John Motson in gaming: the voice that helped put FIFA on the map

When I was a kid, soccer video games, at least the ones I played, had no commentary. Some would have the weird digitized sound bite, like in World Cup Italia 90 on SEGA Mega Drive, where the commentator scarily yelled “GOAL” every time you scored (it also sounded like you were kicking a hot water bottle instead of a soccer ball). football, but I digress). This would all change in the mid to late 1990s, when the increase in power and 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 provided play-by-play analysis and analysis on titles like FIFA, Actua Soccer, International Superstar Soccer Pro, and the underrated Olympic Soccer. The use of commentators made each game feel a bit more real, even if the commentary was pretty basic by today’s standards.

The FIFA games were probably my least favorite during the early polygon era (I preferred 16-bit titles), but I, like many others, still bought each new entry, mainly because they were the most authentic.

In fact, while other games may have played FIFA out of the park, EA’s franchise had the licensing, presentation, and atmosphere fans craved.

FIFA games not only had the right teams and player names, but they also had the best commentators, most notably the legendary John Motson, who sadly passed away at the age of 77 on February 23, 2023.

No offense to the likes of Alan Green, Barry Davies and Tony Gubba, but ‘Motty’ was the voice of soccer for my generation, so it’s only fair that he was chosen to commentate on early FIFA games, starting with FIFA Soccer 96 on the PlayStation and Saturn.

Demonstrating just 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 commentary duties with Sky Sports’ Andy Gray, followed in later releases by Ally McCoist.

According to a list of his video game credits at Moby Games, John Motson would continue to comment on the main FIFA titles until he retired after FIFA 2005.

He was replaced by Clive Tyldesley in FIFA 06, by which time FIFA had established itself as the number one football franchise in the UK, even though Pro Evo was the best game at the time!

FIFA would arguably have enjoyed the same success regardless of its in-game commentary team, but the hiring of John Motson symbolized EA’s commitment to making the most authentic and premium soccer game possible.

If EA Sports was going to spend all that money on getting official leagues and licenses, they were also going to get the most famous and beloved commentator to call their games. It’s a shame we didn’t see a virtual John Motson appear in his shearling coat.

To celebrate the life of the legendary commentator, check out some of his video game appearances below, starting with FIFA 96 and ending with much more in-depth commentary from FIFA 2005.

The news of John Motson’s death was announced in a statement from his family: “It is with great sadness that 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 nearly 2,500 televised matches, including Hereford United’s shock victory over Newcastle United in 1972 and England’s defeat by West Germany in 1990.

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