In 1966 the world of football was completely different to the 2013 version. Ok, players were no longer walking to the ground in order to train but the sport had yet to become the gruesome behemoth that it has now morphed into!
I had just moved from Leeds after College to start my first job in ‘that there London’ and had met, and married my wife and we were expecting our first child by the time that the 1966 World Cup rolled into town. We were living in a bedsit in West London, I was working at Heathrow on the construction of Terminal 3, and I was playing for a local side in Greenford, generally trying my best not to be home sick, especially as my home town football team –Leeds United - were now doing so well for the first time in history.
In the lead up to the tournament itself I had been to Wembley to watch England in their warm up games and was really proud that players such as Jack Charlton, Norman Hunter and Alan Peacock from my unfashionable, new kids on the block club were now being selected on a regular basis by Alf Ramsey – the taciturn England manager - so that there was a chance that Leeds United would now be represented on a global scale.
The FA announced details of how to buy the tickets for games and this fact alone describes how different things were then to as they are now. I suspect that the main way was just to apply to the various ticket agencies and then you were able to get a book of tickets either for a particular group of games or for one particular country, including the knock out stages. Another method was to walk up to Wembley Stadium itself where there was a wooden kiosk selling tickets for any of the games –including amazingly the Final itself. Obviously being young and also newly-wed money was an issue so I could not buy all those that I would have liked to. After much thought I decided to buy terrace tickets for the showpiece opening game against Uruguay at Wembley, England’s group game against France and the also one for the Final itself. It was as simple as that, there was no queuing involved and I could have chosen as many matches as I wanted to!! I remember that the price of the World Cup Final ticket was a lot of money for me - 10/6p – 52.5p in today’s money!!!
England had been awarded the 1948 Olympic Games and because the Second World War had left the country under rationing and war damaged, were widely known as the ‘Austerity Games’; so the award of 1966 World Cup tournament to London was the first global event that we had staged that could properly showcase our country to the world. The Beatles and Rolling Stones, Carnaby Street and mini-skirts and now the World Cup, caused the rest of the world to turn its attention to London. The swinging 60’s was in full swing (pun intended) as the expectation and excitement in the country, and especially in the capital, began to grow. The FA embarrassingly lost, and then found, the iconic trophy itself and Pickles the dog who found it achieved instant fame and became a staple answer in quiz questions for years to come.
The opening game of the Tournament was against Uruguay and frankly the long drawn out ceremony before the action stated was more exciting than the match itself. However it did not take away from me the feeling that by just attending I was a part, albeit small, of football history. Some 0-0 draws can be exciting tense affairs - but not this one, it was a total bore draw with both sides intent on not losing, thus protecting their favourite rankings to get through into the knock out stages.
In the remaining Group games Uruguay had only managed a draw against Mexico, whilst Roger Hunt’s 2 goals against France were sufficient to see England top the group and move into the quarter finals without too many problems.
The Quarter and Semi finals against Argentina and Portugal respectively were thrilling affairs that my wife and I watched on TV from our bedsit in Bedford Park. The Semi Final was very tense, especially knowing that I had a precious ticket for the Final itself and that England might actually feature!
During the Tournament my Dad had phoned from Leeds to say that he had managed to get a ticket for the Final in the best seats and he hoped to see me before the game, but in the end he decided not to come down because in reality my Mum would have liked to have gone to the match as well, as they were both massive football fans. So he sent his ticket down to me in the post and told me to sell it on the day at Wembley.
There is one interesting statistic that is not widely understood about England’s Semi Final and Final matches in that although all the tickets were sold not all of them were used. This had come about because many tickets had been sold to supporters of all the competing teams in books that contained tickets for both games. As a consequence many fans decided to return home after their teams had been knocked out so supporters of say Brazil, who had a large following, found it quite expensive to stay on in London and hence decided to leave early. I went by train to Wembley clutching my 2 tickets and had no trouble in selling the spare one to a young German student who was very surprised to have to only pay the face value of the ticket. He could not afford the stand seat so I sold him my terrace ticket for 10/6p. I hope he recalls the match and remembers the young Englishman who did not rip him off.
The World Cup Final was the only England game I have ever been to where the atmosphere resembled that of a club game. My Dad’s £5 ticket had a brilliant view right over the half way line where I sat behind the then Fulham Chairman – Tommy Trinder – a well known music hall comedian of an earlier generation. Being right over the half way line meant that I was not in a position to see if Geoff Hurst’s disputed goal crossed the line or not, although my first instinct was that it had not done so and that England were on that occasion a bit lucky. However that was evened out in my eyes because Germany’s goal on the stroke of full time was very fortuitous, as Jack Charlton should never have been penalised for the free kick that led to the melee when the German equalising goal was scored. I was just about wrung out and hoarse by the time Hurst completed his hat trick with that fourth tremendous goal.
It seemed hours before I finally left the stadium after the game what with the presentations, the lap of honour and Nobby Styles stupid dancing with the World Cup on his head, Bob & Jack Charlton in an uncharacteristic show of emotion with each other. The German supporters were magnanimous in defeat despite the disputed Hurst goal and their team had some great players. I was particularly impressed at the time with the young Franz Beckenbauer although any respect I had for him went out of the window when I watched him orchestrate the referee in their European Cup Final ‘win’ 9 years later in Paris. I hope I will witness retribution for that particular evening before my time is up.
Just a few years ago I was on my way back to England from Nigeria and was stood in the check in queue at Lagos airport for the flight home and I realised that the England hat trick hero from the Final, Geoff Hurst, was stood immediately in front of me – he and Bryan Robson had been doing some FA-sponsored coaching clinics in the country. Normally I am not star stuck, but given that I was at Wembley in 1966 I felt it justifiable to mention the match to him. I was brought right back down to earth with his reply, “If I believed that everybody was at Wembley who has told me that they were therethen there must have been a crowd of something like 250,000 at the match”. End of conversation, so that put me in my place!!!
I do not suppose the enormity of what the England team had achieved came home to me for sometime afterwards and over the years, and with England’s continued lack of success in the competition, the importance of the win in 1966 has taken on almost mystical proportions. I just wish I had kept the programme and ticket stub (if only to show the latter to Geoff Hurst!!!).
Memory added on January 25, 2016
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