Emotional commentator John Motson describes witnessing Hillsborough Disaster as the 'worst moment' in long career

Legendary commentator John Motson has described the Hillsborough Disaster as the 'worst moment' in all his 50 years covering football.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 07 June, 2018, 11:00
Hillsborough Disaster unfolding.

The recently retired 72-year-old held back tears as he gave a first-hand account of the tragedy in which 96 Liverpool supporters died at Sheffield Wednesday's ground in 1989 an FA Cup semi-final match against Nottingham Forest.

John Motson.

During a BBC documentary on his career, entitled 'Motty - The Man Behind the Sheepskin', he remembers describing to colleagues off air how there seemed to be gaps of supporters in the stand.

He said: "The thing I remember most about Hillsborough and it resonated with me many, many times was that in the build up to the start of the game John Shrewsbury, who was the producer and I, had to agree a way of getting into the commentary and we were panning around the ground looking at the supporters and I vividly remember saying to John Shrewsbury 'I can't talk about the packed Liverpool end because there are huge gaps on the two wing terraces'.

"I could see the steps because there was hardly anybody standing there. And of course what happened afterwards was that sadly many fans saw their way clear to going down the central tunnel and that's where the tragedy occurred."

Motson, who got his first taste covering football working as a reporter at the Sheffield Telegraph in 1967, added: "From where I was sitting I had no idea of the enormity of the tragedy at first.

The Hillsborough Disaster.

"I could see people running across the pitch. One minute I was commentating on a football match and the next minute I was a news reporter updating people on what was happening at the ground. All of which I couldn't be sure about from where I was.

"It was a tragedy in the making and I had to be very careful about what I said because one of the things I was taught in television was never assume too much when you're dealing with an issue like that and don't start quoting people's injuries and that sort of thing.

"But I remember Jimmy Hill being with me and I remember him pointing down to the pitch and there was a supporter receiving the kiss of life from a policeman and then I realised that we were dealing with something far beyond football."

He concluded: "When I went downstairs and realised what we were witnessing was in all my years in football the worst moment in terms of football tragedy."

The programme revealed how fellow commentator Barry Davies MBE - who was at the Heysel Stadium Disaster in which 39 people died before a Liverpool v Juventus match in 1985 - rang Motson to offer some words of comfort.

He said: "I phoned him because he would have known that I knew what he was feeling. and by just phoning to say 'How are you John?' was an instinctive thing."

The documentary heard how the tragedy deeply affected Motson.

Colleague and former Liverpool player Mark Lawrenson said the commentator had never talked about Hillsborough in 'all the time' he spent with him.

Motson's son Frederick added that the tragedy is "something that really affected dad and was really something that weighed on him."

His wife Anne said: "His love and belief in football that summer might have deserted him."

Fans were crushed on the terraces when too many supporters were allowed into the ground.

Inquests ruled that fans were unlawfully killed and errors by the police and ambulance service caused or contributed to the loss of lives.