1966 and all that

In 1966 the Beatles ruled the world and the England football team would soon follow suit. When Alf Ramsey became England manager in 1963 he declared ‘England will win the World Cup in 1966’. We all thought it was bravado but those who knew Alf also knew he did not do bravado.

England qualified for the first four World Cup finals tournaments after the Second World War but as hosts in 1966 they were spared the task of qualification. Possibly an advantage but there is a very sound school of thought that competitive internationals are a better preparation for a World Cup finals than a series of friendly games against opposition that had not qualified and were therefore not really the kind of test that was required.

The Jules Rimet Trophy, when it was a proper trophy, came to England ahead of the tournament and was promptly stolen when it was loaned out to a stamp exhibition, philately, on the 20th March 1966, just four months before the tournament kicked off. The trophy was found seven days later and made a national hero of Pickles, the black and white collie that found the cup in a plastic bag in South London, while out for a walk with his owner, David Corbett. Mr Corbett benefitted from a reward of £6,000.

Unbeknown to anyone else at the time the Football Association, in typical stable door being bolted belatedly fashion had commissioned a replica (better to have that stolen again than the original) despite FIFA refusing to grant permission for a ‘fake’.

Fast forward to the opening game of the 1966 World Cup and a dreadful goalless draw against Uruguay. But England then beat a poor Mexican side, then an injury-hit French side to top their group and set up a quarter final meeting with Argentina, who had only been beaten down to second spot in Group 2 on goal difference by West Germany. The Germans faced Uruguay, USSR met Hungary and Portugal met with North Korea, in what was to become one of the most memorable matches in World Cup history.

Goodison Park was the venue and with the North Koreans having eliminated Italy – beating them in the group game 1-0, to qualify for the quarter-final, they were not to be underestimated as they faced  Portugal. There was that classic line in the official 1966 World Cup film, GOAL, when the narrator said….’ and the Italians can go back to growing tomatoes’ – that would never happen in today’s politically correct climate.

So the home of Everton FC became a temporary home for the North Korean side that the Scousers took to their hearts. And the Koreans responded by taking a 3-0 lead. But then Eusebio inspired the Portuguese with four of the goals by which they beat North Korea 5-3.

The Portuguese had won the group containing Brazil and Hungary but because both sides had disgracefully assaulted and kicked Pelé to pieces it was they and not the holders who progressed into the last eight. Hungary were beaten 2-1 by USSR and the last semi-final berth was between England and Argentina.

Argentina were a side capable of the most sublime South American football but they also possessed a dark side and it was the latter that came to the fore against England. The hosts went into the game having not conceded a goal in the tournament, five games in all if the two prior to the finals are taken into account.

England’s discipline under severe Argentine provocation was admirable, particularly from Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton who were no shrinking violets themselves when it came to the rough stuff. The referee, Rudolf Kreitlein was busy with his notebook and pencil and everyone, of a non Argentine persuasion, knew someone was going to walk. It happened to be the South American skipper Rattin who seemed to question every single decision by the referee. When Herr Kreitlein decided to send off Rattin he refused to go for fully eight minutes, eventually escorted away by the local constabulary. The ten men tired under the hot July sun and 12 minutes from time the most sublime header from Geoff Hurst, still preferred by Ramsey to Jimmy Greaves, gave England a 1-0 lead and ultimately victory and a place in the semi-final.

Portugal behaved in the semi-final, dropping their hatchet men, but they were strangely subdued and with Nobby Stiles doing a decent marking job on Eusebio they failed to trouble England who took a 2-0 lead through a brace from Bobby Charlton. Portugal registered the first goal against Gordon Banks in the finals, a penalty, but the hosts held on to reach a first ever World Cup Final.

West Germany ground out a 2-1 victory over the USSR in the other semi-final but were helped immensely by the sending off of Igor Chislenko and another player hampered by injury.

The details of England’s 4-2 win in the 1966 World Cup Final are well documented; a hat-trick by Geoff Hurst, including a debatable second which Germans to this day say was never over the line but the referee said it was, with a little help from a Russian linesman, Tofiq Bahramov, and a fourth goal by Martin Peters.

Longest serving freelance football reporter for Sky Sports, 1,000+ games. Author of Breedon Book of Premiership Records and Three Lions.
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