Leading up to the World Cup I was I was very much the new boy on the block. Once the contracts were signed that both ITV and the BBC would cover the World Cup, ITV had to find four commentators to cover the tournament. I was among the names put forward as a result of doing some work for BBC sports report, following on from being in the army and doing a bit of work for British Forces Broadcasting as it is now called. A few year prior to ‘66 I went to a couple of matches and for my audition sat in the joined cubicle with Hugh Johns who was eventually chosen as ITV’s number one commentator. We could hear each other and we started finishing each other’s sentences! In the end I was one of the four commentators chosen. Hugh Johns was at Wembley, Gerry Loftus was in the North West, John Camkin, who was director of Coventry City was in the midlands and I was in the North-East. Looking at it now you could argue I got not exactly the short straw but by no means the best quartet of countries. Although it did prove to have arguably the story of the World Cup. So that’s how I got into it.
I said to ITV boss John Bromley, if you want me to do a proper job on this I need to be out there for a week because none of these players are particularly well known with the exception of the Italians. I had the most difficult task in the country because I had to identify the North Koreans. Bless him he said you have a point and I went out for a week before the Championship started. I went to all the training grounds, it was much easier for the media to get in then it is now. I watched all the players particularly the Koreans and formed a way of identifying each of them by studying photos. Bearing in mind they were wearing 1-22 so it was a question of picking out people in the position they were playing and they weren’t all the silly numbers that we have now in the Premier League. I knew all of them expect one and I kept being tested by the interpreter and getting 21/22, there was just one I couldn’t pick out and I didn’t understand why. Anyway it turns out in the photographs the player had long hair and he’d been given a crew cut so he looked totally different. He didn’t actually play until the quarter finals but he scored, a fella called Young Sun Cook I remember the name all these years.
It did me a huge favour going up to the North East as I was able to commentate on all the group stage matches up there as well as one quarter final. I came as someone from the outside with very little experience and learnt how to start my career as a commentator at a World Cup. It was very much in at the deep end.
The opening matches in the North East weren’t that great. One match in Middlesbrough somebody wrote afterwards they’d seen better matches at Hartlepool on a drizzling, rainy afternoon. The football fans of Middlesbrough took North Korea very much to their hearts which was quite surprising 13 years from the Korean war which cost several British lives. There was a generally strong feeling for the underdog which was typically British. When they beat the Italians the crowd went absolutely ecstatic for them and it was great and the main story from the North East. Not every match was exciting but I certainly didn’t think I got the short straw because if the World Cup wasn’t in England I wouldn’t have had a career as a sports commentator. The fans felt something for the players as football was the game of the man in the street, I’m not sure you can say that anymore with a far wider spectrum of society.
Not knowing much about world football and the lack of expectation was a factor in the beginning. The media were somewhat against it, certainly the most boring opening game against Uruguay. In terms of the whole tournament and the country being behind England it initially didn’t catch fire in North East until Bobby Charlton scored a cracker against Mexico. That certainly lifted the atmosphere from the quarter final onwards. I was at Wembley to watch the semi-final simply as a spectator. In the official FA book on the ’66 World Cup had a report on the third place match by a star reporter whose name is Barry Davies. Throughout the World Cup I was on unpaid leave from The Times so it was quite nice to have that in the records. I watched the final behind Hugh Johns in the commentary box so I had a pretty good view of the game. As soon as Geoff Hurst hit his shot I thought it was a goal, mainly because of the reaction of Roger Hunt who turned immediately and celebrated the goal. It was an extinctive feeling but how much of that was to do with everyone wanting it to be a goal. After the final I was one the reporters at the Royal Garden Hotel which was much easier to fraternise with the players back then. The crowds there were huge but it wasn’t huge at the start, but by the end the front and back pages were filled with the World Cup. I felt although I wasn’t concuss of it at the time that it was the biggest celebration since VE day. It was that sort of atmosphere everyone was happy and jolly and there was a euphoric feeling and a huge boost for the country.
Memory added on April 18, 2016
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