Football greats

So I haven’t posted in a while and this is overdue. It’s about two greats of the football world who have died recently, Pele and John Motson. I started to get really interested in footie around the age of 9/10. As well as playing I started to watch Blackpool FC and did all the boys’ soccer-mad stuff like collecting cards and accumulating, my proud and joy, numerous books on football. Of course there was no internet back then in the Middle Ages and little tv coverage of the game. So books were where I learned about the international game. And I became fasciated by Brazil and in particular by Pele. It was not just because he was a footballing genius; he was known by his nickname but how many knew then that his real name was the exotic Edson Arantes do Nascimento? I did thanks to my books.  And he was proud to be named after the genius inventor Edison.

I’d seen some grainy tv coverage of Brazil’s World Cup win in Sweden in 1958 where he performed brilliantly as a 17 year old but so little of it was captured. Brazil followed this up with another WC win in 1962 in Chile. Pele was injured early on and played little part but I pored over the details of the tournament via my books post-event. I don’t recall ever seeing any filmed coverage of that WC though. And can you imagine the tournament being hosted in either of those countries these days?

Anyway I was so looking forward to him coming to England for the 1966 WC. But as most footie fans will know he was kicked to bits, got injured and Brazil went out in the initial stage, ignominiously. He very nearly retired from the international scene as a result but was enticed back to play in the 1970 tournament in Mexico which, to my mind was the greatest WC of all time. England, defending champions, were great as were Italy and Germany but Brazil were just sensational throughout with the likes of Gerson, Tostao, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Rivelinho etc.

I mentioned that I’d been watching Blackpool FC play for several years by this stage, and most of it in the top flight. Blackpool’s leading striker for several years was a guy called Ray Charnley and he was a 6’4″ bean pole. The primary game tactic was to hit the ball up to Charnley who was on the run into the opposition penalty area. I cannot tell you how many times I saw the ball hit him on the back of the head. It was not the sophisticated game that Pep Guardiola would recognise..

Then in 1970 I saw Pele in his magnificent green, yellow and blue kit punctuating the brilliant Mexican sunlight, doing stuff I’d never seen before…the outrageous dummy around the goalie,  shots on goal from the half-way line, stunning headers (kept out by the mighty Gordon Banks), and a sublime pass to allow his captain and full back Carlos Alberto to score possibly the most amazing team goal I’ve ever seen. Compared to watching Blackpool and Ray Charnley it was like watching a completely different game. I’ve seen stuff performed like this since but I was stunned then at how cultured the football was. And Pele was pulling the strings. I’ve never seen a better final. I was watching it as 17 year old in a bar on a campsite in the Lakes where I’d gone with my wingman John Mc to chase girls. And that night it was all Pele and no girls. Here’s an iconic shot of Pele after scoring one of the goals – in my eyes the GOAT by a country mile…

And so to John Motson, the excellent TV and radio commentator who left us very recently. To be honest I wasn’t always the biggest fan of his commentaries in the early days. I found him a bit too keen on throwing stats around  rather than talking about the actual state of play. Anyway I was once a fairly big player in sports marketing during my time in the mobile comms business. And as it happened I was invited by the BBC to be a guest of the BBC’s Match of the Day team at a Man United v Man City derby game back in 1995. As well as watching Blackpool FC as my local team I’ve always been a big United fan. I was personal guest of the Executive Producer Niall Sloane who was great company and took me through the whole production process. He then invited me to go and meet Motty up in the gantry. How could you say no? Motty was brilliantly engaging. Just so enthusiastic. I noticed he had a crib sheet of facts on an A4-sizes piece of card with manuscript details on both sides. He told me he produced these before every game he was commenting on as an aide-memoire, using different coloured pens to emphasise certain levels of fact importance – team/player  details on one side and general facts on the reverse. He explained that this was his back-stop info in case of a break in play eg injuries or periods of time-wasting etc.  He would never allow himself to be guilty of  dead airtime.

Long story short he was touched by my interest in his notes and sent me this particular card after the match. I managed to get the card delicately split and mounted  and gave it to my Man United – mad grandson some time later. It’s started to fade a bit since then but here’s a photo of Motty’s incredible notes. You can see the dedication at the top of the page – something I’m v proud of…

Classic United side with Giggs, Keane, Scholes, Schmeichel, Beckham etc all playing. They won that match 1-0 and went on to win the Premiership. Yes!!  I met Motty subsequently  – sometimes at Barnet FC where we both knew the Chairman TK well but usually at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff (where we had a permanent box) which was the host venue for the FA and League Cup Finals whilst Wembley was re-developed. He’d come up after the games, sometimes with Mark Lawrenson in tow, and he’d stay to have chat with our late-leaving guests. And I can tell you two things; he was always really great company and he usually did a bit of damage to our red wine bill. Ah only joking Motty. You were always welcome and I’ve never forgotten that day at Old Trafford. I can’t leave this without an image of JM in his trademark coat…

A couple of real greats alright.



2 thoughts on “Football greats

  1. Great to see you back with a smashing story. How about this for dedication. Our son Matt and grandson Harry are both season ticket holders at Manchester United and failed to get tickets for the Away game at Barcelona in the Europa league. Along with a friend they drove to Luton and flew to Barcelona and watched the game in a pub there, then flew back to Luton late on Saturday, stayed in a hotel overnight then drove straight to Old Trafford on Sunday to watch United beat Leicester. Matt said there were loads of United supporters In the bar and the atmosphere was brilliant. I must be getting old, I just switch the telly on at home.
    Love to C and R.

    • Wow! Hi John. Now that’s dedication. I might have done the same at one time but like you I’m very much an armchair fan now. Anyway great to hear from you and hope you’re all well. Love to C xx

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