On July 30th, 1966 England won the World Cup by defeating West Germany at Wembley in what remains one of the most iconic sporting moments in British history, but almost just as memorable is the commentary which accompanies Geoff Hurst’s third goal and England’s fourth on that eventful afternoon.
But although Kenneth Wolstenholme’s words remain some of the best known to date, there have been numerous other pieces of sporting commentary which have caught the imagination for years and even decades which still sound as dramatic as they did on the day they first hit our airwaves.
Kenneth Wolstenholme, England v West Germany, 1966 World Cup final
As Geoff Hurst races through on goal in the dying seconds of the 1966 World Cup final the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme notices that some over excitable fans have run onto the pitch somewhat prematurely to celebrate the famous win: “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over…” he remarks.
And in a piece of broadcasting which is as famous today as it was over half a century ago, when Hurst’s shot hits the back of the net to make it 4-2 to and seal World Cup victory for the hosts, Wolstenholme almost seamlessly confirms: “… it is now,” as the old stadium erupts. But spare a thought for ITV commentator Hugh Johns whose: “Hurst, he could make it three... he has! That’s it, that’s it!” line isn’t as well remembered all these years on.
Bryon Butler, England v Argentina, 1986 World Cup Quarter Final
They say a picture paints a thousand words which means when you are commentating for radio your job is even harder, especially when you’re describing one of the finest goals ever scored. With England still reeling from a Maradona’s opening “hand of God” goal in the quarter-final in Mexico 1986 the little genius picked up the ball in the middle of the field before spinning away from the English midfield and running the length of the field to make it 2-0.
Spare a thought for the BBC’s Bryon Butler then who had the task of describing the action to an audience of millions and did so brilliantly without even pausing for breath; “Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squat man … comes inside Butcher, leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick, leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away … and that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the world…”
Brian Moore, Liverpool v Arsenal, 1989 First Division Decider
Despite what Sky Sports might have you believe, the greatest end to a season ever was when Liverpool faced Arsenal at Anfield on May 26th, 1989 with the league title quite literally up for grabs for both sides. Arsenal had to win by two clear goals while Liverpool knew a draw or a 1-0 defeat would be enough for them. So, when Arsenal’s Michael Thomas surged through the Reds’ defence in the third minute of injury time with the Gunners 1-0 to the good and the First Division championship on the line some commentators would have crumbled. Not ITV’s Brian Moore though, who described the action brilliantly.
“A good ball by Dixon, finding Smith,” growled the veteran as Thomas was put through on goal with the title at his mercy. “For Thomas, charging through the midfield! Thomas... It’s up for grabs now...” In the modern era the goal would have been lost in a sea of shrieking and screaming but Moore’s brilliant timing and delivery only complemented what still remains the greatest climax to a football league season ever.
Murray Walker, 1996 Japanese Grand Prix
Murray Walker was often ridiculed for his well-publicized bloopers behind the microphone such as; “The car in front is absolutely unique, except for the one behind which is identical,” but when British favourite and personal friend Damon Hill crossed the line to clinch his first Formula One world title at Suzuka in September 1996, he delivered one of the most memorable lines of all time.
“And Damon Hill exits the chicane and wins the Japanese Grand Prix... and I've got to stop, because I've got a lump in my throat,” announced Walker in a moment which he described as the most emotional of his career and one which still sends shivers down the spine of anyone listening to it a quarter of a century later.
Barry Davies, Great Britain v West Germany 1988 Olympic Games
Barry Davies is well known for his magnificent football commentaries down the years as he and fellow BBC voice John Motson vied for supremacy of the airwaves, and who could forget such lines as: “Look at his face, just look at his face…”? But it was while calling the men’s gold medal match at the 1988 Seoul Olympics that he uttered perhaps his most immortal line.Having only just squeezed through the group stages Great Britain secured a shot at gold by beating Australia in the semi-final and when Imran Sherwani scored Britain’s third goal to ensure they would finish on top of the podium Davies queried: “Where were the Germans? And frankly, who cares?” A phrase that captured the hearts of the millions watching at home while perfectly summing up one of the greatest moments in British Olympic history at the time.