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24 September 2014
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Tributes to Kenneth Wolstenholme

Kenneth Wolstenholme died last night at the age of 81 at a private hospital in Torquay with his daughter by his side.


Barry Davies, BBC Commentator: "He was the first television football commentator and so set the standards for everyone else. He had a great voice and knew when to use it and when to remain silent. He produced the definitive line of commentary at the most important moment in the history of English football - 'They think it's all over, it is now'. This is a comment that will never be matched. It is hard to believe that the next time I go to White Hart Lane there will not be the chance to have a chat with him. He will be much missed."

John Motson, BBC Commentator: "Kenneth Wolstenholme will always be remembered not just for his magical last line of commentary at the end of the 1966 World Cup Final, but for the time span in which he was, for over 20 years, almost the solitary commentary voice that the nation associated with football."

Sir Paul Fox, Controller of BBC-1, 1967-73: "I employed Kenneth to work on SportsView in the mid-fifties. He was brought to my attention when he was working in Manchester. He came in as a commentator and most of his work was done on film. Kenneth has above all a wonderful voice and was an excellent reader of the game. In those days we flew him by helicopter back from matches so he could bring the film with him, so we could process it and show the game on the evening’s programme - which later became Match of The Day. Kenneth became our chief commentator. He was popular in football clubs, and was very easy going. He had no grandeur and his head never got too big.

"The high point of his career was of course the commentary on the 1966 World Cup Final and the unforgettable 'They think it's all over.

"Many people did not know that Kenneth also had a distinguished war record and served in the airforce from the beginning of the war."

Brian Cowgill, Head of BBC Sport, 1963-1973: "Working with Kenneth was always a great pleasure. We started working on Match of The Day in the mid sixties. He will forever be remembered as a highly effective commentator and was largely instrumental in taking the techniques of broadcast commentating from radio onto television. He was one of the first to recognise that the camera was an effective commentator as he was himself.

"He will of course always be remembered for the 1966 commentary, when Geoff Hurst scored that goal. 40 years on it is still as fresh as ever in people’s minds.

"He was also a war hero, a bomber pilot and was one of the elite Pathfinders."

Alec Weeks, BBC principal producer, 1961 -1971: "We covered all the Cup finals together from 1965 onwards and all the World Cup matches from Wembley, especially the final on July 30 1966 when the famous words were uttered. I can guarantee that those words were completely off the cuff. Kenneth had a beautiful voice and the perfect illustration was in 1966. The girders were shaking and Ken’s voice cut across the screaming crowds perfectly. You could listen to him for hours. About ten years ago we met up and did a match together, Liverpool v Millwall in 1992. This was 15 years after we had last worked together - when he started his commentary, shivers went down my spine. His voice was as beautiful as it was 30 years earlier. His voice never altered. Quite a man to work with."

David Coleman, former BBC Grandstand presenter "I first met Ken in 1950/51 on the same North Sports programme in Manchester. He was already established. I’ve worked with him dozens of times since, me in front of the cameras and him commentating. I last saw him in December and he was in extremely good form. I am very sad to hear about his death because he seemed to be in such good health."

Peter Salmon, Director of BBC Sport: "For those of us who grew up in the early days of football television coverage, Kenneth Wolstenholme was an iconic figure. His commentary on the 1966 World Cup final is now legendary and the phrase 'They Think It's All Over' has entered the annals of sport history. He captured an extraordinary sporting moment brilliantly, and as a consequence his reputation will live on for ever. Everyone in sports broadcasting will miss him and we send our condolences and best wishes to his family."

Alan Hansen, BBC Football Analyst: "He had a great voice and was a great commentator. The line in 1966 was the best three or four seconds ever, and was just what the man was about. That is the best line anyone has come up with in the last 40 years of football commentary."

Gary Lineker, Match of the Day Presenter: "I was so sorry to hear of Ken’s death. He was the voice of football when I was a boy, and his closing commentary on the World Cup Final came to play a big part in my life through They Think It’s All Over. He kept working in various capacities after leaving the BBC and latterly had been heard on Channel 4’s Football Italia, and I was privileged to meet him on several occasions and enjoyed his company. He was a pioneer of sports broadcasting, and paved the way for those of us fortunate enough to work in BBC Sport."

Biographical details

Kenneth Wolstenholme was born in Worsley, near Manchester on 17 July 1920, and educated at Farnworth Grammar School, near Bolton.

On leaving school he began work as a journalist on a local newspaper, but on 1 September 1939 as a member of the pre-war RAF Volunteer Reserve he was mobilised. He served throughout the war as a bomber pilot, first on low-level daylight raids and then as a member of the elite Pathfinder Force, which marked the targets for the main force during the heavy bomber offensive. He completed 100 operations as a bomber pilot and was twice decorated, first with The Distinguished Flying Cross and then with the Bar to the D.F.C. The Bar to the D.F.C was awarded for continual duties as a Pathfinder Marker and completion of 100 sorties over Germany and occupied territories despite heavy anti-aircraft fire and night fighter activity.

After the war he began broadcasting in Manchester, and in 1948 he did his first television commentary, although he had never seen television in his life. From then, until he parted company with the BBC in 1971, he was television's number one soccer commentator. He travelled all over the world covering international games and he commentated on 23 FA Cup Finals, 16 European Cup Finals and five World Cup Finals, the most famous of which being that of 1966 when he produced the most famous line in sports commentating, "Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over. It is now" as Geoff Hurst scored England's fourth goal. He was also the first presenter of Match Of The Day in 1964, when he used to commentate on a game in the afternoon and then go back to the studio to front the programme in the days when Match of the Day attracted an audience of more than 10 million each Saturday. Often, after the programme, he would fly to the continent to do the live commentary on a Sunday afternoon international.

For his work on television he was one of only 12 recipients of The Baird Silver Medal for Services to Television. He was also awarded a silver medal for services to international sport by The Brazilian Sports Confederation. He also worked for Chrysalis Television on two Italian football programmes a week for Channel Four and did many commercials, the best known being the Dunlop Grand Prix commercials in the 1960's and the Reebok commercial featuring Ryan Giggs and Manchester United stars of the past.



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