn't just formations and passing tactical fads, it is also pointless facts and references to arcane players from 1949.
Leg squeezer geezer?
Not in the modern sense, but he clearly enjoys his status as the loveable loony uncle of football and is never shy of a "My great celebrity friend..." type moment. We hear he is good value on the After Dinner circuit where, we fondly imagine, humour is resolutely stuck in 1978. In that regard, perhaps surprising that he hasn't let slip a non-PC gaff at some point nor been tainted by working in the Sodom and Gomorrah hellhole that was the BBC in the 1970s. Too busy covering Coventry v Orient in the Cup, probably.
Motty's sense of humour, one imagines, must seem almost entirely alien to the modern footballer. Or even the not-so-modern footballer. If a footballer did some banter to Motty, he'd just do that annoying little self-chuckle and carry on regardless. He was a regular on 5live's Monday Night Club last season and a welcome one at that. Being from a different generation where confidences could be told and not divulged, his disdain for the press man's job of over-inflation and general shafting was often apparent. Also showed intolerance of intolerance towards a player after a few bad games. He's from a slower, older football culture where judgements were formed over a longer period and you didn't always have to have an opinion about everything instantly.
So high that it almost comes full circle. He effectively invented so much of the way commentators speak and frame football matches that he himself now sounds like a parody of how football commentating is done. Such is the lot of the innovator. Very much so.
Why does he get gigs?
Well, he doesn't get as many as he used to, but he's had a bloody good run. An older voice is always a welcome counterpoint to the modern self-absorption and even though he does that old geezer's thing of talking about people from 30 years ago as if they were still quite a contemporary reference, Motty offers a unique colouration to the football canvas. For many people he is quite simply the voice of the game even now, and, whether you think he should be put out to pasture or not, surely there should still be some room for the occasional appearance from the sheepskin-coated daddy of them all? That image of him standing in the full-length coat in the snow, with a microphone, slowly but surely getting buried in a drift, will remain iconic of an era and of a profession. Few of us will ever be so lucky.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
See extracts from Alan's new book 'Tutenkhamen's Tracksuit: The History of Sport in 100ish Objects' here.
Check out John's new series of crime novels about life, death, sex and UEFA Cup football, here.