Wolstenholme’s War


Famed for his 1966 World Cup commentary, iconic sports presenter Kenneth Wolstenholme was a highly decorated wartime bomber pilot. Sean Feast recounts his career from World War to World Cup

As the author of arguably the most celebrated words uttered in British sports broadcasting history, Kenneth Wolstenholme is a legend of 1966 World Cup history. Yet 25 years before he excitedly announced that immortal line “They think it’s all over – it is now”, Ken was battling his way home across the cruel North Sea as a pilot of a badly damaged Bristol Blenheim, his aircraft riddled with flak, instruments shot away and with a dead observer slumped by his side.

Born in Worsley, Lancashire, on July 17, 1920, Ken loved sport, having been taken to watch Bolton Wanderers from age four. He left Bolton’s Farnworth Grammar School in 1938, determined to become a sports journalist, gaining a place at the Manchester City News. With war looming, he joined the RAFVR (Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve) as a sergeant with the chance to train as a pilot.

Ken took his first flight on June 20, 1939, from an RAFVR flying school at Barton Aerodrome near Salford. After the obligatory introduction into service at 1 Initial Training Wing in Cambridge, he progressed to 6 Elementary Flying Training School at Sywell, going solo after 15 hours’ instruction in Tiger Moths. Training continued at 11 Flying Training School at Shawbury on the twin-engine Airspeed Oxford and concluded at 17 OTU at Upwood, by which time he had accrued 230 flying hours – including more than 40 mastering the Blenheim Mk.IV. He also had a regular crew: Sergeants Colin ‘Polly’ Wilson, a New Zealander who flew as his observer, and wireless op/air gunner James Tales.

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