Happy retirement, John Motson | Keith Hackett

Happy retirement, John Motson | Keith Hackett

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I was saddened by the news that one of our best football commentators, John Motson, is hanging up his microphone at the BBC.

There is real synergy between a referee and commentator. Motson, like other commentators, has to decide what he sees on first view and advise viewers and listeners accordingly.

Kenneth Wolstenholme, who preceded Motson, and Sky’s Martin Tyler are among many commentators rightly held in high esteem, each with their own style.

The very first game that was broadcast on radio was supported by a page in a newspaper that showed a football pitch divided into rectangular sections  and numbered accordingly. The audience would be told which section of the pitch contained the action.

We have come a long way since then. With screens in front of them, television commentators can look at a replay and advise the audience on the accuracy of the decision or otherwise. Frankly I cannot recall John Motson having a go at any referee.

During the news announcing his retirement, there was a clip of him covered by a canvas sheet which had a good covering of snow. He was perched high up reporting an FA Cup tie between Southend United and Liverpool. I was the man in the middle that night and it would have been very unlikely in the modern game for the match to have taken place.

That night the snow started falling an hour before kick off with a full stadium at Roots Hall, Southend. Thirty minutes to kick off I was approached by the police to plead with me that the game should go ahead. The snow was building up on the playing surface so I requested the groundsman to mark out the field again using a red dye substance.

The ploy was succeeding so I remained positive that the game would be played. Bob Paisley, the Liverpool manager, came to my dressing room and said with conviction:

“Mr Hackett, Liverpool are happy for the game to go ahead.”

I outlined the difficulties and he left with a smile. I remember at the toss up handing a fifty pence coin to the home team captain. Emlyn Hughes, the Liverpool skipper, shouted heads. Sadly the home team captain failed to catch the coin and it disappeared into the snow.

“Tails” I shouted with Hughes looking bewildered and asking how I managed to see it on the way down!

John Motson did not manage to see or hear or report on that piece of action.

However not much else passed his gaze

Happy retirement, John