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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 21:59 GMT
The unlikely World Cup hero
Kenneth Wolstenholme commentating on the 1966 World Cup
Wolstenholme became a household name in 1966
By BBC Sport Online's Ben Gallop

Some people are on the pitch.
They think it's all over.
It is now.

It is the most famous piece of sports commentary in British broadcasting history.

Indeed Kenneth Wolstenholme's words at the climax of the 1966 World Cup final are among the most familiar ever uttered on the BBC.

"I never realised my 1966 words would have such an impact," Wolstenholme recalled of his off-the-cuff masterwork in a recent interview.


People rang me up and said 'What were those words you said at the end?'
Kenneth Wolstenholme

"They didn't at the time. All the talk was about winning the World Cup and nobody gave a tuppeny stuff what anyone had said on television or what the coverage had been like.

"But BBC2 repeated the match later in the year and it was after that, when people were watching it already knowing the result, that the words came out and hit them.

"People rang me up and said 'What were those words you said at the end?'"

And from there a cottage industry grew up.

Public fascination with his three-line finale escalated, as it began to strike a chord with an English public desperate for images of national success.

His words have now been re-broadcast more times than Churchill's "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech - and, to the generations born after 1945, they probably mean more than any war-time rhetoric ever will.

The moment that ensured Wolstenholme will always be remembered - England's 1966 World Cup triumph
Wolstenholme: Linked with England's finest hour

Advertisers soon recognised the commercial advantages of associating their products with England's greatest sporting hurrah.

In recent years Wolstenholme's words have been used to sell everything from dog food to executive cars.

Sadly for the man himself, he was unable to cash in on the belated interest in his commentary - with the copyright laws stating that no one can own the rights to a particular phrase.

At first it rankled with the broadcaster that his creation was being exploited for other people's gain.

But over the years he grew to take a philosophical approach.

"There's no point in getting your knickers in a twist," he admitted, "especially as it has been useful for me."


I'm a Japanese poet, am I? I've never been called that before
Kenneth Wolstenholme

Useful it was, as the commentary kept him in the limelight long after he left the BBC and turned his back on full-time TV work.

Interest in the '66 broadcast increased - with academics even joining the fray.

For what Ken could not know at the time was that he had created a haiku.

A Japanese poem that must conform to a highly concentrated and rigid structure, a haiku must be three lines long, with a total of precisely 17 syllables.

No more, no less - just 17 syllables with which to conjure up a thumbnail sketch of the world.

Poetic edge

And it turns out that Wolstenholme's words fit this miniature poetic template exactly.

In true haiku-style, his three-line, 17-syllable statement provides the perfect snapshot of that dramatic game at Wembley.

Not that it meant much to Wolstenholme.

"I'm a Japanese poet, am I?" he responded in deadpan fashion, when informed of the news.

"I've never been called that before."

Links to more Football stories are at the foot of the page.

 

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