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Swinging when you’re winning: World Cup 1966 ~ England versus West Germany

May 17, 2010

Red-letter day: Not Roger, but Bobby Moore and his men become saints, winning England’s – so far – only World Cup in the year when their country was envied as the hippest place on earth

The Bobbies Moore and Chalton; Hurst’s hat-trick; Kenneth Wolstenholme; Nobby’s dancing; the dodgy third goal; the Russian linesman; Pickles the dog… is there anything to say about the 1966 World Cup final that hasn’t been said already? Maybe not. But then again, maybe it depends how you look at it.

With us now officially less than a month away from the 19th World Cup in South Africa, here at George’s Journal we’re kicking off a series of seven looks-back at previous World Cups – and, specifically, at the most memorable and iconic match from each of them. But more than that. Over the next 25 days, each of these footie friendly pieces’ll focus on not just the matches in question and the tournaments to which they belong, but also the culture and events that surrounded them. So then, indeed, much has been said, read and heard about the ’66 final, but most often out of context – that’s not what we’re going to do here.

It was Saturday July 30, and at London’s Wembley Stadium England’s football team were about to go out to battle to become world champions of the biggest sport on the planet. Yet, lest we forget, that’s far from all that was going on. The Big Smoke – especially its West End – was on top of the world already. Nowadays, in the UK as much as in Italy or Spain, football stars are the new rock ‘n’ roll/ movie stars; back then the rock ‘n’ roll/ movie stars were the rock ‘n’ roll/ movie stars. The Beatles, The Stones, Michael Caine, Marianne Faithful, Twiggy, Terence Stamp, Julie Christie, David Hemmings, Vanessa Redgrave, Cathy McGowan, Sandy Shaw… the list goes on and on, and on and on and on. It was the Swinging Sixties and in this summer in this city, it was in absolute full-swing.

Mascot and hero: World Cup Willie, the little lion in a Union Jack outfit (left); Pickles the dog, the canny canine who found the stolen Jules Rimet trophy dumped in a garden (right)

In the charts were The Kinks’ exceptional elegy on the downside of pop stardom Sunny Afternoon; The Stones’ wilfully lugubrious, sitar-featuring Paint It Black; and The Fabs’ precursor single to the magnificent Revolver album, Paperback Writer. At the cinema Audrey Hepburn ditched Givenchy chic for mini-skirts as she and fellow icon-of-the-age Peter O’ Toole taught audiences How To Steal A Million. Down on the King’s Road in Chelsea, the trendiest boutique going, Granny Takes A Trip, was doing booming business; Cockney snappers Bailey, Donovan and Duffy were capturing models Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree and Verushka in Mary Quant (the Bailey-inspired flick Blowup was just around the corner); and on TV the Edwardian adventurer hero in the one week-old series Adam Adamant Lives! woke up from suspended animation to be told: “this is London, 1966 – the swinging city”.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves, it wasn’t like this all over the country, of course not. It was only in London; only in a few venues across the centre, in fact, and, even then, it was like a rarefied bubble accessible only to a select few. However, its tentacles were forever stretching out throughout 1966 and touching teenagers, hipsters and the average joe and jodie throughout Britain – and further afield. And it was into this marvellous maelstrom of classless celebration, artistic diversity and exciting, colourful, vibrant joie de vivre that eleven relatively ordinary men in red jersies with three lions on their chests were about to leap as at 3pm they stepped on to Wembley’s green turf this Saturday afternoon. They weren’t to know that, though; they were here to win a football match and capture the ultimate prize in their sport. And they did that with bells on.

Dirty tricks and top pick: An incensed Alf Ramsey won’t let Bobby Charlton fratenise with the Argentines (left); Portugal’s nine-goal player of the tournament, Eusébio (right)

Their route to the final hadn’t been the stuff of dreams, however. The ’66 World Cup featured 16 teams, divided up into four groups of four in the first round, in which each team played the other in each group. In their group, England faced Uruguay (twice previous World Cup winners), Mexico and France. They drew 0-0 with Uruguay in their first match, the tournament’s opening game and far from a statement of intent from the host nation, but then beat Mexico 2-0 and France 2-0. Finishing top of the group, having scored four goals and conceding none, they qualified for the quarter finals. There they faced Argentina in what would become a very memorable match, but sadly not for the best of reasons.

Yes, the English got through it, and that’s maybe the best way of putting it; the football on show was of negligible quality thanks to the Argeninians’ hard-tackling and spoiling tactics. Eventually, the referee had had enough and sent off their captain Antonio Rattín for dissent. The player was so disgusted, however, he refused to leave and had to be escorted off the field by two policeman, wrinkling a British pendant as he left. To this day the Argentines, believing they were unfairly treated, refer to the match as el robo del siglo (the robbery of the century) and thus began the football feud between the two nations that arguaby still exists today. Striker Geoff Hurst scored the match’s only goal in the 78th minute and, at the final whistle, England’s manager Alf Ramsey stopped his players from shaking hands with their opponents and engaging in the customary swapping of shirts, indeed grabbing swapped shirts from their hands in some instances. In the following days he would refer to the Argentine side as ‘animals’. Rather an exaggeration, perhaps.

If legendary Manchester United midfielder Bobby Charlton was a mercurial figure for this side, then Alf Ramsey was its Zeus-like figure. He had been appointed in 1963 and immediately set about planning to win the World Cup in three years’ time. He was a firm, abrupt man who didn’t get on with the press enormously well, but he was fair and loyal with his players. His breakthrough decision was, radically, to transform the team’s formation by removing wing-based midfielders, which England and many other sides had played with for decades, giving rise to the side later being referred to as Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’. There’s no question the move served them well in the tournament, as with advanced-minded midfielders who could drop back and defend if necessary, England attacked through the middle as opposed to on the flanks.

Now through to the semi-finals, England faced Portugal – one of the true form teams of the tournament. The skillful Iberians were riding the crest of a wave in the ’66 tournament. They’d never qualified before and wouldn’t get anywhere near these dizzy heights again until 2006 with Cristiano Ronaldo. Their star this time around – arguably the star player of the entire competition – was the frighteningly useful Eusébio (who, upon completing his football career, had managed to score an amazing 727 goals in 715 games). When this tournament was completed, Eusébio finished top scorer with a highly impressive total of nine goals, four of which, in fact, had come in Portugal’s quarter final clash against North Korea. Yes, you read that right, North Korea.

The fact this particular team, another debut qualifier, had got this far was a true wonder and, perhaps even more remarkably they led this match 3-0 at one stage, before an incredible comeback from Eusébio and co. saw them eventually turned over 5-3. The main man scored again in the semi-final against England, an 82nd-minute penalty awarded against Bobby Charlton’s younger brother, centre-back Jack, but by that time it was too late – Charlton the elder had unleashed two trademark long-range, slide-rule strikes, giving England a 2-1 victory. They were through to the final.

1… 2… 3: Geoff Hurst’s World Cup final hat-trick – an achievement still yet to be equalled

And there, of course, they faced West Germany. England lost the coin toss deciding which of the two teams would play in their home kit (the West Germans also wore white shirts and dark shorts), which ensured the host nation would wear their away strip. And the superstitious may have seen this minor defeat as an omen for what was to come as, in the 12th minute, the Germans took the lead through striker Helmut Haller, following a mistake in England’s defence. English fears were availed just six minutes later, however, when assured, young captain Booby Moore launched a free-kick into the penalty area and England’s Number 10 Geoff Hurst headed the ball into the back of the net. 1-1. Famously, of course, Hurst was selected for the final ahead of the public’s first choice, Jimmy Greaves, who had been a high-profile high-scoring striker for fashionable London clubs for some years. Yet, in another savvy move, Ramsey had decided to give Hurst the nod after he had replaced the injured Greaves earlier in the tournament.

There are probably few better known football matches than this World Cup final – not just in the UK but around the world – and yet much of the conventional knowledge concerns only what happened in extra-time. There were two more goals in ordinary time and both were dramatic. England thought they had won the match and the whole thing in the 77th minute when midfielder Martin Peters put away an Alan Ball cross – how different history and nostalgia could have been if the score had remained like this; Peters  would have been iconic hero for all-time, surely? But it’s funny how things go – England only had to hang on for 13 minutes, but couldn’t. In the final minute – yes, the final minute – Wolfgang Weber scored for West Germany, sending the match into extra-time. Indeed, it’s little recalled now, but the ball appeared to strike a German hand before it went in, making this the match’s most controversial moment. So far.

And then extra-time. Hurst’s pivot in the Germany penalty area, the ball hitting the crossbar and bouncing off the ground and out. The Russian linesman (actually from Azerbaijan) declaring it a goal – on his deathbed he claimed he was sure it crossed the line because of ‘Stalingrad’. The Germans pushing up-field for an equaliser. Moore finding Hurst in acres of space, Hurst running towards goal and hoofing it – cue Kenneth Wolstenholme: “Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over – it is now”. And Moore wiping his muddy hands on his shorts before receiving the World Cup itself, the Jules Rimet trophy, from The Queen in the royal box.

Living it up: Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Moore meet Sean Connery and Yul Brynner during an England team visit to Pinewood studios (left); Moore and wife Tina – the originial WAG (right)

England winning the World Cup, and the manner in which they did so in extra-time, was the perfect cultural high of 1966 – out of many British cultural highs that year. It was the ideal topper-off for Swinging Sixties Britain or, England, if you’re being picky. For instance, as a symbol of the country’s cultural relevance in this period and its ease and pride with this, the Union Jack flag was constantly popping up among the exciting new fashions emerging from London. Following England’s football success, though, national pride positively pushed the Union Jack into becoming the Swinging Sixties’ foremost trademark.

The England players themselves, if neither being regarded as utterly normal working class men before the triumph or on a par with Lennon or Jagger after it, did find themselves somewhat pulled into the fashionable glitterati for a brief period. And none more so than the boyishly handsome, 25 year-old Bobby Moore  – the proto David Beckham. Soon his image was everywhere, as was that of his trendy and attractive wife Tina. If he’d have run for PM he’d have probably won. A public vote he definitely did win was the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award that December, with Geoff Hurst coming third.

And for as long as London remained an arts, fashion and counter-culture capital, the England team retained its cool kudos. Take a gander at the classic 1969 Michael Caine-starring comedy The Italian Job. The caper at the centre of the plot relies on a minibus supposedly full of football fans being driven through the city of Turin on the eve of an England-Italy match. Thus, the oh-so recognisable names of the England team are graffittied all over the vehicle, pitching them alongside the other hip British icons of the period to appear in the film: the Union Jack, Mini Coopers, the Aston Martin DB5, TV host-cum-actor Simon Dee and, yes, Michael Caine.

Spot the difference: England’s away jerseys for the 1966 (left) and 2010 (right) World Cups

And let’s not forget that jersey in which the team won the World Cup. To say it became iconic is almost to do it a disservice. Nowadays, it feels like its strikingly stark bright red with the three lions badge on the left chest, hoop collar and long sleeves almost sums up the cool yet often so simple fashion of the Swinging Sixties. It’s become acceptable male dress in general – especially at England football matches where not only does it seem appealingly retro, but also elegantly sartorial. As if to underline this point, its influence is utterly clear behind the latest England away shirt, heralded – along with the simple new home shirt – as perhaps the trendiest England togs ever.

In the end though, what was the most important thing about this match? Well, that it ensured England had won the World Cup, stupid. Forget cultural significance and its place in the Swinging Sixties story. For folks up and down England then this trumped – and continues to trump now – everything else about the ’66 World Cup. And following their triumph, the most important thing for the team was to try and repeat the feat four years later. Could they do it? Well, you won’t have to wait four years to find out – more like three or four days – as all will be revealed right here, folks, in the second offering of my World Cup specials series…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2010 11:06 am

    I’m not much of a football fan, it has to be said. I’d even go as far as to say I’m slightly allergic to football. I confess to a certain sense of national pride when the England team play, but if there were two cool things you could aspire to when you were a kid, being a footballer or a rockstar, I was firmly in the latter camp. I noticed that to be a professional footballer took dedication and not a little talent. Being a rockstar required, well, turning up as far as I could make out.

    Having said that, as a fan of British culture and the Swinging Sixties, how could I fail to know about this match? The very fact that kids choose between rockstar and footballer has some kind of genesis here. It’s what made being a sportsman cool again. So, I must know this game backwards, right?

    The truth is that I knew only vague brushstrokes. The hat trick, the contentious goal, the famous commentary I can all check off the list. The significance of it, the power it had in the nation’s psyche and how it helped put the Great back into Britain, are all somehow as part of what it is to be English as somehow knowing all The Beatles lyrics from birth. However, I didn’t really know the story, so thank you for enlightening me in your usual charming style.

    Oh, and just for the record, I never made it as a rockstar. The effort of turning up seemed just too much hassle.

  2. May 18, 2010 11:18 am

    Good to hear you gave it a read, enjoyed and actually learnt something from it, dublo – especially as, must admit, I derived a lot of enjoyment from writing it. As I tried to put across, there really is a great story behind the ’66 World Cup – and England’s success – and in this series of ‘World Cup specials’, I’m aiming to prove there’s a real story (much of it cultural) behind many of the best ones.

    For the record, it was always either a writer or an actor for me. Writing I could always do in my spare time and it didn’t cost anything to pick up a pencil and a pad either – I didn’t have the gall or effort to try and get into drama school… 😉


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