This was the first World Cup I was old enough to watch and appreciate. It was 1966, the year before colour TV appeared, so black and white it was.

Colour TV, just as an aside, made its first appearance on BBC2 at Wimbledon, where everybody had to wear white! A typically well thought out introduction to the wonderful world of colour by the BBC.

So back to the World Cup and, after a laborious 0-0 draw against Uruguay, England sailed through the rest of the group beating Mexico 2-0, then France by the same score. Without playing remarkably well, England had qualified from the group and Roger Hunt had scored three goals. Worryingly, at this stage, England’s top scorer, Jimmy Greaves, hadn’t scored a goal in the opening three games.

In the quarter-final England were to face Argentina. By now Alf Ramsey had decided to drop Jimmy Greaves and picked Geoff Hurst in his place. This paid off when Hurst scored the only goal of a drab game, remembered more for the sending off of Antonio Rattin, Argentina’s captain, than for anything else.

In the semi-final, England conceded their first goal of the competition when Eusebio scored a penalty for Portugal. It made little difference as England were already leading at the time with two goals from Bobby Charlton. The game finished 2-1.

Everybody is very well aware of what happened in the final as it included, probably, the most famous World Cup final goal of all, which began the debate about goal-line technology.

When Hurst scored that third goal it was a big shot in the arm for England. They should have won the game 2-1 but, with seconds left, allowed Helmut Haller to equalise, thus taking the game into extra time.

The Germans began this period as though given a new lease of life and it was only when Geoff Hurst’s goal was finally allowed that the stuffing seemed to be knocked out of them. His fourth, as everybody knows, was accompanied by the famous Kenneth Wolstenholme commentary, “there’s some people on the pitch, they think it’s all over……….it is now!”

So England had won the World Cup and the most optimistic Englishman expected total dominance for years to come. So why did it not happen?

Well, it has to be remembered, that England had played every single World Cup game at home, i.e. Wembley. Yes, this is a perk of being the home nation and the trophy still has to be won, but it is certainly an advantage.

They also achieved it without playing attractive football. There were no wingers, which was unheard of at the time, and defence was king. England certainly “defended” their way to the semis. The proof of that is the fact that England did not concede a goal until the semi-final and only then, a penalty. At the time the objective was to win the trophy, not play pretty football.

Judging how great or otherwise this England team was would be easier when pitched against the top nations on neutral soil. The first time that happened, in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, England were found wanting.

Drawn in the same group as Brazil they again relied on a defensive set-up against the best attacking team in the world and, to their credit, only lost 0-1 to a goal from Jairzinho. But they lost!

They still made it through to the quarter-finals where, without Gordon Banks, and after a couple of strange substitutions, they surrendered a two goal lead to West Germany and were out. The Germans had their revenge!

So winning the World Cup in England was a great achievement, but not to be held alongside countries such as Brazil, Germany and Italy who proved that they could win it anywhere.

The players who won the World Cup for England will always be regarded as heroes and rightly so. They were picked to do a job and they did it to perfection.

It is just a pity that England have never managed to reach a final since because then the ghost of ’66 may have been laid, as it will be one day if an England team can win the World Cup on foreign soil.

  1. Antony Fell says:

    I believe that the 1970 team was better than the 66′.

    In 1970 Sir Alf miscalculated in the game against Germany by taking Bobby Charlton off when he thought the match was won, in an attempt to save his legs for the semi. It was only then that the Germans took control. Franz Beckenbauer then ran the show, and I believe in later years said that it was the first match he had been ‘free to play’ as up until then his job had been to ‘shackle’ Charlton.

    Pele also thought that Brazil and England were the two best teams at the finals, saying to Bobby Moore at the final whistle of the first match “See you in the final”. Of course that could have been diplomatic.


    • I agree Antony. With the likes of Colin Bell and Francis Lee from City, Keith Newton and Alan Mullery, Ramsey added some class players to a good nucleus from 1966. Remember, there were also the off field problems for England with the Bobby Moore bracelet and the Montezuma’s revenge, but they should have reached the final again that year. Thanks for the comment.


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