John Motson: legendary commentator on his 50-year career and retirement

When legendary football commentator John Motson revealed last September that he would be hanging up his mic at the end of the current season, many would have been forgiven for feeling a touch of sadness and loss.

Indeed, over the last half a century, the 72-year-old has become a national treasure in Britain – as has his signature sheepskin coat.

Having described the action on the pitch in fans’ living rooms every Saturday night on Match of the Day.

The Londoner did his first radio commentary way back in 1969 and, in an illustrious 50-year career with the BBC, has covered 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships, 29 FA Cup finals and countless league and cup matches for Match of the Day and BBC Radio 5 Live.

Hence, it’s no surprise that as his retirement nears ever closer, ‘Motty’ had a lot of memories to share with Elephant Sport in this exclusive interview.

How did you get into commentary?
When I was on a daily newspaper in Sheffield, a local radio station started up. They were looking for sports writers to give news pieces over the radio, so my sports editor put me forward.

That’s where I got my first broadcast experience. Then a few years later I saw the BBC were looking for sports radio assistants, which I applied for and got. And the rest is history.

Was commentary always the goal?
Well, yes and no. When I got into broadcasting and realised I was going places with my voice, I then pursued it.

However, when I left school and joined the Barnet Press, I hadn’t set commentary as the be all and end all. It all just happened.

What would your advice be for aspiring football journalists or commentators?
My advice would be to get in touch with newspapers and media outlets and look for work experience because when you come out of a course, it doesn’t guarantee you a job.

Never take a rejection and be very persistent. I had to try a lot of papers before I got my first job. Getting your foot in the door is the key. It will get easier after that.

You’ve seen so many different players over the last 50 years. Which one was the best?
The best English player would be Paul Gascoigne. He made a huge impression on me. With the foreign players, I’d have to pick three. Thierry Henry, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

What was the best match you commentated on?
That would have to be Germany 1 England 5. I’d never seen England beat a major country by that scoreline away from home. Yes, it was only a qualifier, but it was magical.

And the best team?
I’ve seen many great teams, but the Liverpool team of the eighties was really good.

Which grounds did you most enjoy visiting?
Well, I am London boy and, therefore, liked the old Highbury, Upton Park and White Hart Lane.

Finally, what’s the plan after retirement and will you miss the commentary box?
Oh, I will find somewhere to use my voice, that’s for sure. Probably, some corporate work, speaking at dinners.

The commentary gig has got a lot harder in recent years, I will say that. When I started out, there was only 11 players and one sub, and their shirt numbers would be one to 12. Now they all have different numbers.

To be honest, I don’t know whether I’ll miss it. I’ll just have to wait and see.

Images courtesy of BBC Sport