Often under-valued or even completely under the radar, commentators are almost part of a particular sport’s fabric. It is often the case that a specific sport is remembered, almost synonymous because of a commentator.
When thinking of a certain commentator, some sports fans can even recollect incidents from sporting events where the commentary has stood out that much. This is what the greats do and why they are so good at their job.
It could even be the case that you have fond memories of a place because that is where you were when you were privy to such commentating of certain sporting events that took place.
Following the recent passing of legendary football commentator, John Motson, it has thrown into question other names in the field, whose voices have graced sport in decades past and who are maybe still doing so.
Affectionately known as ‘Motty’ to fans and colleagues alike, it feels apt to start with arguably the most famous football commentator of the last few decades. Instantly recognisable, he became known for his trademark sheepskin coat, which he first noticeably appeared in during an FA Cup tie between Wycombe Wanderers and Peterborough United in 1990 having described himself “battling horizontal sleet”.
Over the years, he became well-loved among fans and his colleagues and received an OBE for his services to sport. Starting his career as a newspaper reporter in 1936, he moved to the Sheffield Morning Telegraph in 1967 where he first covered football.
In 1968 he joined BBC Radio 2 as a sports presenter, before commentating on his first football match a year later, between Everton and Derby County. This was effectively the launchpad for his broadcasting career, and in 1971 he appeared as a regular for Match of the Day.
During his tenure, he covered 10 FIFA World Cups, 10 UEFA European Championships and 29 FA Cup finals, in addition to thousands of Premier and football league matches.
Another commentator with an instantly recognisable voice, Walker and Formula 1 were essentially one and the same. A pulsating accompaniment to the tone of a race, a sport of fast, frenetic and breakneck speed, Walker’s voice was perfectly toned to convey the excitement in appropriate fashion.
Having passed in 2021, aged 97, Walker had a highly interesting life, having served in World War II, commanding a Sherman tank in the Battle of the Reichswald, while he left the army in 1946 after four years, having reached the rank of captain.
His broadcasting career began in 1949, with his first ever live broadcast being the British Grand Prix that year. Intriguingly, his father Graham was also a commentator and they became the first ever father and son broadcasting team for the BBC between 1949 and 1962, with the former predominantly a motorcycling commentator. After the death of his father, Walker junior became chief motorcycling commentator for the BBC.
From the 1980s, Walker became predominantly known as a Formula 1 commentator, though prior to this had covered weightlifting, motorcycling, rallycross and motocross (then scrambling).
The undisputed “voice of golf” – an opinion held by many, Allis and the sport go hand in hand. His almost bewitchingly velvet voice was one of the highlights of many a tournament; particularly the US Masters at Augusta, which was a somewhat sombre affair in 2021 following his passing in December 2020.
Having begun his career as a golfer, this equipped him nicely for what was to come, though he demonstrated just as much talent as a commentator; a wizard of words and his voice ensnared the senses and he was a natural at capturing intrigue with each utterance, while his superb comedic timing often had many in listeners cracking smiles.
Unbeknown to many, Allis was born in Berlin, Germany though attended a boarding school in the south of England.
Alongside “Motty”, Davies is another commentator who can be regarded as an iconic football voice. Despite this, he has also demonstrated his versatility, having commentated on a number of other sports over the years including tennis, badminton, ice hockey, ice skating, gymnastics, field hockey, cycling, beach volleyball and athletics. However, the vast majority of these occurred during Davies’ coverage of the Olympics, both at Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004 – covering both the opening and closing ceremonies. He returned for the 2012 Olympic Games, held in London providing covering both ceremonies again.
Between 1993 and 2004, he was also the voice of ‘The Boat Race’; a quintessential British sporting institution, a televised event held between Oxford and Cambridge every year. He has worked for both ITV Sport and BBC Sport during his career, before turning freelance in 2014, where he did this for five years. In December 2004, Davies was awarded an MBE for his services to broadcasting.
Perhaps known only amongst a select niche of sporting fans, French lit up the sport of rugby league as you know it and was a considerable luminary for the sport, especially throughout the nineties.
Equipped with an almost unequivocally inextinguishable command of the English language; to those who have heard him will remember French best for being able to effortlessly convey the tone of a game via his unique Lancashire dialect and voracious vivacity that not only captured, but excited the hearts and minds of an ardent rugby league community.
His voice will be forever imprinted on the fabric of the sport and there are many reasons to suggest that he may well be one of the most naturally gifted and truly captivating commentators in the history of sport.
Another commentator that is associated with football, Drury currently works in the United States for NBC, covering the Premier League.
Prior to this, he carved out his career at the ITV and BBC, while he also still freelances for BT Sport and Amazon Prime Video; responsible for the live football coverage. Throughout his career he has commentated on multiple World Cups, in addition to Champions League games.
His first break in football journalism was with BBC Radio Leeds at a time when Leeds United were First Division champions and following this, he moved to 5Live, where covered a wide array of football games, as well as the golf Open Championship and the Ryder Cup in 1997.
When it comes to iconic voices football, this is one that has stood the test of time; essentially the ‘voice of ITV’ for well over 20 years having worked on the vast majority of Champions League, World Cup and European Championship games as the broadcaster’s principal commentator since 1998.
Having started his career at the BBC where he worked for four years, he learned under the revered Motson and Davies as an addition to an established team that also included Tony Gubba. Following the promotion of Sam Matterface to senior commentator by ITV, Tyldesley joined CBS Sports in 2020. He has also written and provided scripts for the FIFA football video game over the years where his voice has featured alongside both Andy Gray’s and Andy Townsend’s.
Famously an ex-cricketer who played for Warwickshire, Bannister then was fundamental in helping to establish the Professional Cricketers’ Association in 1967 where he worked in numerous positions for two decades. Despite setting up a bookmaker’s, he handed this over to his daughter after numerous forays into the media industry.
As such, Bannister became a prominent cricket commentator, initially at the BBC (when the channel covered cricket), between 1984 and 1999, before joining talkSPORT where he is perhaps most well-known among most fans.
During his time at the BBC, while on air, he famously promised to eat a newspaper if South Africa won a test match series over England in 1995, which they did, resulting in him committing to his word.
Somewhat of an all-rounder, Lynam is well-known by many and instantly recognisable in the world of sport. Having held roles with the BBC and ITV, he has covered numerous events over the years, across football, athletics and boxing, the latter which he did for 20 years.
Lynam got his break in broadcasting 1968 as a freelance radio journalist, spending a year at BBC Radio Brighton, before moving to television in 1977 with Sportswide, which finished in 1983.
One who often slips under the radar, Cotter has built a significant reputation for himself as a sports commentator over the years and is certainly somewhat of an all-rounder. Perhaps most well-known for his BBC 6 Nations work, the Scot’s distinctive voice is easily recognisable by many.
Some 5 Live listeners may also remember him for his golf coverage over the years, while he also covers tennis, athletics and also the Boat Race. Meanwhile, he has also worked at four Olympics, covering multiple sports, in addition to commentating on both the opening and closing ceremonies (2016). Primarily he has spent his career at the BBC, however he also freelances for numerous media outlets, including SkySports and BT Sport. His first love, though, is rugby union, for which he is most well-known.