Following the sad news that legendary football commentator John Motson has passed away at the age of 77, we recall how his passion for the game was forged while watching Chelsea alongside his father on the terraces of Stamford Bridge. Here, in his own words, is the story of how the Blues, and one striker in particular, played a major role in his early love of football…
John Motson provided the soundtrack to some of the most iconic moments in football for more than 50 years, with his commentary on the BBC spanning no less than 10 World Cups and nearly 30 FA Cup finals, before he retired in 2018.
Having become a legend of the game in his own right, Motson’s commentary spanned generations as the voice of football, with Chelsea and Stamford Bridge featuring throughout, as SW6 played host to his first-ever game of live football as a fan as well as one of his last as a commentator.
The Bridge had the honour of hosting ‘Motty’ during his final season before hanging up his microphone, and iconic sheepskin coat, as he commentated on our draw with Leicester City in January 2018, before he retired that year. Needless to say, Chelsea bid him a fond farewell, with then chairman Bruce Buck making a presentation in front of his fellow media in the Stamford Bridge press room.
However, his association with the Bridge began a long time before that, almost 70 years ago in fact, when his father brought him to a Chelsea game as a boy and helped spark his passion for football.
Motson himself recalled those days stood on the terraces in west London when talking to the Chelsea matchday programme towards the end of his commentary career.
‘I got attached to Chelsea with my dad in the late 1950s,’ explained Motson. ‘He brought me to Stamford Bridge for the first time on Christmas Day 1957, when Jimmy Greaves famously scored four goals against Portsmouth and it finished 7-4 to Chelsea. I sat in the old North Stand in the corner, the one raised on stilts.
‘Then, from 1958 to 1963, we were season ticket holders in the East Stand and on the far side out in the open was the big terrace and on the left was the Shed, where I stood a few times as well. I was just a typical young fan, and I remember staying behind to get Jimmy Greaves’ autograph.’
It is clear the sight of the teenage Greaves tearing defences apart for the Blues made a big impression on Motson, with those memories of coming to the Bridge dominated by the goalscoring exploits of our homegrown striker.
‘At the end of the Fifties, Jimmy Greaves would score four at one end and at the other end Chelsea would let in five,’ he remembered. ‘Jimmy Greaves at 17 was an absolute genius. At 17 he was the most fantastic thing I ever saw. As I gave up my season ticket, Peter Osgood was just coming on the scene and he was 17 and also the best.
‘Chelsea had two of the greatest geniuses come through at the club. There are those who will say Greaves’ better years were at Tottenham, but I don’t know. He had a terrific burst of speed, an uncanny eye to finish. In those days it was easier to get one-on-one with the centre-half and he’d just go past them and glide the ball past the goalkeeper as if he did it just for fun.
‘He had great instinct to be in the right place at the right time, but he could also beat three players to score. If you came to Chelsea in the 1950s you came to see Jimmy Greaves. He finished with a 4-3 win against Forest when he scored all four and was chaired off the pitch. If Chelsea defended as well as he attacked at the other end they could have been champions.’
Motson gave up his Chelsea season ticket in 1963 when he started his media career as a junior journalist with the local press in Barnet, shortly after seeing Tommy Docherty’s side seal promotion to the top flight with a 7-0 win over Portsmouth.
However, that was far from his last appearance at a Chelsea game, as he continued to commentate on the team as part of his duties with BBC Match of the Day right up until 2018, creating many more fond memories, including Roberto Di Matteo’s opening goal 43 seconds into the 1997 FA Cup final against Middlesbrough.
‘Fortunately I had a stop watch in front of me and realised straight away it was a record,’ he added. ‘There was also the cup tie earlier that season when Chelsea were two down to Liverpool at half-time, then Mark Hughes came on and it finished 4-2.
‘Charlie Cooke made a big impression on me. Then when the team wasn’t necessarily doing so well there were still special players like Kerry Dixon. But the big change was the arrival of all the overseas players, when Glenn Hoddle signed Ruud Gullit and he then signed Gianluca Vialli, and like many Chelsea supporters it’s hard for me to look past Gianfranco Zola.’
It seems Chelsea and Stamford Bridge had a special place in Motson’s heart, then, even if he was ever the neutral professional when behind the commentator’s microphone.
However, in many supporters’ minds, having spent so many years listening to his voice while watching the Blues on television, he seems almost as big a part of the sport as those players who inspired his infectious passion for football.