England’s World Cup ’66 Triumph

England’s World Cup ’66 Triumph: ‘Glorious bang’ or Just another Saturday Afternoon? [1]


“England … closed their World Cup with a glorious bang that obliterated memories of its grey, negative beginnings” – Hugh McIlvanney [2]

It was supposed to be a weekend of collective euphoria, spawning a sense of national pride that brought together the toffs and the louts, the gentry and the masses. But I’ve never recalled it like that, on a Saturday excursion from Lancashire to London and back. Burnley had had an ok season; I’d done ok in my ‘O’ Levels the previous year; I was feeling ok about the History and English at ‘A’ Level, though not that keen on the French; and I had an ok job for the Summer at the Smith & Nephew factory in Brierfield, just up the road from our house on the edge of town. And there’d been some ok games that I’d got to, the brutal treatment by Portugal of Pelé in its demolition of a fading Brazil, and the astounding heroics (this was bit beyond ok) of Portugal’s Eusebio as he gazed in disbelief at his surroundings before dismantling the Pinball Wizards of North Korea and guiding Portugal, via a four-goal blitz, to a semi-final with England. The Koreans had earlier sent the fancy-dan Italians packing and we enjoyed the reported spectacle of their arrival home greeted by torrents of rotten tomatoes. Pizzas hadn’t really come to Burnley by then, so we didn't see quite what a national insult this was for the Mediterranean prima donnas. But it’s undeniable that tomatoes are easier to throw than mushy peas. We got that.

So with my ticket in my pocket – no manbags back then and a school satchel would look too swotty, a duffel bag too Boy Scout – I got the train from Burnley to Manchester, and then the electrified and rebranded Inter-City (newly introduced, as if for the World Cup) to Euston. It wasn’t my first visit to Wembley. I’d been taken down there the season Burnley should have done the Cup and League double, but dawdled the championship title away to Alf Ramsey’s Ipswich Town and then looked deflated and off the pace against Danny Blanchflower’s Spurs in the Cup Final. My father had taken me on that 1962 trip, and atop a sturdy pine stick was my brand new claret and blue rosette, made for the day by my mum. I wore it again at the new Wembley in 2009, when Burnley clawed its way past Sheffield United to get into the Premiership for the first time. But for this second trip to Wembley I was on my own, on the lookout for World Cup fever as England, at its fifth attempt and as host, was attempting to win the Jules Rimet Cup, FIFA’s World Championship. There hadn’t been a lot of champion hosts: Uruguay in 1930, when it was the hot favourite after dominating the world, and Olympic, football scene; Italy at home in 1934 when it was widely recognised that the country’s penchant for fixing things was operative at the highest levels and across all cultural layers of the fascist political system. And since then none, Uruguay spoiling the party at the Maracanã, inflicting on the hosts the domestic disaster of 1950, when a draw would have been enough to give Brazil the top place in the final play-off round (no “Final Tie’ there), and so a first World Championship title.

On the back of my Final Tie ticket the Plan of Stadium Turnstiles had a vertical arrow pointing down to ‘N’. Coming from Up North I found this a mite confusing. I’ve never really worked out why the plan was presented in this way. Perhaps it was something to do with foregrounding the now sadly missed Twin Towers. But it was clear enough where I was to meet my dad, before making our way down Wembley Way to the exorbitantly priced standing area, via H turnstiles Entrance 55, in the West Standing Enclosure. It was £1 and 5 shillings, double the 12/6 we’d paid for the quarter-final at Goodison Park. And it looked like it was going to rain. This was a big investment. England hadn’t really looked very good as it initially stumbled on through the tournament before coming alive with two Bobby Charlton goals –again at Wembley, as the hosts exploited if not actually broke the tournament regulations for venues and fixtures – to get past Portugal. My brother claims that the ticket was really his, but he wasn’t that keen on a long journey for a one-off match, and he tells it now as a sacrifice in the name of domestic duty, staying at home with his young family rather than gallivanting off to the Big Smoke. So I arrived in London wondering whether I had any right to be there, eagerly anticipating the new First Division season which was just a few weeks away. Regular Saturdays at Turf Moor was the real stuff of my teenage football fandom; a trip to north-west London was maybe a little more inviting than an invitation to a rainy afternoon in Morecambe, but not that much.

What was the big deal then that Summer Saturday in the mid-Sixties? Let’s look at some alternative testimonies from those who made it happen: the organizers, the manager, the players. Was England’s 1966 triumph an end-of-an-era moment, a portent of more glamorous and dazzling, cosmopolitan-looking events? What did mean politically, if anything, in a Labour-led United Kingdom whose head of administration was a bit of a football nut from Huddersfield, Yorkshire? And who was that tall bloke who always seemed to be standing next to some bigwig or Royal, sandwiched between Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip as Bobby Moore accepted the Jules Rimet Cup from the young monarch?

FA Fit for FIFA

That tall bloke, to give him his full name as presented in the Official Souvenir Programme (p.4) for the tournament, was “Sir Stanley Rous, President of F.I.F.A.” Preceding him in the Programme were “Her Majesty the Queen, Patron of The Football Association” (p. 1), and “The Rt. Hon. The Earl of Harewood, LL.D, President of the Football Association”. It looked like a line-up of grandees, though a more chiseled and rugged-faced chairman of The Football Association was also pictured, offering a “Welcome to England”; this was “J.H.W. Mears”, who had tragically died on July 1st, ten days before the beginning of the tournament. Sir Stanley, though was in good health, at the peak of his global status in the football world, and knew what he was talking, or writing, about when he said that “when inviting The Football Association to organize the first World Cup Football Championship ever to be held in Britain, F.I.F.A. knew that it would be well done”. Not least because his long-term friend and colleague Arthur Drewry was at the time of this “invitation” in the FIFA presidential seat; and soon Sir Stanley himself would occupy that lofty position in world football. And so his message in 1966 was to all those associates in The FA and FIFA whom he knew had worked together to get, and plan for and stage, the World Championship Jules Rimet Cup in England. Sir Stanley nodded a rather begrudging-sounding thanks towards the government too: “With the acceptable financial assistance from the Government and the services of many volunteers in the sub-seats as well as in London, visitors will be sure of seeing the match in comfort and enjoying a warm welcome”. So all told, The FA was seen as an ideal host for FIFA’s showcase. “England is the original home of football”, Sir Stanley reminded the players, national officials and fans of the world, but football “now has its home everywhere”. Welcome to England, then, where our get-togethers will have “helped to make friends in sport”.

    Rous, physical educator, international referee, wartime money-raiser, Olympics organizer, football administrator, noted just three years before ’66 that there’s “never been a more exciting time in football as an international game”; dozens of new countries formed in Africa and Asia “have clamoured for membership of F.I.F.A. and a place in the international football sun”. [3] It was FIFA’s “great challenge”, Rous observed, to help “organize their game in every possible sense. And they have to be helped play the game in the very best spirit and to take their place in the international brotherhood of football nations above and beyond and apart from any political considerations”. Welcome; play fair; no politics here! Let’s see what actually had to be done and how the makers did it.

The Makers

The FA (England) was awarded the hosting of the 1966 World Cup in August 1960. [4] For the World Cups of the 1950s in Brazil, Switzerland, and Sweden, the host countries had been the sole bidders. Chile defeated Argentina 32-11 in a Congress vote for the 1962 event, the German Federal Republic (West Germany) having withdrawn in recognition of a broad principle of rotation between Europe and South America. For 1966, West Germany was back in the frame alongside Spain and England. Spain withdrew before any vote, and in a tight contest England edged the decision by 34 votes to 27. The 1970 World Cup event was awarded by an expanding Congress electorate at the 1964 Congress in Tokyo, Mexico getting the decision by 56 to 32 votes. Rous was becoming concerned that putting such huge decisions in the hands of the Congress was “putting a strain on friendships”, basing the choice of a host country/association “on not wholly relevant issues”. He hatched a revolutionary plan for allocating and scheduling World Cup Finals; Congress authorized that in future this decision should be allocated to the Executive Committee. It took some time to come to fruition as in 1966 in London Rous presided over a pre-World Cup FIFA Congress that allocated the three World Cups after Mexico to Germany (1974), Argentina (1974) and Spain (1982). Thereafter World Cup hosts were decided upon by secret ballots in the Executive Committee until May 2013 when FIFA Congress, following the scandals and furore consequent upon the December 2010 allocations of the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) finals, transferred responsibility for these decisions back to itself. [5]

    It was all much lower-profile stuff back then, and Rous himself recalled that at the Tokyo 1964 Congress he had persuaded FIFA to agree to these long-term allocations “so that the countries concerned could plan at leisure”. [6] His own involvement in the 1966 decision was influential on this long-term thinking once he gained the FIFA presidency in 1961. England had less than six years in which to prepare for the Finals, and little by the way of guidelines on how to do this. But Rous had been secretary of The FA from 1934, and his long-term colleague Arthur Drewry was FIFA president when England won the bid; also, Rous had been widely active in FIFA work from the 1930s, when he was co-opted onto FIFA’s referees committee even though The FA was not at the time a member of FIFA. And in 1946 Drewry became, as a representative of the British Associations, a FIFA Vice-President. With The FA resuming membership, and Drewry in a prominent position, Rous was brought into FIFA’s World Cup Organizing and Olympic Games Committees. [7] When I discussed Rous’s position as FIFA president in the build-up to 1966 with Rose-Marie Breitenstein – “interpreter, friend, fellow traveller, and companion” [8] – in her London residence, she reminded me that from this base Rous had only to walk a few minutes down the road to The FA offices at Lancaster Gate, and offer any advice necessary or helpful to his old employers.

    So in some ways the location of the 1966 World Cup in England was a comfortable consequence of an overlapping set of interests within a network of football administrators and officials. Little abnormal was seen in this, and Rous’s proximity to those staging the event was seen as a co-operative boon rather than any conflict of interests or collusion. The politics of the UK were also conducive to getting the show on the road. A Labour government in 1964 created the UK’s first significant Minister for Sport, Denis Howell, and in his meeting with the Prime Minister Harold Wilson he almost ad libbed on his needs in this new junior ministerial post, getting Wilson’s support to think up nominations from the sporting world for the honours list, and to plan a reception for athletes returning from the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Wilson had said “the country’s broke” when Howell asked if he’d have any money in his role, but he suddenly brought the World Cup into the frame. The FA had had little support, he knew from conversations with its secretary Denis Follows, from the Conservative administration when asking for Government help to stage the tournament. Quintin Hogg, deputed by then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to take some responsibility for sport-related issues, had promised no more than to provide police escorts for teams as they were driven around the country. Howell took his chance and “decided to return to the question of money”, saying that the World Cup was on its way, a lot needed doing to guarantee its success, but a Minister for Sport and a World Cup coming up with “no money to organize it” wouldn’t be much use:

'Harold’s response amazed me after what he had just said about money. “How much do you want?” he asked. I hadn’t the faintest idea; there was no-one present to consult; I had yet to meet a civil servant or any other adviser, but I knew that I must not let the opportunity go. “Half a million pounds? I suggested, which was a lot of money in those days. “Right,” replied the Prime Minister, “I will agree to that, but no more.”' [9]

So with a budget out of nowhere, and an emerging vision of the importance of the World Cup – “second only to the Olympic Games in international prestige” [10] – Howell dedicated the whole of 1965 to preparations for the World Cup. He soon saw that thinking, let alone implementation, was way behind schedule; The FA had long decided which grounds would be used but had no details on what was required to make them adequate for the scale and profile of the event. He called in Rous, who had little to offer about ground improvements but alerted FA secretary Follows to issues of media coverage, hospitality, modern facilities; all of which were not remotely important to English football clubs’ modus operandi in the early 1960s.

    Howell assembled a team “to form the core of this operation”. This included himself, Sir John Lang (newly appointed government adviser on sport), Walter Winterbottom (former England coach/manager), Sir Stanley Rous (FIFA president), Denis Follows (FA secretary) and Alan Hardaker (Football League secretary). It all seemed a bit ad hoc, a kind of bumbling through; if Howell is to be believed, though, without the snap judgement of Harold Wilson and the mobilization of the old boys’ network of football men, England 1966 could have been the dampest of squibs. Howell had also, “in a moment of inspiration”, appointed Sir John Lang as Vice-Chairman of his “high-ranking committee”, and with the undeclared half million pounds of funding behind them – “a secret locked away in my Ministry” – this group toured the country seeing what upgrades were necessary to give the venues the necessary facelift. [11] The formula proposed by Lang was to fund 90% of temporary work requested by the clubs, and 50% of the more substantial upgrades, for instance new stands. Lang was recently retired from his post as Secretary of the Admiralty, a top-level public administrator “endowed with a photographic memory” who “could recall, over several years, not merely the contents of a paper, but also its registered number”; he was also “always accessible and invariably calm and courteous” – a useful man to have around the less sophisticated corridors of power of the professional clubs [12]; or to deal with sensitive issues of diplomacy such as the question of flags as they related to political protocol and the presence and name of North Korea. Lang was effectively an insider and middle-man, liaising when necessary between Rous or an FA figure, between FIFA and the Foreign Office, writing from his personal base in the Department of Education and Science in Curzon Street at the heart of the London establishment.  

    It looks remarkable in retrospect how little was known of what the challenge of staging the event was. What was it the countries and teams were actually competing for, for instance? Almost a year to the day before the event began, Rous wrote to his FIFA’s secretariat in the world governing body’s modest office in Zurich that housed its few employees, asking for some background information on the event. This seems astounding, given that 5 years before that his own FA had won the bid to host the Finals; or perhaps assistant secretary Renée Courte was adopting a pedantic, bordering on patronizing, tone when he answered Rous, writing to the latter’s London base in response to the FIFA president’s queries about the ‘Cup’ itself. [13] The letter itemizes the history of World Cup hosts and winners, noting that the regulations would allow a team winning for the third time “to receive the cup as absolute property”, necessitating the provision of a new trophy for the 1970 championship should Italy, Uruguay or Brazil win in 1966; provides the name of the sculptor of the Jules Rimet trophy, Frenchman Abel Lafleur; encloses a photocopy of some passages from Rimet’s book The Marvellous History of the World Cup; informs Rous that the Cup is made from 1,800 grammes of gold, weighs 4 kilos with the plinth, is 30 centimetres high, and though difficult to place a price upon was insured for Swiss Francs 30,000. Courte added that he had been unable to find any article or material in FIFA’s library dealing specifically with such detail on the Cup. These were the days when the small-scale administrative operation in Zurich eschewed the benefits of media relations, PR or marketing.  

    And the range of tasks that seemed to land on the FIFA president’s desk before, during and after the event was astounding, from high-level diplomatic negotiation to scarcely credible transactions with commercial bodies. [14] These latter included correspondence, directly to or from Rous, with companies on issues concerning the merchandising of metal (a breach of FIFA regulations) replicas of the Jules Rimet Cup, to Arbiter Championship Trophies Ltd; and from Pedigree Dolls to Rous, presenting him with two World Cup Willie dolls, “with the compliments of the management”. These exchanges took place in October 1966 and November 1966 respectively, in the cycle of enthusiasm that followed the July victory. Prior to the event, exchanges between Rous, FIFA secretary Käser and The FA’s Follows established on-the-hoof arrangements for image-rights or advertising, at best on the basis of memory and recall of precedents. In one letter, 6th May 1965, to C. Vernon and Sons Ltd., London, a company seeking advertising rights related to the World Cup, Rous said that he would get hold of a bottle of Robinsons Lemon Barley “so that I may know what product I am talking about when I meet members of the committee, only one of which is British”. One can only surmise that rogue traders could have been having a very good run-in, run-through and run-on from World Cup ’66.

    There were serious financial concerns as World Cup ’66 was taking place in an expanding media age and consumer culture. Denis Follows wrote to FIFA, on 24th July 1964, requesting an advance of £25,000 from the £300,000 due to be paid to FIFA for the World Cup Television European rights; the issue was batted between FIFA and The FA, little if anything based on systematic documentation or contractual principles and commitments. But the most fascinating issues were not so much commercial as political.

    The African issue was boiling up. On 8th February 1964 a member of the executive committee of the African Confederation (CAF) Ohene Djan telexed FIFA from Accra, Ghana’s capital, in a stinging critique of the world body, “registering strong objection to unfair and unreasonable world cup arrangement for afro-african countries stop 25 afro-asian countries struggling through painful expensive qualifying series for ultimate only one finalist representation is pathetic and unsound stop at the worst Africa should have one finalist in London tournament stop urgent reconsider”. Rous advised Käser to inform African colleagues that should an official protest emerge, FIFA may be able to help in some spheres, but that the rules were set, “the decisions reached in Zurich can not be altered”. Rous could recognize an impasse when it stared him in the face, particularly as he had genuine sympathy with some of the arguments coming from African associations. FIFA’s Afro-Asian qualifying group was described by Ethiopia’s Ydnekatchev Tessema, future president of the African Confederation, as “a mockery of economy, politics and geography”, in a powerful letter dispatched to CAF’s then general secretary Mourad Fahmy on February 19th 1964, and copied to FIFA. A plan was laid to deal with countries from Africa, Asia and the Pacific that did not choose to go the way of withdrawal.    

    So North Korea qualified via a play-off with Australia in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, these being the only two countries not to join the African and Asian boycott of the qualifying rounds, or choose not to participate due to a particular political rationale. Australia was over-confident, ordering 200 neckties with “World Cup 1966” imprinted alongside the Australian crest, [15] and was swatted aside by the North Koreans, whose proposed inclusion in the Finals was objected to by West German and South Korean ambassadors in London. Sir John Lang, E. Bolland (of the Far East Department of the Foreign Office) and Rous worked to smooth over such objections and arrive at acceptable compromises. Lang’s letter to Rous dated 28th March 1964 was crystal-clear. The Foreign Office would permit competing countries’ flags, including North Korea’s, to be flown at all the matches, but on two conditions: North Korea must not anywhere “be described publicly as representing the (so-called) People’s Korean Republic”; and no national anthems should be played at or during any match “except those of the participants in the first match and the final match series (both at Wembley)”. Luckily enough “God Save Our Gracious Queen” was to get most plays; and Eusebio’s awakening against North Korea in the quarter-final calmed the nerves of the diplomats. The Foreign Office also insisted that this could not be seen as a precedent for “dealing with East German participation in future sporting events in this country”. “Minimum publicity”, Lang added, all a bit hush-hush; just tell the venues what they can do nearer the day.    

The Manager

Alf Ramsey was appointed as England manager just three and a half years before he would take his squad of World Cup hopefuls to their pre-tournament residential camp. Stressing English conditions in which the Finals would be played, “before our own people” and with a core of hardened internationals and younger talent yet to be identified, Ramsey called upon the attributes of ability, strength, character and temperament as the foundation upon which to build up confidence in both players and the public: “I say it again. I think England will win the World Cup” he reaffirmed in August 1963. [16] This was not asserted with any romantic flourish, more a clipped, pragmatic, detached air, typified in his retort to Tony Pawson’s enthusiasm after a five-goal thriller: “But you cannot have enjoyed it. There were so many mistakes, so much unprofessional play”. [17] Ramsey’s imperative was to remove as far as possible, if not eliminate, risk, through identifying the appropriate elements – players’ “jobs”, not natural positions – that would create the most established “blend”. [18] A Ramsey side certainly had “admirable perseverance and collective will-power” particularly in the final, “a game of agony and tension”. [19] And it worked time and time again, as the narrative would have it, most effectively indeed against aggressive Argentineans, flawed Portuguese flair, and friendly sporting Germans. Prime Minister Harold Wilson got in on the act: “We only win the World Cup under Labour”, he observed, getting some light relief when he had a declining economy to deal with and an imminent, inescapable devaluation of sterling around the corner. [20]

The Players

Inevitably, the England players who featured in the Final victory over Germany were hailed as heroes of the day. Alan Ball dedicated around a quarter of his book Ball of Fire to the World Cup story, starting his tale with the confession that his winner’s medal was “my most treasured possession”, and the comment that the medal “signifies England’s greatest moment in Soccer”. [21] The solid-gold medal on Ball’s sideboard was said to be worth “about £25 in hard cash. But money would never persuade me to part with it. Indeed, so far as I am concerned, money couldn’t buy it”. In 2005, Ball sold his medal for the then record price of £164,800. [22]

    Jackie Charlton recalled in his chapter ‘World Cup Wonders’ “that fantastic July day” that would stay with the players for ever: “neither the critics nor anyone else, for that matter can rob me of that moment of glory”. [23] His younger brother Bobby Charlton, melancholic but athletically mellifluous survivor of the 1958 Munich air disaster in which so many of the great Busy Babes of Manchester United were killed, cried as he climbed the Royal Box at Wembley to collect his medal. At the pre-tournament training camp in June at The FA’s academy in Lilleshall, Jimmy Greaves led a small group of players off-limits to a golf club bar, only to be caught breaking the alcohol ban. Manager Alf Ramsey warned that any such excursion would lead to expulsion from the squad. Jack Charlton observed that no-one broke the rules thereafter, life at Lilleshall “like being in a Stalag”. For brother Bobby, though, it was the perfect place to be, “a monastic existence but I loved it. Football was my life and I was with footballers, playing football”. [24] And this was the pinnacle of his footballing life: “I’ve never cried before over a football match. But the sound of the public just got to me … Afterwards I thought that I was a wee bit unprofessional crying but now, when I look back, I don’t see any other way I could have handled myself. It was lovely, a fantastic moment”. [25] The contrasting approaches and celebratory styles of the Charlton brothers symbolized a country’s response, as Bobby mingled with guests at the official banquet at the Royal Garden Hotel, and Jack went on the booze at a West End club, waking up the following morning on the floor of a house in Leytonstone. The dedicated and the solemn; the wild and the hedonistic. Dutiful flair from Bobby on the pitch, behind him the ungainly determination of his elder brother.

    Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, relative newcomer to the national side, had to adapt to “being always on show”, unable to “take” his wife to their weekly shop at Romford supermarket” “the first time we went to this store after the World Cup was pandemonium. We were mobbed. Poor Judith was swept away, sill waving her list forlornly, while I was being backed up to the biscuit counter trying to shake a hundred hands at once”. [26] Hurst had enjoyed chatting to West Ham fans in the supermarket teashop just weeks before; his opportunistic goalscoring heroics catapulted him into a different social world, one that would generate agents and endorsements and riches that just half-a-decade before, when the maximum wage was still in place, would have been unthinkable. Hurst has much to say in praise of the celebrity life and the adulation of the crowd, in sporting terms too. Recalling the final, he wrote: “The crowd were bloody marvelous … you can sense instantly whether the stadium is with you or not … It was not so much they wanted you to win, it was the feeling that they were certain that you would succeed … The goals might have given us the game, but the crowd gave us the goals”. [27] Hurst’s team-mate Martin Peters also recalled the role of the crowd, and had sensed that by the quarter-final against Argentina the Wembley crowd, nearer capacity than in earlier games. “was with us”, wanting the team to win, “every man in the crowd, every Englishman that is … right behind us”: for Peters, it wasn’t likely that “you could ever get a crowd like that again”. The “England-England” chant, he recalled, was “like a tidal wave” rolling up and down the pitch:

'You could almost feel it pushing you along. And when they sang “When the whites go marching in” you felt like joining in. It really was a remarkable experience. I usually try to ignore the crowd, but no human being could have ignored that one.' [28]

Tigerish midfielder Nobby Stiles recalls that, towards the end of the match, his legs had gone, and much, including Hurst’s third and conclusive goal, was no more than a blur. His clearest memory was of kissing team-mate George Cohen whilst lying on top of him in front of the Royal Box, and saying “George, we won the fucking World Cup”. Stiles collected his medal, returning to the field to dance his famous victory jig and beam his toothless smile to the world. Recuperated, after the banquet at the Royal Garden Hotel, when the players were permitted to rejoin their wives who were dining separately in a different room, Stiles led a posse of squad players and their wives to a celebratory night out at Danny La Rue’s club. [29]

    The 11 players had won with a new wingless system, leaving out the goalscoring star Jimmy Greaves, injured in the third game against France and not recalled for a final in which the inexhaustible young Alan Ball ran the German defence ragged, opening up the space for the history-making Hurst hat-trick; Greaves was aggrieved: “Along with Bobby Charlton, I was England’s leading goalscorer; Geoff Hurst had been an international player for less than a year … It would be an understatement to say that I was disappointed … I had always envisaged that I would be part of the greatest day in the history of our game”. [30] But if any room for sentiment had been indulged, England would not have retained the balance and stability that had been established in the successive games as Alf Ramsey found his preferred formula and collective chemistry. Greaves was rooming with Bobby Moore, and England’s captain found him packing his bags on the morning of the Final, preparing to leave for a holiday with his wife as soon as the game was over. So Greaves was absent from the squad that accepted the adulation of the public when Moore led the players on to the balcony of the Royal Garden Hotel. [31] Moore, unflappable defensive genius and golden boy of the English game, had difficulty coping with the end of the fairy tale. As his biographer Jeff Powell wrote:

'As in most good fairy stories, the best moment came at midnight. Bobby came out of the hotel entrance to find thousands of people still waiting for a glimpse of their heroes. “I couldn’t believe they were still there, still standing in the street after all those hours. It made me realise how much it meant to them. It really touched me. Moved me. I’d never felt, what can I say, such a bond with the fans. It was a real lump in the throat moment. Never forget it”'. [32]

As the squad dispersed after close to two months of collective living and intense working together, it would hit Moore: “Then, suddenly it was all over. All breaking up … The spirit had been fantastic, I can’t remember one moment of bad feeling. We’d all become part of each other. It left a funny, empty feeling”. Moore had held aloft the FA Cup, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and now the World Cup in successive years. In the outpouring of tributes on Moore’s early death in 1993, Michael Parkinson claimed in the obituary in the Daily Telegraph that the next England captain to hold the World Cup would return home in a platinum Rolls Royce, driving across a moat of liquid gold, via a silver drawbridge. This paean to the image of England’s Golden Boy of 1966 contrasts the expansive years of the new Premier League, the riches of the emergent UEFA Champions League, with the noble simplicity of the achievements of the blue-eyed blonde captain:

'I am glad I saw him when I did, when the England shirt was pristine and not daubed with commercial graffiti, when there was still honour in the game, style, and most of all, humour. The lasting image of that time, will always be Moore, slim as a reed, holding aloft the trophy at Wembley. It was the moment when the boy from Barking became the golden icon of the Sixties.' [33]

There’s another way of seeing things, of course, not so consonant with the mythmaking of the heroic narrative, in which there’s the Bobby Moore of raucous late-night West End binges, living the life of the “trouser-dropping, table-bestriding party animal”. [34] But that’s another story, another genre; fixed in time, Moore’s wiping clean of his hands before contact with the monarchs’ white silk gloves and acceptance of the Jules Rimet Cup, symbolizes a moment when a collection of modestly paid artisans with a sprinkling of genius in their number could embody the emotions and aspirations of a population hungry for glamour, celebrity and success.

The Pressmen

The male-framed world of the sport journalist softened up a little as the crowds increased after Ramsey’s unit started looking stronger and more settled. The first three games saw wide players given a chance one-by-one, Burnley’s former star Connelly against Uruguay, Southampton’s Paine against Mexico, Liverpool’s Callaghan against France; Geoff Hurst wasn’t called upon for any of these group games. Then with Jimmy Greaves injured and not recalled, the wingers abandoned, Alan Ball and Hurst got their chances. The crowds urging England on went up after an initial dip; 75,000 for the Championship’s opening Monday evening game against Uruguay fell to a paltry 65,000 the following Saturday afternoon for the Mexico game, but by the next Wednesday 92,500 roared on the England team against France. On the 23rd July 88,000 saw the Argentina quarter-final, and the Portugal semi-final Tuesday brought in 90,000 evening spectators. Hurst had scored in his first game of the tournament, Ball had brought the infectiousness of indefatigable youth to the team. The media was reporting on something special in the escalating popular support for the England team. And not just in the grounds; Arthur Hopcraft wrote later of a “communal exuberance” that was “released in the country”: “The World Cup was carnival”. The end of World War II was his only comparator; apart from then, he had “never seen England look as unashamedly delighted by life as it did during the World Cup”. [35] These are the kinds of experiences and accounts generated at the London 2012 Olympics, called by writer and journalist Blake Morrison “the most inclusive event in Britain in my lifetime”. [36] For Hugh McIlvanney, the “shabbiness” of Wembley was transformed from an “undistinguished concrete bowl”; “impossible to define the atmosphere precisely”, he wrote, it was nevertheless “palpable, and it was unique”. The people looked “flushed, supercharged”. A doorman gave McIlvanney the word: “It’s bloody electric”. [37]

    Even the routinely downbeat and often gloomy Brian Glanville conceded that England’s last two games “made up for much of the tedium which had gone before”, and that the World Cup was “distinguished by the enigmatic presence, and final triumph, of Alf Ramsey”. [38] But turning their eyes from the pitch to the populace and to the wider significance of this culminating day, some pressmen could get overexcited. Among other economic spin-offs, we are told, the day and the occasion marked “the beginning of the boom in colour television”. [39] In a strange Shakespearean tone, Powell continues: “England awoke that day to the rattle of the tumbrils, the flutter of Union Jacks in tens of millions of patriotic stomachs … and countless early morning deliveries from rent-a-set”. Really? It was the Goal! film that offered the technicolor glory of the triumph. Sport certainly pioneered colour television coverage in Britain, but not on 30th July 1966; the first colour transmission was on BBC2 on July 1st 1967, from the Wimbledon tennis championship. Snooker’s Pot Black, that innovative brightly coloured intervention that was to illuminate the corner of millions of living rooms, first aired on July 31st, again on BBC2. [40] Nobody denies that the 1966 Final set an all-time record for viewing figures – between them BBC1 and ITV pulled in 32.30 million viewers for the match, pipping the death of Diana Princess of Wales as the biggest television audience in UK history [41] – but it was a monochrome moment, not a multicolour miracle.

Stacking the odds?

Some of Stanley Rous’s cherished goals and ideals were confirmed in 1966. The West German team never created a fuss about the “over the line or not” goal or the Russian linesman Tofik Bakhramov; this was a squad raised on a post-World War II sensitivity to the need for a younger generation to, as amplified in the lectures of manager Helmut Schön, “behave like gentlemen and sportsmen”. Goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski recalled that the main thing was to leave a good impression: “Back in 1966, the appearance and behaviour of the team were essential”. [42] He and other German players remained close friends with several of the English players; Wolfgang Overath called England “a great side” and recalled that his side’s conduct “brought credit to the German team”. The World Cup was certainly becoming more truly international with 74 preliminary entries for 1966, double the number for France 1938. [43] But dissatisfaction had been simmering for some time over qualification schedules and criteria, and allocation of number of Finals places to regions/confederations. By 1970, it was being argued that there is “little justification in the jet age for taking geography into account”, and Rous was being urged “to rationalize the means of qualifying”. [44] “A strange and doubtful baby” in 1930, when a mere four European teams travelled to Uruguay for the inaugural championship – “Europe let Uruguay and the F.I.F.A. down … the Europeans shied away” [45] – by 1958 it could be reported as a “flourishing adult” [46] The sixth championship in Sweden has been seen as “the first World Cup truly to deserve that proud title”, with increased entries and the new presence of the USSR, Olympic football champion from the Melbourne Olympics two years before. [47] But far from all of Rous’s developmental and internationalist goals were met in 1966.

    No African side participated in the 1966 World Cup, and just North Korea from Asia. The Argentineans believed themselves to be victims of European conspiracy. England played all its games at Wembley, allocated its semi-final there on commercial grounds. It wasn’t quite the respectful form of intercultural exchange that Sir Stanley Rous believed to be the greatest quality of international football competition. And some criticism stung, coming from closer to home. Dr A. Foni, Switzerland’s national team coach, penned his “Thoughts on the 1966 World Championship”, arguing that in World Cup organization top teams, in 1966 the host England in particular, were in essence informally seeded to meet weaker teams, and had more rest than others between games. England had its single venue, a “definite ground”, throughout the event, and even slightly favourable refereeing decisions, Foni added. Such little “nudges” were given, and certainly “not refused”, he cautiously observed. On Rous’s personal copy of Foni’s commentary you could see this analysis hitting its target; in his minutely immaculate annotations Rous wrote “disappointed – unfair, shows himself partisan attacks referees, officials, organizers, is bitter … is inaccurate, uninformed”. [48] Sir Stanley wasn’t up for debate on this one. But Foni’s tone was balanced and analytical; sometimes those with the most established sense of position and authority don’t realise the hegemonic basis on which such authority has been assumed by their like, and is understood, however implicitly, to be reproduced.

    The travelling and colourfully carnivalesque Brazilian supporters who lit up the venues at Manchester and Liverpool returned home early after Pelé had been hacked from the tournament, despite intakes of painkiller administered during the match in an attempt to salvage the glory game of the two-time winners from the immediately preceding World Cups. Bill Murray wrote nearly thirty years later that “no player today would get away with what the Portuguese did to Pelé in the 1966 World Cup”. [49] Brazil would regroup for 1970 in Mexico, galvanized by a fit Pelé and younger recruits, to claim permanently the Jules Rimet trophy as three-time winners. England wilted in the sun in Mexico in 1970, but could always blame the food that kept goalkeeper Banks out of the quarter-final game with West Germany (or even the substitutions made by an out-of-touch Sir Alf Ramsey). The subsequent World Cup in Germany proceeded without England, and kicked off with a new president-elect for FIFA, the Brazilian João Havelange having ousted Rous from FIFA’s top position in the pre-tournament Congress. And the following year an ambitious young marketing man, recommended to Havelange by international fixer and dealer Horst Dassler of Adidas, began work at FIFA: enter Joseph ‘Sepp’ Blatter, who with Havelange and Dassler soon took the World Cup Finals to 24 finalists at Spain in 1982, and to 32 in France 1998.

    In this context England 1966 looks a tad cosy, the vision and accomplishment of the English interlocking elites of The FA, FIFA and UEFA. Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay represented the longest-established continental confederation, CONMEBOL. Mexico overcame Costa Rica and Jamaica to give the emerging North/Central American and Caribbean Confederation (CONCACAF) a single representative. The bulk of membership of the African and Asian confederations in essence boycotted qualifying phases, arguing as we have seen the absurdity of their meagre allocations, so allowing the North Korean sensations a strolling eligibility in its 9-3 aggregate demolition of Australia. That left 10 European nations: Bulgaria, England, France, (West) Germany, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and USSR. Not much of a global reach in this World Cup line-up at all. It has the look of a European party with some old family guests from the South American cousins, and the exotic unknown guest from (a part of) Korea. At its heart was Sir Stanley Rous, FA secretary when the hosting bid was won, member of the Labour Government’s World Cup team/committee, and FIFA president when the World Cup itself was won by his old employer. If he’d been a bit younger, perhaps he could have appointed himself as Final referee; he was, after all, an experienced international referee in the 1930s, and in charge of “designation of referees and linesmen for duty at the 32 games in the Final Series”. [50]

So what was it all about?

Far from setting the standards for the future, England’s scarlet-clad artisans, immortalised in the film Goal!, gave the football establishment the ammunition to think that World Cup 1966 was a job well done on all levels. In Mexico in 1970, though, the English team learned that honest effort, high expectation and dependence on English grit and determination were not enough to repeat the home glories of 1966. And much more recently, watching England exit from Brazil 2014 as Wayne Rooney shot tamely at the Uruguay goal, leapt gamely to pound the bar with a brave header, and a ponderous Steven Gerrard was outpaced and outthought by his erstwhile clubmate Louis Suárez, it looked like if anything English football had retreated into the myth of 1966, but in diluted form, shorn of any sign, however slight, of the glamour and the genius that edged it for the team of ‘66. Sport holds heady memories and aspirational futures in a complex balance. But for a fleeting moment in 1966, “the English, after twenty years of post-war imperial decline, felt themselves back where they belonged: victorious internationally, at peace at home”. [51] Germany could return home to forget and rebuild; for England, ’66 would become a burden, a cultural reference “that the English had to remember”. [52]  

    Critcher and Clarke pointed to the twin figures of Alf Ramsey and Harold Wilson, connected by a “commitment to rationalizing modernization”, harnessing the “best of British” to new ways of working and operating in the world. [53] Alf Ramsey began 1966 with around 100 slim player files or dossiers, to cut these down to the 22 selections by the early Summer. He was the only football pro in the building. He worked from a “starkly furnished office, perhaps 13ft by 8ft” which in “the days of Regency riches … might have been part of the servants’ quarters” in the imposing Lancaster Gate building: “a room utterly without character”. [54] And here, Ramsey undertook what Brian James chillingly called “a job of terrifying loneliness”. [55] When Ramsey eventually lost his job after clearly losing his modernizing and magic touch, “becoming the victim of the rigidities of his own thinking”, [56] he said: “The sad thing is that the bloody amateurs are back in command”. [57] Of course he was both wrong and right; the next England manager was the self-serving and untrustworthy mercenary Don Revie, an arch-professional and modernizing innovator in many ways, but whose appointment can be seen as a mistake made by the coterie of amateurs that appointed him. Holding this balance between the old and the new, the “traditional and the modern” that 1966 seemed to many to represent, [58] was a precarious business, for politicians and football managers alike. The heights of 1996 were followed by eight years of anti-climax that have fed into a “story of decline that we told ourselves about ourselves”. [59] We are still telling it 50 years on as a fragmenting national culture within England has to make do with an underachieving football culture. In that context the golden glow of ’66 persists, buffed by the nostalgia that continues to sustain the golden moment in a mélange of myths, memory and recurrently desperate hope.    


My dad headed back to his wife on their holiday in the West Country; I’d certainly never forget him bobbing up and down with delight behind the goal, knotted handkerchief on his head as part protection against the spasmodic squally rain, agreeing rapturously with the man close by who was shrieking that “we’d got the bastards again, for the third time”. But I don’t recall any spontaneous rendering of Rule Britannia when Hurst put England 3-2 up. [60] I’d got a train to catch back North; it was, admittedly, pretty full but there was little sense of jubilation, and fans back then were not dressed in replica kits and the like. Most of us just headed back to the routine greyness of everyday life and the anticipation of the new club season.

London’s offerings in the match-day souvenir programme included “The Fabulous Black & White Minstrel Show, Gorgeous Girls in London’s Most Colorful Spectacular!” Or Joe Brown and Anna Neagle were in “Charlie Girl”. London’s charms in the programme extended to Soho’s “La Taverna” and its Italian musical quartet, The Golden Nugget Casino and “Mecca’s Wonderful World of Entertainment”. Maybe the match was part of a wider cultural diet of the Swinging Sixties, but none of that was of much interest, even if accessible, to this day tripper. England had won a match, lifted the World Cup, with six players from five northern clubs, a Leicester player in goal, and four more from two London clubs. It seemed like a good all-round effort, and I’d seen worse – but many, many better – matches.

In his book “The Sixties”, historian Arthur Marwick claims that England won the World Cup “with a genuinely entertaining team” and that this meant that football “crossed over to occupy the leisure time of people of all social classes as well as ordinary workers”. [61] Looking back at my Wembley day out, and the times that followed, I read that statement almost half-a-century on with incomprehension. The entertainment element never struck me as an asset or feature of Ramsey’s English experiment; and a new British Rail brand and Inter-City livery couldn’t change class cultures overnight.  

Back in Burnley in the early hours of Sunday, then on the Monday shift in neighbouring Brierfield, you might have wondered what all the fuss was about. Many of my fellow workers were Pakistanis, quite recent migrants, and working women – northern English women who’d had hard-working lives on unsociable shifts in a factory setting where there was little scope for social talk or gossip. My brother insisted that England had not won fairly, what with one unproven goal and a final goal that should not have been allowed as there were already fans on the pitch. He had a point, but maybe he was just annoyed that he’d passed on his ticket; for my part, I was thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have to get back down to Wembley for a Tuesday night replay. I’d have probably lost my vacation job if I’d chosen to be a bit of such an extended slice of World Cup history.


Alan Tomlinson

May 2016


[1] A shorter version of this piece is published as ‘Stanley Rous, FIFA and the making of a World Cup’, in Mark Perryman ed. 1966 and Not all That, London: Repeater Books, 2016, pp. 177-196.

[2] Hugh McIlvanney, McIlvanney on Football, Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1994, p. 158.


[3] Stanley Rous, ‘Foreword’, in Maurice Golesworthy (compiled by) The Encyclopaedia of Association Football, Sixth Edition, London: Robert Hale Ltd, 1963, pp. 5-6.


[4] See http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/fifafacts/mencompwc/51/97/81/ip-201_13a_fwc-host.pdf, consulted 13th March 2015.


[5] See Alan Tomlinson, FIFA: The Men, the Myths and the Money, London and New York: Routledge, 2014, pp. 1-2.


[6] Stanley Rous, Football Worlds: A Lifetime in Sport, London: Faber and Faber, 1978, p. 212.

[7] Ibid., p. 127.


[8] Ibid., p. 173.


[9] Denis Howell, Made in Birmingham: The Memoirs of Denis Howell, London: Macdonald/Queen Anne Press, 1990, pp. 142-143.


[10] Ibid., p. 159.


[11] Denis Howell, ‘The First Minister’, in David Bull and Alastair Campbell eds. Football and the Commons People, Sheffield: Juma, 1994, pp. 294 and 295.


[12] On Lang, see Clifford Jarrett, ‘Lang, Sir John Gerald (1896-1984), Admiralty Official’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31332, accessed 15 September 2015].


[13] Courte’s letter, stamped 5th August 1965 and referenced in response to Rous’s letter dated 31st August 1965, is in a file of Rous’s papers on World Cup 1966, in the author’s possession.


[14] All examples given in the rest of this section are from copies of personal files of Sir Stanley Rous, in the author’s possession.


[15] Jong Sung Lee, Football in North and South Korea c.1910-2002: Diffusion and Development, unpublished PhD thesis, De Montfort University, 2012, p. 131.


[16] Roger Hutchinson, … it is now! The Real Story of England’s 1966 World Cup Triumph, Edinburgh and London: Mainstream Publishing, 1995, pp. 13-14.


[17] Tony Pawson, The Football Managers, Newton Abbot: Readers Union, 1974, pp. 46-47.


[18] Arthur Hopcraft, The Football Man: People and Passions in Soccer, London: Readers Union/Collins, 1970, pp. 134-135.


[19] John Moynihan, ‘World Cup Postscript”, in The Soccer Syndrome: From the Primeval Forties, London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966, p. 10.

[20] David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer, New York: Riverhead Books, 2008, p. 453.

[21] Alan Ball, Ball of Fire, London: Sphere Books Ltd, 1969, p. 9.


[22] Severin Carroll, ‘Manchester United buy Nobby Stiles 1966 World Cup medal for record price at auction’, The Guardian (Online), Wednesday 27 October 2010 17.09 BST.


[23] Jackie Charlton, For Leeds and England, London: Stanley Paul & Co Ltd, 1967, p. 121.


[24] Leo McKinstry, Jack & Bobby, London: CollinsWillow, 2002, p. 185.


[25] Ibid., p.196.


[26] Geoff Hurst, The World Game, London: Sportsmans Book Club, 1968, p. 11.


[27] Ibid., p. 51.


[28] Martin Peters, as told to Peter Corrigan, Goals from Nowhere!, London: The Sportsmans Book Club, 1970, p. 103.


[29] Nobby Stiles, with James Lawton, Nobby Stiles: After the Ball – My Autobiography, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003, pp. 201-202 and 206-207.

[30] Jimmy Greaves, with Norman Giller, Don’t Shoot the Manager: The Revealing Story of England’s Soccer Bosses, London: Boxtree Ltd, 1993, pp, 43-44.

[31] Jeff Powell, Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero, London: Robson Books, 1993, pp. 102-103 and 108.

[32] Ibid., pp. 108-109.


[33] Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young, ‘Golden boys and golden memories: Fiction, ideology, and reality in Roy of the Rovers and the Death of the Hero’, in Dudley Jones and Tony Watkins eds. A Necessary Fantasy? The Heroic Figure in Children’s Popular Culture, New York and London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 2000, p. 197.


[34] D.J. Taylor, On the Corinthian Spirit: The Decline of Amateurism in Sport, London: Yellow Jersey, 2006, p. 113.


[35] Hopcraft, p. 219.


[36] This is discussed in Alan Tomlinson, ‘The best Olympics never’ in Mark Perryman ed. London 2012: How Was it For Us?, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2013, pp. 47-49.


[37] McIlvanney, McIlvanney on Football, p. 153.


[38] Brian Glanville, The Story of the World Cup, London: Faber and Faber, 2001, p. 132. Revised edition, first published in 1973 as The Sunday Times History of the World Cup.


[39] Powell, p. 102.


[40] Iain Logie Baird, Television: Colour Television in Britain, Bradford: National Media Museum, http://www.nationalmediamuseum.org.uk/~/media/Files/NMeM/PDF/Collections/Television/ColourTelevisionInBritain.pdf, consulted 15th September 2015.


[41] See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/3146447/Englands-1966-victory-over-Germany-drew-in-a-record-audience-of-more-than-30m.html, consulted 15th September 2015.


[42] Ulrich Hesse-Lichtenberger, Tor! The Story of German Football, London: WSC Books Ltd., 2003, pp. 181 and 183.


[43] Tomlinson, FIFA, p. 110.


[44] Hugh McIlvanney and Arthur Hopcraft [written and edited by] World Cup ’70, London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970, p. 14.


[45] Willy Meisl, Soccer Revolution, London: Phoenix Sports Books, 1955, p. 169.


[46] Brian Glanville and Jerry Weinstein, World Cup, London: The Sportsmans Book Club, 1960 [first published 1958], p. 15.


[47] John Camkin, World Cup 1958, London: The Sportsmans Book Club [first published 1958], 1959, pp. 1-3.


[48] A copy of this document is in the author’s possession. It is also discussed in Tomlinson, FIFA, pp. 57-58.


[49] Bill Murray, Football: A History of the World Game, Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1994, p. 280.


[50] Jules Rimet Cup World Championship England 1966 July 11-30, Official Souvenir Programme, p. 54.


[51] David Goldblatt, ‘Another kind of history: Globalization, global history and the World Cup’, in Kay Schiller and Stefan Rinke eds. The FIFA World Cup 1930-2010: Politics, Commerce, Spectacle and Identities, Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2014, p. 23.


[52] Christoph Wagner, Crossing the Line: The English Press and Anglo-German Football, 1954-1996, unpublished PhD thesis, De Montfort University, 2014, p. 136.


[53] John Clarke and Chas Critcher, ‘1966 and all that: England’s World Cup victory’, in Alan Tomlinson and Garry Whannel eds. Off the Ball: The Football Word Cup, London: Pluto Press, 1986, p. 125.


[54] Brian James, ‘Sir Alfred Ramsey – The Man Who Must Win – and Did’, in Frewin, Lesley [ed.] (1967) The Saturday Men: A Book of International Football, London: Macdonald, p. 13.


[55] Ibid., p. 16.


[56] Chas Critcher, ‘England and the World Cup: World Cup willies, English football and the myth of 1966’, in John Sugden and Alan Tomlinson eds. Hosts and Champions: Soccer Cultures, National Identities and the USA World Cup, Aldershot: Arena/Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1994, p. 82.


[57] Ramsey was speaking to journalists Peter Lorenzo and Norman Giller at his house in Ipswich in May 1974. See Jimmy Greaves, with Norman Giller, Don’t Shoot the Manager: The Revealing Story of England’s Soccer Bosses, London: Boxtree Ltd, 1993, pp. 45-46.


[58] Tony Mason, ‘England 1966: Traditional and modern?’, in Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young eds. National Identity and Global Sports Events: Culture, politics, and spectacle in the Olympics and the football World Cup, Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2006.


[59] Tony Mason, ‘England 1966 and all that’, in Kay Schiller and Stefan Rinke eds. The FIFA World Cup 1930-2010, p. 198.


[60] See David Goldblatt, The Game of Our Lives: The Meaning and Making of English Football, London: Viking/Penguin Books, 2014, p. 228.


[61] Arthur Marwick, The Sixties: Social and Cultural Transformation in Britain, France, Italy and the United States, 1958-1974, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.