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John Motson: ‘Life has worked out pretty well’

Following the sad death of iconic football commentator John Motson aged 77, we revisit his Letter To My Younger Self interview from 2009

John Motson, the voice of football for millions of us for many years, has died at the age of 77. His enthusiasm, knowledge and love of the game made him one of our finest sports broadcasters.

Here we republish our Letter To My Younger Self with Motson from 2009. In a wide-ranging interview, he reflects on his childhood, education, career in broadcasting and long and happy marriage.

I was just starting the 6th form at my all boys’ boarding school in Bury St Edmonds. I was the smallest boy in the class with a big inferiority complex. We didn’t play soccer at school because it was a rugby school which disappointed me. I got very homesick and wasn’t experiencing the social life that a boy of 16 hopes to. So I asked my parents if I could leave after one term. I left school a little bit disillusioned with myself because obviously I hadn’t been the greatest boarder in the world. And I didn’t play in any of the school first teams. But I was determined to make something of myself.

I’ve always, throughout my life, wondered what would have happened if I’d gone to university. Would I have become a more rounded individual? Would I have been more educated? Well, obviously the answer to that is yes. On the other hand, I’d have spent 5 years in education and by then, I’d got my journalistic career well and truly under way.

If I met that teenage boy now I’d think he was a nervous little boy trying to make his way in the world but who didn’t quite know which direction he was going to go in. I’d think he was pretty ineffective in some ways – I thought everyone else was bigger and better than me. But I’d see a little bit of charm in him – he could hold a conversation and he was a nice bright healthy young man who tried to put on a positive appearance in public when he could.

I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I’d founded a school newspaper, ‘The Phoenix’, in my last term. I wrote to alot of newspapers asking for jobs and kept getting rejection letters until after 18 months a paper in North London offered me a 4 year apprenticeship. I was a football enthusiast – I was a season ticket holder at Chelsea, I went to matches every week. Somewhere at the back of my mind my ambition was to be a football reporter although I don’t think I had the idea of becoming a television commentator.

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I’d tell my younger self that determination will see you through. MY BBC career has had several ups and downs – in the mid eighties, after commentating on the FA Cup final for the BBC for many years, I lost it to my colleague Barry Davies. That was a real downer for me and I had to fight back really hard to get back to the number one position. But I did manage to do it.

I’d love to tell my teenage self that he’ll meet a nice girl to marry and have a family with. Annie and I have been married 33 years this year. I’ve had a lot of support from my wife and my family and that’s definitely something I would have been looking for at 16. There have been hard times; Annie had breast cancer, but I’m happy to say she’s fully recovered now. So I’ve had setbacks but I’ve had lots of good times like the birth of my son Fred, who’s become a good friend of mine, and all my work with the BBC. Life has worked out pretty well.

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