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John Motson: A Friend of Watford

Pete Remnant pays tribute to John Motson


There will be many comments made following the sad passing of legendary football commentator John Motson. One more won’t make any difference either way, but we wanted to write something as it seemed appropriate for a man whose career spanned decades of football supporters and transcended club allegiances. John Motson was the voice of football for a huge number of us.

The connection to Watford via a friendship struck up with Graham Taylor, the numerous commentaries covering many games during GT’s golden eras, all the way through to reading Sir Elton John’s eulogy at Graham’s funeral and speaking before the first home GT game against Real Sociedad – he was a friend to Watford. I do suspect however that he was a friend to just about every club he went to – at least I would like to think he was thought of in that way.

Growing up in the 70s with limited football on TV, John was a constant, often appearing at a game on Football Focus (before the advent of Soccer Saturday and all-day coverage). Appearing pitchside with a player, manager or other club-associated character, he would preface the game that would feature on Match of The Day. One famous example was the moment when during this pre-game slot (at Wycombe), snowfall turned into a full-on deluge. Motty ever the professional, and dressed in trademark sheepskin coat carried on like a trooper, not that the game did.

By the mid-80s he was such a household name that he was lampooned by impersonators such as Rory Bremner and Alistair McGowan. His interaction with Match of the Day anchor Des Lynam is still very much part of the vernacular – “Very much so Desmond!” He wasn’t so keen on the Spitting Image version however, and unsurprisingly so, as Motty always seemed to just be a nice guy with a microphone, a love for football and a fact to hand about every player, match or scoreline.

He and Barry Davies were the leaders of the pack when it came to the commentary game, despite having hugely different styles. In the 90s I read Motty’s Diary, a reflection on a year, that gave an insight into his preparation for games and the acquisition of those facts that he used during a match. His memory was not superhuman, but his preparation certainly was! His match sheets became collectors’ items, so lovingly were they created!

Perhaps John was the perfect commentator to help take football on TV from the 1970s (his breakthrough being his commentary on Ronnie Radford’s goal for Hereford in the FA Cup against Newcastle) through to the Sky and streaming eras. He seemed to be from a kinder, happier and less anxious time, but that never stopped him getting wrapped up in the tumult of a match and getting ever more excited. That love for the game was what always came across.

Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and John Motson is much impersonated by today’s commentators, but never bettered. Did he have a good game? Very much so Desmond!