Bob Lethaby on the imminent retirement of the maestro of the mic.
If you were a child who loved football in the 1970’s, there would have been times when you were out in the street, or on the playing fields, when you would have impersonated commentators as you booted the ball into a goal without a net.
My Favourite was “LETHABY…ONE-NIL!” because the voice of David Coleman was the easiest to impersonate but occasionally I would turn into Barry Davies. “OH I SAY, WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT!” or John Motson “HOW ABOUT THAT……WHAT…A…GOAL!
With David Coleman dying a few years back and Barry Davies retiring, Motson is the last of the old guard standing. As a consequence, I can’t help but feel that for me at least, the last connection with the beautiful game is now going.
Football has changed considerably since Motty’s career took off with ‘That Goal’ by Ronnie Radford in the 1972 FA Cup, in many ways for the better. However, maybe not so, especially if you once loved the FA Cup and International Football. They now take third and fourth billing behind the grandiose and often gauche products that are the Premier League and the Champions League.
It is quite remarkable (I sound like David Coleman again) that whilst football has evolved at such an incredible rate, Motson has kept up with it all and not become a disillusioned relic as it would be easy to be full of bitterness towards the substantial fruits modern players get rewarded for.
Not long ago, I saw an interview with Gordon Strachan, who said when he was playing for Scotland in the 1970’s he witnessed a Brazilian chesting ball and he and his team mates were in awe at the high level of technique. With that statement, you can see how far the technical level has come, even if England remain light years behind the major nations who still operate a ‘country before club’ policy.
Personally, I don’t care that footballers earn ridiculous money, because if clubs are prepared to pay it, why not take it? A footballer’s life is now one of constant scrutiny, lack of privacy, dodgy agents and potential entrapment, so fair play to them for earning what they can. Players used to be seen in the bar after games, now they are cordoned off for security reasons; it must be a complex and hugely frustrating bubble to live in.
However, despite the nice all seated stadiums, the lush playing surfaces and players from virtually every country in every continent, I can’t help but hanker for muddy pitches, rolled down socks, fist fights on and off the pitch, the stench of piss, shit pies and a frightening walk back to the car in time for ‘Sports Report’ on the radio.
I know football is better off without all that going on but Ronnie Radford’s goal, Franny Lee’s punch up with Norman Hunter and sliding tackles laced with violence were, after all, what got me into the ‘Beautiful Game’ which when Leeds United played, was a description laced with irony.
One of the great bits apart from the full on boxing match between Lee and Hunter is when Lee is getting led off by Gordon Guthrie; never again will there be a top flight footballer called Gordon Guthrie. The other marvellous bit is Motson surmising whether they should be sent off. Sent off? That would be a 20 match ban now!
Motty was part of all that and everything since and yes, I know that he could sound like a bit of a prat or a geek sometimes but he was always there, part of the fabric of the game I was totally obsessed with until not actually that long ago really.
I still like and watch MOTD but I have long since ditched SKY (more because of Murdoch than football) and I do wonder where football will end up if the new class of fans give it up as a passing fad. Will it end with empty stadiums with everyone just streaming games from their bedrooms; another social and collective past-time forgotten in an increasingly isolationist world?
Who knows, but what I do know is that because of the downgrading of its importance by the Premier League, I now hate watching England matches. It is probably not even the case, but it feels to me like the players are doing everyone a favour for showing up and playing whilst morons throw glasses and chant anti-EU songs from the stands, then whinge like babies when they get a baton across the skull or a Russian boot in the bollocks.
In many ways England internationals have become every I hate about the game now. Robotic players, frightened stiff of demonstrating the natural flair of their youth as the venom of obese, jingoistic morons rains down on them. The game against Iceland last summer was the pinnacle of everything I have come to despise about the game. A cocktail of total embarrassment on and off the pitch, it was actually a relief when England were dumped out of the tournament.
Don’t get me wrong, the odd aberration apart, England have always been pretty useless but you just knew that players like Bryan Robson, Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce and latterly, Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker cared as much as you did. Again, it might just be me but I can’t help but wonder if David Beckham and Wayne Rooney were the last breed of players where representing your country was a proud moment rather than a hindrance.
The only reason England keep qualifying for tournaments is because of a self-fulfilling prophecy where their ranking stays high when they win easy qualifying groups, thus allowing them to gain enough ranking points to get another easy group in the next tournament. If they ever fall out of this cycle and end up in groups featuring Germany, Spain or France, it will be a long time before they qualify for anything again.
Maybe that’s what needs to happen?
So with Motson going, it is a reminder that there was a time when I loved football. Now I am not sure if I even like it that much.
Retire well old boy!
“Hold on to your cups and glasses…you can smash them now, David Beckham has scored!” – England v Argentina, Japan World Cup, 2002.
If you want to read more of Bob’s ace writing check out his website here