When I was a kid, football video games – at least the ones I played – didn’t have commentary. Some would have the odd digitised soundbite, like in World Cup Italia 90 on the SEGA Mega Drive, where the commentator would rather terrifyingly scream “GOAL” whenever you scored (it also sounded like you were kicking a hot water bottle instead of a football, but I digress). This would all change in the mid-to-late 1990s, when increased power and the widespread adoption of CD-ROMS meant that speech and voice acting would infiltrate the virtual world of video games. Sports games really benefited from the audio upgrade, as real-life commentators delivered play-by-play and analysis in titles such as FIFA, Actua Soccer, International Superstar Soccer Pro and the underrated Olympic Soccer. The use of commentators made each game feel a bit more like the real thing, even if the commentary was rather basic by today’s standards.
The FIFA games were probably my least favourite during the early polygon era (I preferred the 16-bit titles), but I, like many others, still purchased every new entry, mainly because they were the most authentic.
Indeed, while other games may have played FIFA off the park, EA’s franchise had the licenses, the presentation and the atmosphere that fans craved.
Not only did the FIFA games have the proper teams and player names, but they also had the best commentators, chief among which being the legendary John Motson, who sadly passed away at the age of 77 on February 23, 2023.
No offence to the likes of Alan Green, Barry Davies and Tony Gubba, but ‘Motty’ was the voice of football for my generation, so it’s only right that he was chosen to commentate on the early FIFA games, starting with FIFA Soccer 96 on the PlayStation and Saturn.
Proving how far ahead FIFA was compared to its rivals (in terms of presentation, at least), subsequent games would see Match of the Day presenter Des Lynam introduce Motty, who shared commentating duties with Sky Sports’ Andy Gray, followed in later releases by Ally McCoist.
According to a list of his video game credits on Moby Games, John Motson would continue to commentate on mainline FIFA titles until bowing out after FIFA 2005.
He was replaced by Clive Tyldesley in FIFA 06, by which point FIFA had established itself as the number one football franchise in the UK – even though Pro Evo was the better game at the time!
FIFA would have arguably enjoyed the same success regardless of its in-game commentary team, but the recruitment of John Motson symbolised EA’s commitment to making the most authentic and premium football game possible.
If EA Sports was going to spend all that money securing official leagues and licenses, then it was also going to get the most famous and beloved commentator to call its matches. It’s just a shame we didn’t see a virtual John Motson make an appearance in his sheepskin coat.
To celebrate the life of the legendary commentator, check out some of his video game appearance below, beginning with FIFA 96 and ending with much more in-depth commentary from FIFA 2005.
News of John Motson’s death was announced in a statement by his family: “It is with great sadness we announce that John Motson OBE died peacefully in his sleep today.”
Motson worked for the BBC for 50 years, retiring from commentary duties in 2018.
During his time with the broadcaster, John Motson covered ten World Cups and commentated on a whopping 29 FA Cup Finals.
According to the BBC, he commentated on almost 2,500 televised games, including Hereford United’s shock win over Newcastle United in 1972, and England’s defeat at the hands of West Germany in 1990.
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