Kenneth Wolstenholme, the former football commentator who took his place in the celestial gantry yesterday, aged 81, unwittingly recorded his own epitaph nearly 36 years prematurely, on a summer's afternoon in north London.
"Some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over," he cried, as Geoff Hurst stormed towards the West German goal, with England 3-2 up in the dying seconds of extra-time in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley.
Just outside the penalty area, the exhausted Hurst decided to shoot. As he did so, the ball hit a divot and bounced awkwardly, the most felicitous awkward bounce in sporting history. Consequently, Hurst caught the ball with the hard part of his instep, and it flew into the net. "It is now!" concluded Wolstenholme.
Without knowing it, he had uttered the lines that would become immortalised. He had also provided the makers of a future TV quiz – sadly, an irredeemably vulgar, fatuous affair – with a title. Wolstenholme was far from flattered by the series They Think It's All Over, not least because it magnified a missed opportunity.
"Ken greatly regretted that he didn't attempt to get those words copyrighted," Alec Weeks, producer of the BBC's Match of the Day from 1964 to 1980, said yesterday. "Every time they were quoted he might have received a little something. But at the time, he had no idea. None of us did."
Wolstenholme, a widower, died last night at a private hospital in Torquay, following heart failure. His only daughter was at his side. He commentated on 23 FA Cup finals and five World Cup finals, having become the BBC's football commentator in 1948. "He not only had a great voice, he knew just how to use it," said the BBC commentator Barry Davies yesterday. "He left the BBC mistakenly, in my view."
Wolstenholme parted company with the Corporation in September 1971, furious that his contract, which for decades had given him first claim to all major football occasions, was being rewritten to make room for David Coleman. He joined Tyne Tees, and later worked for Channel 4.
"It was such a shame, because he would still have done six out of 10 top matches," added Weeks. "He had a beautiful voice. Even when he was in his seventies we did a closed-circuit feed together, from Liverpool to Millwall, and that voice sent shivers down my spine."
"The funny thing about Ken was, he was a bomber pilot right through the war, winning the Distinguished Flying Cross, yet he absolutely hated heights. He would walk up ladders to his commentary position, clinging on for dear life."
With his death, an era that we already thought was all over, is now.Reuse content