Asked which football club he supported and conscious he might be accused of bias, John Motson had a ready response - he followed Barnet FC.

But although the legendary commentator - who died today (Thursday, February 23) had a genuine loyalty to the Bees, the truth was harder to pin down and only emerged many years later.

Motson was born in Salford, Lancashire, but baptised in Boston, Lincolnshire. As a child, he was a follower of Boston United and later recalled the club's victory over Derby County in the FA Cup in 1955.

He grew up in Lewisham, in south-east London, and attended Ennersdale junior school in Hither Green.

When he was 11, Motson was sent to boarding school at Culford near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. At school, rugby, hockey and cricket were the preferred sports, but while his father was a minister on a Sunday, he was an avid football fan on a Saturday and made his son "a football nut".

Motson joined the Barnet Press in Chipping Barnet as a junior reporter in 1963 at the age of 18.

Times Series: John Motson watches Barnet take on Hereford UnitedJohn Motson watches Barnet take on Hereford United (Image: Dave Peters)

He went on to work at the Sheffield Morning Telegraph, where he first covered football, then BBC Radio Sheffield and then the BBC Radio 2 as a sports reporter in 1968 before moving to Match of the Day in 1971.

From 1971 until he retired in 2018, he commentated on almost 2,500 games for BBC television, covering 10 World Cups, 10 European Championships and 29 FA Cup Finals.

Times Series: John Motson joins former sports editor John Pollard at his 70th surprise birthday party at Apthorp Lodge in Nurseymans Walk, Southgate NL7318John Motson joins former sports editor John Pollard at his 70th surprise birthday party at Apthorp Lodge in Nurseymans Walk, Southgate NL7318 (Image: Peter Beal)

But if asked, he often claimed to have a soft spot for the Bees, telling the Radio Times: “I have a long connection with the club.

“I was a junior reporter at the local paper (the Barnet Press) that covered their matches.

“I’ve always lived around Hertfordshire and have looked for their results ever since.”

“I go and watch them whenever I can.”

Times Series: John Motson meets fans at a signing session for his autobiographyJohn Motson meets fans at a signing session for his autobiography (Image: Holly Cant)

But in his autobiography Motty: 40 Years in the Commentary Box, Motson admitted that although his love of Barnet was real, his true loyalties lay with a better-heeled club closer to the river.

“You can’t evade the question forever — especially when I look up from my desk while writing this and see two shelves of Chelsea programmes covering 40 years up to 1985,” he wrote.

“When I got to Match of the Day in 1971 Chelsea figured in my first, faltering commentary. Somehow my Chelsea loyalties were pushed into the background.

“It was essential that I sounded unbiased and neutral when I was at the microphone.

“I deliberately avoided answering honestly. ‘Barnet’ was my usual response.

“It was not entirely inaccurate. I had grown fond of the club when I was a reporter on the local paper.

“Chelsea played in the first match I went to with my dad in 1952.”

Motson remained close to Barnet, living in St Albans in the 1980s and later in Little Gaddesden.

In a piece about his "haven" at his Herts home, he later told the Daily Mail that he had a set of Russian-style dolls, painted in Barnet’s colours, after his son spotted them in a shop in Prague.

He was a supporter of Welwyn Hatfield-based charity Willow, which was set up by former Arsenal and England goalkeeper Bob Wilson to give children with life-limiting illnesses special days, breaks and treats.

In 2001, Motson was made an OBE for services to sports broadcasting.

He is survived by his wife Anne and son Frederick.

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