Football people on TV: John Motson

Date published: Thursday 29th October 2015 9:13

John Nicholson kills several sheep, fashions a primitive coat out of their skin and settles down to listen to John Motson.


Fashion police
Rarely seen on TV these days but in decades gone by, he single-handedly kept the sheepskin coat market afloat and engineered something akin to a logo or brand. Younger readers may like to know that before the invention of lightweight polar explorer coats made from Goretex and breathable sharkskin underpants, mankind used to wrap itself in animal skins in order to stay alive, whilst standing at Victoria Park on FA Cup 3rd Round day, as a stiff north-easterly blew in off the North Sea and attempted to remove your kidneys with its gnarled, bony, icy fingers. When not wrapped in a big skin of some sort, Motty shows little inclination towards fashion or outlandishness, my goodness me, no. That being said, he still has some boyishness about him despite entering his eighth decade.


Lingo bingo
Motty has a distinctive, sometimes squeaky, sometimes chuntering voice. Very much belongs to the old school of commentators and is likely to give it a big “Oh, I say!” in lieu of actually describing the action, even on the radio. Still has that funny little snigger and quick bark of a laugh and, to his credit, is as easily excited by football as he was back in 1871 when he started out. Likes a bit of joshing with his co-comm and always seems to be having fun.

When talking about football, he has a strange habit of beginning sentences, then going off on a long, rambling aside, which may or may not even be relevant and will contain a caveat as to its relevance, such as “I know we’ll be discussing this later on” and then he’ll stumble over his words a bit, before returning to his original point, if he and we can even remember it, which we probably can’t. It’s almost like listening to someone talking over themselves. I often think more thoughts are going on in his head than he can express.

Is he very big on asking rhetorical questions? Let’s get this right, shall we, he is, Mark.

Generally seems more cantankerous and opinionated on the radio these days. He hasn’t done live TV football since 2008 but still crops up on MOTD and radio and seems unchanged from his glory days. And let’s face it, football commentating is a genre he helped invent, since his first work on the infamous Hereford v Newcastle cup game. My word, yes, indeed, I think he did, you know, but was he active or inactive? No-one knows any more, do they, Mark?


Hits and misses
Much of what we believe is the art of football commentary has been shaped by what Motson has been doing for the last 40-plus years. That’s as big a hit as you can have in this game. He is a living legend.

Was one of the first to do a lot of research before a game and could come out with obscure stats about everyone from the goalkeeper to the groundsman. While this was treated as supreme nerding for years, it showed the passion he had for the details of the game. Of course, his old school swotting up facts in the Rothmans Football Annual has been totally superseded by the world of Opta stats, and the like, which are too detailed, even for Motty to keep up with. I’ve heard him speak against the heavy reliance on stats in the modern game, which is a bit like hearing a mohel speaking out against circumcision. Well, almost.

Perhaps he’s slowly being given less games to cover, but still crops up regularly on 5live’s Monday Night Club where, though always entertaining, he does seem to have joined the band of football people who seem to believe British managers are being ousted by foreigners and that this is wrong and unfair. At times he seems exasperated with the modern game, to the point of inarticulate blustering and he’s not alone in that. Was very defensive of Brendan Rodgers and, sounding a little like a conspiracy theorist, said there was an agenda against him in some parts of the media. This, and the bemoaning of the sacking of Timothy Sherwood, has been a little wearisome, but the dude is 70 and has earned the right to spout off as much guff as he likes.


Big club bias
Any that he used to have has evaporated with the changing game at the top level. More likely to see the lower leagues as the repository of the soul of the game. Supports Barnet FC. That’ll knock the BCB out of anyone.


Loved or loathed
Broadly loved for longevity and because he’s a part of all our childhoods and a broadcasting institution. A crucial part of not just our football DNA but our cultural DNA too. He is distinctive and that can’t be said for every modern-day commentator. There are those who argue the characterful, quality TV football commentator is a dying breed and reached its zenith with the holy trinity of Brian Moore, Motty and Barry Davies. That might be overlooking some good contemporaries, but there’s an element of truth about it.


Proper Football Man
Back in the day, Motty was too swotty to be included in any of the PFM lifestyle choices. In fact, it seems more likely that he’d be somewhat bullied by them – writing rude words in marker pen on his nice sheepskin coat or putting a dead rat in his briefcase, perhaps. They’d probably have called him a laptop guru, if laptops had existed at the time. But as time has passed and his legend cemented, he’s never been closer to the PFM than he is today.

He now finds favour with them because he’s very deferential to those who have ‘played the game at the highest level’ and every PFM loves to be toadied to, as he considers his experience in the dressing room outweighs any amount of intellect or deep-thinking by civilians. And they like him because he interviewed Cloughie, Revie, Bill Nic and Sir Alf. That’s proper PFM history.

Could well be a man who enjoys a glass or two of high alcohol content wine and is certainly familiar with the after-dinner circuit, which is absolute rock-solid PFM territory. The older PFM loves nothing more than an off-colour anecdote about the glory days when a footballer could go on an overseas tour, murder someone, do a bit of gun-running and then spend a month in a Vietnamese jail dressed as a woman called Cindy and still not have it reported in the papers. That was what they called pre-season training, back in the day, as Cloughie once said to me, while I pushed him home in a wheelbarrow after a European Cup tie in Albania. Isn’t that right, Mark?

But no-one expects a 70-year old to be out on the lash with Reidy and the boys for a night injecting Blue Stratos into their eyes, whilst drinking Mr Sheen and Brasso smoothies out of a Wonder Bra. However, they would surely welcome his presence for an hour two before the ties get too loosened, because he knows that everything was better back then, no matter when back then actually was. And every PFM knows now is rubbish compared to then.

But ultimately, Motty is not a PFM because the chances of him being papped coming out a nightclub called The Shaven Haven at 4am with Miss Longbenton 1991, are zero, a whiff of a tax or drink-driving scandal, almost impossible to even imagine. And since there’s no chance of him trying to impress women by showing them an expensive watch, when all said and done, he is still some flavour of laptop guru, who has never played the game at the highest level and thus, at the end of the day, Jeff, he must be denied access to the key for the PFM executive bathroom.


Beyond the lighted stage
Does half marathons, which, ha ha…if you like, it’s surprising isn’t it, Mark? And I know this is…maybe..if you like…a bit controversial, and there’s nothing wrong with a healthy debate, by the way. But no-one wants to see me in shorts, or do they? Goodness me, well, no. Ha ha. Don’t look at me like that Lawro.


John Nicholson

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