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Group Matches Alex Service

Although my sporting interests lay mainly with the mighty St. Helens Rugby League Club, who had virtually swept all before them in the 1965-66 season, winning four cups, there was another event which I looked forward to immensely. The World Cup was taking place in England and the North West would play a big part, with group matches and knockout games pencilled in at Goodison Park. This was an opportunity not to be missed to see some of the world’s greatest players – including the mighty Brazilians - strutting their stuff without having to go down to Wembley. My Dad bought season tickets for the group games and I looked forward to watching the Champions, Brazil, who opened their tournament with a 2-0 victory against Bulgaria. I saw the marvellous Garrincha, though nowhere near his best form of 1962, score a magnificent ‘banana’ free-kick, with the Bulgarian ‘keeper powerless to stop it. The man was a physical freak, with his left leg bowed inwards and his right outwards. He also apparently led a private life that would make George Best seem like a monk! Yet when Pele and Garrincha played in the same team, the Brazilians never lost. They kept their record intact against the eastern Europeans, but it was to be Garrincha’s last in the famous yellow jersey.
Being Champions proved to be a bit of a millstone for the somewhat ageing Brazilians in their next two matches, against Hungary and Portugal. They duly lost them both and crashed out of the tournament, with fans naming a strain of influenza after their Manager, Vincente Feola, (the Feola Flu) when they returned to Rio in apparent disgrace. However, it was still also a rare chance for me to watch a genuine legend, in Edson Arantes do Nascimento – the legendary Pele. Unfortunately, he was kicked out of the tournament by some cynical Portuguese tackling in the group match at Goodison. 'Stop Pele, you stop Brazil' was their undeniable mantra. Despite the carnage, he returned but only as a limping passenger on the wing! I will never forget the forlorn look he gave (seemingly in my direction) as he left the field with a towel draped over his shoulders, accompanied by the team’s trainer, Americo. This impressionable youngster was inconsolable and promptly burst into tears! The Goodison Park crowd were to hail new heroes, like Florian Albert and Ferenc Bene from Hungary and, of course, a striker from Mozambique by the name of Eusebio, but I loved the legends of Brazil and could not really understand at my tender age why the crowds cheered so much for the underdogs.
The Quarter final tie at Everton, on paper at least, was going to be all one-way traffic. Little North Korea had booted Italy out of the tournament in the North East group matches, but surely would fall quite easily to the Red and Greens of Portugal. Not so! The Koreans were simply sensational early on and surged into an incredible 3-0 lead. Unfortunately, in what was one of the greatest-ever World Cup games, the Portuguese fought back, courtesy of an incredible solo attacking display from Eusebio and won 5-3. This was breathless stuff and the Goodison Park crowd rose to the Asian team at the end of the game. I also remember that Portugal had a giant centre forward called Torres, too, together with a flying winger – Simoes – and a wily customer in the midfield who was also their captain, called Mario Coluna.

Follow that! Well, we were hoping to when we saw the ‘progression chart’ that showed the semi-final between Portugal and England would be at Goodison. Surely not! In fact, rather predictably, the tie was switched to Wembley, much to my inevitable disappointment. Of course, the Portuguese became the ‘darlings’ of the tournament later and contested a virtual ‘foul-free’ semi-final against England, but in the meanwhile, we waited in the Gwladys Street stand for the West Germans and Russians to take the field. Up until a couple of minutes before kick-off, the seats in front of us were empty. All of a sudden, the whole stand rose and broke out into spontaneous applause. The empty seats were for the North Korean team! Needless to say the squad signed my programme which I have to this day, although I didn’t see the legendary Pak Do Ik, who scored the goal that knocked out Italy! I took some pictures with my Kodak Instamatic – but they were too dark! But what a thrill it was. For the record, West Germany won 2-1 with goals from Haller and Beckenbauer and subsequently went on to the Wembley final. But that was out of my remit!
Many years later at home I was watching the film of the Tournament, ‘Goal,’ when the camera turned to a thoroughly miserable Pele at Goodison after the Portugal game. I felt an involuntary tear fall and I was surprised that it had still got to me after all that time. “Everything alright?” asked my other half. “Something in my eye, luv, that’s all.” The ‘butchering’ of my soccer hero from Brazil will, seemingly, remain with me for evermore! But what fantastic memories from football’s golden year in Merseyside.

Alex Service

Memory added on April 11, 2016

1 Comment

I attended the group games and quarter final at Goodison Park. The Brazilians had several thousand supporters who cheered loudly each name when their team was announced before the first match against Bulgaria. The Bulgarians had few supporters and the first couple of names were announced in virtual silence. Then some of us started to cheer as the Bulgarians names were called out, by the time the final name was reached the entire crowd, minus the Brazilians, gave a huge roar! I don't know what the Bulgarians made of it. In the game itself Garrincha scored with a magnificent free kick which he bent around the wall. In the highlights programme later Billy Wright, one of the pundits, insisted the wall had been wrongly positioned and that it was impossible to bend the ball around it. The Brazil v Hungary game is one of the finest ever played at a World Cup finals. The second Hungarian goal, scored by Farkas with a volley hit on the run, following superb link up play by Albert and Bene is sublime. Well worth catching on YouTube. The Hungarians had some very special players but ultimately were let down by their goalkeeper.

– Frank Turner, September 28 2016 at 18:17

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Crowd assembles for the semi-final at Goodison ParkCrowd assembles for the semi-final at Goodison Park