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In celebration of the voices of football

article-0-1B5F6D8F000005DC-236_964x640Ever since German radio announcer Herbert Zimmerman questioned his sanity on air in the aftermath of the 1954 World Cup final, football commentators have been amplifying and immortalizing the sport”s most iconic moments. In celebration of the voices of football, here are seven of the greatest pieces of commentary.

Luiz Mendes | Brazil 1-2 Uruguay, 1950 World Cup final  

Gooool do Uruguay? Gol do Uruguay! Gol do Uruguay, Ghiggia. Gol do Uruguay, Ghiggia.”  

When Uruguay beat Brazil to win the 1950 World Cup, it was effectively the greatest upset in football history. The sheer disbelief that followed Alcides Ghiggia’s 79th minute strike was best captured by Radio Globo’s Luiz Mendes.

“Gol do Uruguay?” Mendes asks in disbelief, before a lengthy pause of five seconds. Five seconds of silence in which you can hear millions of Brazilian hearts break. “Gol do Uruguay?” He continues, repeating the words again and again, each time with varying levels of incredulity.

In an interview many years after the infamous Maracanazo, Ghiggia recalled the impact of his famous goal: “Only three people have silenced the Maracana,” he said. “Frank Sinatra, Pope John Paul II, and me.”

Kenneth Wolstenholme | Brazil 3-1 Uruguay and Brazil 4-1 Italy, 1970 World Cup

1966 saw the career of the BBC’s flagship commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme reach its peak. “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now!” is a line entrenched in the very identity of most English football fans. But Wolstenholme’s best moments in the commentary booth came in the 1970 World Cup, with his descriptions of the best goal never scored—and the best goal ever scored.

Oh… Oh, what genius”  

There is a moment in the dying throes of 1970’s Brazil-Uruguay World Cup semi-final in which three vectors converge instantaneously: Pele, Uruguayan keeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz, and the football. What Pele did when they collided left everyone in the stadium—and especially Wolstenholme—entirely bewildered.

“And up comes Carlos Alberto on the right!! Ohhh… That was sheer delightful football!”

If Alcides Ghiggia’s goal in the 1950 World Cup is the most heartbreaking moment in Brazilian football history, Carlos Alberto’s strike in the 1970 final against Italy is the most beautiful. Only Wolstenholme could capture the undiluted joy that unfolded on the pitch.

Bjorge Lillelien | Norway 2-1 England, 1981, European Championship qualifying.  

“Lord Nelson!! Lord Beaverbrook!! Sir Winston Churchill!! Sir Anthony Eden!! Clement Attlee!! Henry Cooper!! Lady Diana!! Maggie Thatcher!!  Can you hear me! Your boys took one hell of a beating!!… Your boys took one hell of a beating!!”

In 1981, Norway finished last in Group 4 of UEFA’s 1982 World Cup qualification rounds, while a strong England team punched their ticket to Spain, their return to the tournament after a 12-year absence. But none of this really mattered. What did matter was Norwegian journalist and commentator Bjorge Lillelien reminding everyone from Scotland to France, via Argentina, of one of life’s most brilliant joys—beating England at football. In this glorious and completely off-the-hinges rant, Lillelien had perhaps come up with greatest way yet of saying “fuck you” to the imperialistic bad guys from across the North Sea.

Brian Moore | Liverpool 0-2 Arsenal, 1989 English First Division, final day.  

“It’s up for grabs now!!!”

As both Kenneth Wolstenholme and David Coleman entered their days of semi-retirement in the late 70s and early 80s, the mantle of great British commentators was largely picked up by three men: John Motson, Barry Davies, and Brian Moore. While Motson and Davies have more than enough moments to make ten of these lists, they were not present at Anfield on the final day of the 1988/89 season.

Where “Agueroooo!!” is largely thought of as English football’s most dramatic soundbite, it was simply borrowing from the events of 23 years prior. Arsenal, needing a two goal win at leaders Liverpool on the final day, took a 1-0 lead just after half time. With seconds remaining, Alan Smith’s chip forward found it’s way to Michael Thomas. And as Thomas slotted past Grobbelaar, Moore uttered his defining quote.

Jack van Gelder | Netherlands 2-1 Argentina, best online casino 1998 World Cup semi-final 

“Frank de Boer speelt de bal, heel goed nar Dennis Bergkamp! Dennis Bergkamp!! Dennis Bergkamp!! Dennis Bergkamp!! Dennis Bergkamp!! Awwhgwgeueer!!”

While the English have produced some of football’s great commentators, their style is rooted in a stereotypical English modesty and a largely unbiased approach. And while this style has indeed led to some of football’s greatest quotes, it has nothing on the sheer comical lunacy found in the commentary booths of continental Europe or Latin America.

Anyone can scream “Goooooaaaaaaalllllll!!!” but it takes a special kind of unhinged Italian to describe Michael Bradley as Lex Luthor, or to manically capture the power and skill of George Weah.

And while Fabio Caressa or Tiziano Crudeli are masters of such an art, it is Dutch broadcasting legend Jack van Gelder who achieved the Chernobyl of all commentary meltdowns when Dennis Bergkamp scored one of the World Cup’s greatest goals against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. It was pure, unbridled passion.


Bonus points: Close observers have pointed out that if you listen to van Gelder’s screams of “Dennis Bergkamp!!” enough times, it slowly becomes, er, something else…

Alan Rough and Ewen Cameron | Scotland 0-0 Norway, 2008

“What happened there!!?… He missed that!?. I… Awwww noooooo!!!”

For all the modesty of the English and the madness of the Brazilians or Italians, one nation stands head and shoulder above the rest when it comes to sports commentary: Scotland.

The north of England, too, has it’s own special brand of commentary—Radio Newcastle’s Justin Lockwood can lay claim to one of radio’s funniest lines—and this bloke from Yorkshire got a bit heated during the 1994 Rugby Regal Trophy Final. But it is north of Hadrian’s wall that football commentary is at it’s biased and hilarious best. Contenders for the gold medal include Peter Martin losing his mind over this James McFadden strike, Krys Kujawa’s reaction to Celtic going 2-0 against Barcelona, or this nameless Scot describing the ‘Rangers philosophy.’ 

But standing atop the podium of angry and disbelieving Scottish sports announcers are Alan Rough and Ewen Cameron, who after witnessing Chris Iwelumo’s horrific miss against Norway in 2008, were left stuttering to explain how such a feat was possible, while the synchronized “Awwww nooooooo!” pretty much sums up 140 years of Scottish football history.

Honorable mentions:  

This list wouldn’t be complete without an ode to the three voices of my childhood: John Motson, Martin Tyler and Clive Tyldesley.

Tyler is responsible for the greatest pun in Premier League history when back in 1999 he screamed “Kanu believe it!!” as Arsenal striker Nwankwo Kanu scored this beauty against Chelsea. 

Every Manchester United fan can recite each word of the last three minutes of Tyldesley’s commentary during the 99’ Champions League final.

And apart from Beckham’s penalty against Argentina, my favorite memory of the 2002 World Cup is Robbie Keane’s last minute equalizer against the Germans, complete with Mick McCarthy’s jaw dropping reaction and Motson exclaiming “Look at the scenes, just look at these scenes!”

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