Brian Viner: Motty still puts heart into art of commentary

The Last Word

Related Topics

A few months ago I enjoyed a long and bibulous lunch with John Motson, who told me over the second bottle of white that there had been a divergence of opinion between him and Virgin Books, the publishers of his forthcoming memoirs.

Motty wanted the book to start with the bad news he received from his boss during the 1994 World Cup, informing him that, although or perhaps partly because he had commentated on the last three World Cup finals, this time Barry Davies would be taking the BBC microphone. His publishers, however, felt that the opening chapter should deal with the famous FA Cup tie at Edgar Street in 1972, when non-League Hereford United beat First Division Newcastle United 2-1, and the rookie commentator Motson, in his first season at Match of the Day, became part of footballing folklore.

Anyway, Motty: Forty Years In the Commentary Box duly landed with a satisfying thud on my doormat this week, and I was pleased to see that the Sheepskinned One had got his way. He was right too, I think, because that episode offers a vivid insight into Motson's extraordinary, perhaps even preternatural, devotion to his craft. "I can say with hand on heart that once the feeling of being mugged died away," wrote Motson of that 1994 phone call, "I was nowhere near as heartbroken as people seemed to think."

Of course, what's so interesting about that recollection is not that he wasn't as heartbroken as people assumed, but that they assumed he'd be heartbroken. And note, he doesn't say that he wasn't heartbroken. Indeed, he tells us that the experience initially felt like being mugged, a notion, I feel, worthy of further deconstruction. To be mugged is to be subjected to an act of violence sometimes so distressing that the victim ends up traumatised, needing therapy. But I don't think Motty makes the comparison glibly. On the contrary, I think it's marvellous that he can compare the news conveyed in that phone call with the feeling, just to picture a typical mugging scenario, of being punched to the ground and robbed at knifepoint. If only the comparison could sometimes work in reverse, so that a man might perhaps stagger into a police station with his clothes ripped and blood pouring from a nasty head wound, and say, "I feel as though I've just been deprived of commentating on the next World Cup final," the world might be a happier place.

I am not poking fun at Motty, I hasten to add. He is a man for whom I have great admiration and no little affection. Moreover, in that one sentence on page seven of his excellent book he illustrates what the televised coverage of football has lost. What is the modern-day equivalent of the Motson v Davies debate? Do we really care whether Sky hands a big match to Rob Hawthorne rather than Martin Tyler? I think not. And how many commentators these days have real emotional empathy with the footballers whose deeds they describe? On Wednesday, shortly after Peter Crouch had scored in England's World Cup qualifer against Belarus, the ITV camera swung to Emile Heskey in the stand, applauding with the expression of a man who'd just heard that his house had burnt down. That wouldn't seem like hyperbole to Motty, the last survivor of the golden age of football commentary. In fact, he could have offered counselling.

Positive twist on Tweddle's flop

My heart goes out to Beth Tweddle, an engaging young woman and the most successful gymnast Britain has ever produced, who crashed out of her favourite event at the world championships on Wednesday while performing a move named after herself. The toe-on tkatchev with half-turn on the asymmetric bars is known as a "Tweddle", so she was hoist with her own leotard, poor thing. Still, she can console herself with the thought that she now has membership of an exclusive club. I'm quite sure that the greatest of Dutch footballers must once or twice have buggered up the Cruyff turn, and that Dick Fosbury occasionally made a horlicks of his eponymous flop.

Orienteering to the rescue in search for lost moral compass

The estimable sport of orienteering has never before found its way to this page, doubtless taking a wrong turn earlier in the section, but there's a first time for everything and I am indebted, as Cyril Fletcher used to say on That's Life!, to David Parkin from Bristol, who emailed me this week to describe an incident in the orienteering world championships in Hungary a month or two ago. Martin Johansson of Sweden was leading the race when he was very nastily impaled on a branch, which penetrated no less than 12cm into his thigh. The Frenchman Thierry Gueorgiou, soon arrived at the scene, and stopped to administer first aid, using his shirt as a compress. Two other competitors, Anders Norberg from Norway and the Czech Michal Smola, ran for help. In so doing all three sacrificed their chances of a medal, showing such nobility of spirit that one can only weep for Formula One, rugby union, football and all the other sports in which the yearning for money and glory has subverted some of the most basic tenets of sportsmanship, if not humanity. Orienteering shows the others they have lost their way.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape