16 MAY 1992, Page 47



I say'

Frank Keating

EARLIER IN the week, John Motson had admitted, 'Vocabulary, that's my biggest failing. I try very hard to think of something clever or witty to say when a ball goes into the net, but I usually find myself ending up saying, "Oh, what a goal!" or "Oh, I say!".' So I particularly cursed myself in the gener- al hullabaloo when Liverpool's two goals went in for forgetting to notice whether BBC television's commentator had, in fact, come up with any variant of his usual.

In the circumstances, however, 'What a goal!' or 'Oh, I say!' would have served well enough, for Liverpool's brace which brought them the FA Cup at Wembley were by far the two most glistening moments of a fairly humdrum afternoon ruined by rough winds, teeming showers and a skidding pitch. Last Saturday, sport was — as David Coleman once announced when introducing Grandstand — 'not entirely weather-free, I'm afraid'.

Better the devil you know, and, all things considered, I suppose it has been hugely to the BBC's credit (and, latterly, ITV's) that the nation's verbal purveyors of televised sport have been very few. Once you've climbed the rickety ladder to your commen- tators' eyrie, the job is yours for life unless you're too often drunk on the air.

At the age of 84, only last month did Dan Maskell reluctantly announce he would be heard no more at Wimbledon's mike (although don't bet on it, they'll wheel him in somewhere).

It was good to see Brian Johnston — 80 on 24 June, between the Lord's and Old Trafford Test matches — at Worcester the other day doing some homework on the identification of names and faces of the Pakistan touring cricketers (equally, don't bet on the old boy getting them remotely right once the series starts).

At soccer, astonishingly, Motson has been doing the job for the BBC for longer than the lives of many of the players which he identifies down there. This is his 21st year at the mike. His peg-on-the-nose enthusiast's stridencies have covered 'the full 90 mins' nearly 900 times. His first live Cup Final was in 1977. Saturday was his 15th on the trot. He has over 600 record books on soccer on his shelves at home ('Oh, I say, that must be a record'). His wife, a solicitor, gave up her job `to become my statistician, record-keeper and secre- tary'. Such a cottage industry began to bur- geon 'the day my Dad took me to watch Charlton Athletic when I was six'.

Motson is as much part of the fabric of the game as were his breathless predeces- sors. Before him there was Coleman ('For- est have now lost six matches on the trot without winning'); Kenneth (They think it's all over. ... it is now') Wolstenholme; and the founder of the feast with the brown windsor soupstrainer — or was it handle- bar? — Raymond ('Stamps has scored!') Glendenning.

By their phrases we shall know them. And love them. With Motson, his turgid recitation of mumbo-jumbo parrot-fashion stats behind him, a favourite verb for any player who traps the ball cleanly and then looks up to see whom he might pass to is that he 'dwells nicely on the ball'. Also, John's goalkeeper's 'gather nicely', whereas his sidekick, Barry Davies, never sees a catch by a goalkeeper that he doesn't describe as 'well claimed!'

Forever riding shotgun is the Sancho Panza at their shoulder. It used to be Bobby ('England haven't thrown in the towel even though they've been under the gun') Charlton, whom I adored for all rea- sons. But Trevor Brooking, of the 'lovely composed left foot', is catching up fast: 'He went down like a sack of potatoes, and then made a meal of it.'