When you think of many of the most iconic moments in football, it often isn’t just the images that play in your head. Usually, they are accompanied by an ingenious line of commentary, perfectly capturing the moment with a few choice words. We asked out writers to come up with their choices on what they believe to be the greatest line of commentary they’ve ever heard.
James Bolam-Bill Leslie, Bristol City vs Manchester United, EFL Cup Quarter Final 2017
It was just before Christmas 2017. Lee Johnson’s Bristol City were going well in the Championship, playing some exciting attacking football. They drew Manchester United in the EFL Cup, following the impressive scalps of Premier League sides Watford, Stoke and Crystal Palace. José Mourinho’s side visited Ashton Gate as a team featuring the likes of Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford. It looked a step too far for City.
Bill Leslie was on commentary. In my view one of the most underrated commentators in English football. Ashton Gate was packed and the fans were full of festive spirits. I booked the next day off work just in case. It would prove to be a wise move.
City was impressive but United hit the woodwork twice. Bristol boy and City fan Joe Bryan put us ahead, but Zlatan Ibrahimović equalised with a nicely taken free-kick. City looked the more impressive as the match drifted towards extra time. I couldn’t help but feel that United would nick it against the run of play because, well that’s what United do. I was wrong. So So beautifully wrong.
If I was lacking belief then Bill Leslie wasn’t. As the match headed into the third minute of injury time, Leslie uttered these immortal words”Still life in this perhaps for Bristol City, In by Taylor…… It’s Smith! The roof has just come off here at Ashton Gate!”When the ball hit the back of the net the next five minutes were something of a blur. I recall turning to my friend Ian who I have stood with at games since the ’90s and screaming at him “They can’t come back, they don’t have time, they can’t come back!” he responded with a look of pure joy and the words “I know! I know!”. There is footage of me running down the steps of the stand then back again. I have no memory of this.
While this was going on and following Leslie’s wonderful line, Korey Smith had slid into the corner and was piled on by fans invading the pitch. The final whistle blew and I joined them. The first person I saw was friend and actor Joe Simms. We embraced before he was dragged off by a radio reporter to ask him for comment. It made that week’s Football Weekly podcast.
Later that night in BS3 the pubs were packed and fans were dancing and singing on tables. We had drawn Man City in the semi-final and I was convinced we would kick on and win promotion to the Premier League. The cup run took its toll. Form dropped off and that side was broken up. Sold on to clubs that could pay bigger wages or offer Premier League football. The players having a taste of the big time and wanting more.
But no one could take away that night. Leslie’s lines are now immortalised under the Landsdown Stand at Ashton Gate. He was right. There WAS still life in this for Bristol City…….It’s Smith!…….
Pete Spencer- Kenneth Wolstenholme, World Cup Final 1966
‘They Think it’s All Over – It is Now’
It’s possibly the most famous piece of football commentary ever. For Kenneth Wolstenholme, it made him a household name. Ever since then commentators have been dreaming up their closing lines, hoping to produce something as memorable.
It was English football’s greatest occasion, the 1966 World Cup Final. England lead 3-2 in extra time with barely minutes remaining. Bobby Moore, cool as you like, took the ball down on his chest in his own penalty area. With Jack Charlton screaming at him to ‘get rid of it’, ‘Mooro’ calmly looked up and waited for the run of his West Ham teammate, Geoff Hurst.
Moore then played a beautiful ball downfield into the opposing half for Hurst to run onto. He surged towards the West German goal when some supporters on the far side thought the game had ended and ran onto the pitch.
Wolstenholme says; “And here comes Hurst….” Then suddenly he caught sight of the supporters and uttered the first part of his iconic phrase
“There’s some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over…”
Meanwhile, Hurst made it into the penalty area, unchallenged. His intention was to wallop the ball towards the goal. If it missed it would go so far behind the goal, and take ages to get it back. Fortunately, he hit it so well it flew into the roof of the net.
This gave Wolstenholme the perfect second line; “…..it is now, it’s four”
He said afterwards he hadn’t pre-planned the line. Once he’d made the point about supporters thinking the game was over, it seemed obvious to say it was once Hurst made it 4-2.
From there he set the pattern for commentary for years to come.
Liam Togher-George Hamilton (RTE), Republic of Ireland v Romania, World Cup 1990
The Republic of Ireland were among the debutants at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and, while their style of football under the late, great Jack Charlton may not have been spectacular, their results were decent. Draws against England, Egypt and Netherlands in the group stage took them through to a round of 16 clash against Romania in Genoa.
The match was as dull as a score of 0-0 after extra time would suggest, but the Boys in Green needed to just hold their nerve in the penalty shoot-out to advance to the last eight. Each team’s first four penalties were converted before Packie Bonner kept out Daniel Timofte, leaving David O’Leary with the chance to make Irish football history if the Arsenal veteran could get the better of Silviu Lung from 12 yards.
George Hamilton, who was on lone commentary duty for RTE on the afternoon of 25 June, would have the privilege of his forthcoming words being permanently synonymous with a great moment in Ireland’s cultural as well as sporting history. The cameras panned to an Irish fan in the stadium blessing himself. Then the stage was set for George, as O’Leary duly did the business:”
The nation holds its breath…yes, we’re there!”Eight wonderful, iconic words which would go down in legend as Ireland’s version of “They think it’s all over…it is now”. Hamilton is still calling games for RTE 31 years later, but no future utterance of his is likely to define his career quite like his succinct yet apt summary of a nation’s feeling on that day in the wonderful summer of 1990.
Jack Wills- John Motson, England v Greece, World Cup qualifiers 2001
Rodney McCain-Peter Jones, Liverpool v Nottingham Forest, FA Cup semi-final 1989
“…and the sun shines now.”
Thus concluded the late, great radio commentator Peter Jones on a broadcast from Hillsborough, Sheffield in April 1989. He’d just been, in many ways, forced to be a witness to events that traumatised him so much that they almost certainly contributed to his death less than a year later.
Jones was the “live” broadcaster for the FA Cup semi-final between Liverpool & Nottingham Forest, a game which lasted mere minutes and became wholly incidental to the tragic, heartbreaking events being played out on the cramped terraced cages behind the Leppings Lane goal as people lost their lives.
From his gantry position, a helpless Jones had to not only watch but articulate the deaths of 95 people (later to become 96) and the dreadful injuries to hundreds more for a horrified nation. He had to relay the utter chaos & mayhem as fans realised that the police had botched up so badly that ONE ambulance was present in the entire ground, unable to help the dying.
Find his radio summary online, but be warned: it is difficult to listen to, even with the passing of time. When he made it he must have known that his would be the voice that would become the authoritative eulogy of the day’s catastrophic losses.
It’s the most eloquent, and yet simple, summary of the worst day in English football history. Peter Jones was one of the greatest commentators of all time; I’m sorry he had to experience Hillsborough.