Did the 1966 World Cup mark the birth of modern football?

Open navigator

Please turn on JavaScript. Media requires JavaScript to play.

1. The dawn of a new age for football

Blanket media coverage, a global TV audience of hundreds of millions, an official mascot and mountains of merchandise, record attendances in upgraded stadiums, wild goal celebrations and glamorous WAGs.

All these things have come to be expected of the World Cup as we approach the 2014 finals in Brazil, but they were equally evident when England hosted the event back in 1966.

Kenneth Wolstenholme famously uttered the phrase "they think it's all over" as Geoff Hurst prepared to strike the final blow in England's victory over West Germany at Wembley, but did '1966 and all that' in fact signal the start of modern football as we now know it?

2. The stars of the show

Excessive celebrations, interest in their "relations" and stratospheric remuneration - the blueprint for the world of the modern football player emerged blinking into the light in 1966.

The increase in over-familiar frolicking in the wake of goals scored during the '66 World Cup led to a hand-wringing debate in the TV studio on whether this sort of thing was appropriate. Soon enough, Roger Milla's quickstep by the corner flag and Bebeto's baby-rocking routine would lead people to pine for the days when players satisfied themselves with a simple hug and a kiss.

People may also be surprised to know that the fascination with WAGs didn't begin with Victoria Beckham, Cheryl Cole et al in Baden Baden in 2006. The wives and girlfriends of the England squad were equally fêted in 1966, invited onto the panel of World Cup report and accompanying the team as they were hailed by the gathered crowds outside their celebratory banquet at the Royal Garden Hotel in London.

At a time when the average national wage was under £100-a-week, the England squad received a bonus of £1000 each for winning the World Cup (plus £60 for each appearance). England captain Bobby Moore's preparation for the tournament had been blighted by a contract dispute with his club, West Ham United, over his demand for a £10-a-week raise.

While Moore and his team-mates were undoubtedly well rewarded, it was the generations of players who followed that have benefited most from the game's global explosion in popularity. By the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the average weekly wage of a premiership player was more than 50 times that of the UK average.

3. The small screen gets bigger

While not the first tournament to be televised, the 1966 World Cup heralded a sea change in the quantity and quality of football coverage.

Four years earlier British viewers had to wait several days to see games from Chile, but in 1966 games were broadcast live to homes across the UK and were available for the first time live via satellite in up to 75 countries.

England's victory over West Germany in the final was watched by 38 million people in the UK, with over ten times that number tuning in worldwide. While these figures were truly astonishing at the time, Fifa reported that there were almost 1 billion viewers "in every known territory" for the 2010 World Cup final in South Africa.

Live global coverage was not the only aspect of television coverage pioneered in 1966. Slow-motion replays were introduced to help the audience assess controversial incidents (although they weren't much help for Geoff Hurst's hotly disputed goal in the final) and the BBC employed a rotating panel of 16 pundits to provide expert analysis.

All told, the presentation team was only marginally smaller than that being put together by the BBC for Brazil 2014, where the influence of this early template for football broadcasting will be plain to see.

4. Mascots and marketing

The 1966 World Cup blazed a trail in the commercialisation of football. World Cup Willie was the first official mascot and appeared on all manner of official merchandise. By the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, marketing accounted for almost one third of Fifa's profit from the tournament.

A family surrounded by practically every commodity made available for the 1966 World Cup.

1966 saw merchandising really take off around the World Cup. Here, one happy family show off their huge haul of World Cup Willie gear. Well, the dad looks happy at least. (Topfoto)

The England captain presents a World Cup flag to a Brazilian Sports Federation delegate.

The official insignia for the tournament, presented here by England captain Bobby Moore, was quickly deemed not commercial enough by the organizing committee. A more marketable mascot was commissioned. (Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

The 1966 World Cup mascot on the page and in real live action!

World Cup Willie was duly born, designed by Reg Hoye. That’s him ushering a live action version of Willie onto the streets of London, where his image adorned everything from cigars to periscopes. (Getty Images/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

The 'King of Skiffle' performs at the Daily Express Record Star show in 1962.

Willie even had his own song, performed by the 'King of Skiffle' Lonnie Donegan. Sadly, Lonnie's best days were behind him by this stage and the anthem failed to trouble the charts. (Getty Images)

Pop star Shakira, singer of the official 2010 World Cup song, poses with mascot Zakumi.

In stark contrast, the official song for South Africa 2010 reached No.1 in 15 countries. Perhaps its singer Shakira, pictured here with mascot Zakumi, had a touch more global appeal than poor Lonnie. (LatinContent/Getty Images)

Germany's World Cup mascot in 2006 poses with the legendary Pele and Franz Beckenbauer.

Zakumi's predecessor, Goleo, wasn't shy of photobombing his way through the tournament. World Cup legends Pele and Franz Beckenbauer try their best not to look put out while posing with the trophy. (AFP/Getty Images)

The mascot for the 2006 World Cup in Germany poses as a train driver.

Indeed Goleo was popping up all over the place during Germany 2006. Supporters taking the train between matches may have been alarmed to find him at the controls! (AFP/Getty Images)

A worker in a factory in Ganyu, China, alongside a mound of 2014 World Cup mascots.

Similarly, in 2014, official mascot Fuleco will be everywhere as part of a marketing blitz incorporating an official slogan and ball as well as products and commercial partners aplenty. (ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

5. A cultural revolution

News bulletins broadcast during the 1966 World Cup reveal a country, and a world, in the midst of sweeping change.

In the days leading up to England's first appearance in the World Cup final, the British government proposed prison sentences for pirate radio operators, the Church of England recommended sweeping changes to divorce laws, the pop star Donovan was charged with drug offences and a 'colour bar' on black workers at Euston railway station in London was ended.

Globally, American bombers were making a record numbers of raids during the Vietnam War, there was mutiny among the military administration in Nigeria as civil war edged closer and the South African government made moves to extend its apartheid policy.

The Labour government announced a six-month pay freeze affecting six million workers the day before England's showdown with Germany, so it was perhaps just as well that Prime Minister Harold Wilson was out of the country. He was busy in foreign fields, namely the White House, meeting President Johnson as part of a round of shuttle diplomacy designed to hasten peace in Vietnam.

It was a meeting that almost caused Wilson to miss English football's finest hour. Cutting it fine in a manner almost unthinkable to a modern politician faced with potential sporting triumph, the Prime Minister only arrived at half-time.

The fact that he made it at all was in many ways a defining moment. Football was beginning to move from the margins to the mainstream of English culture.

6. World Cup contrasts

An infographic comparing the 1966 World Cup with the 2010 and 2014 tournaments

¹ Approximate figure. In-home audience was 909.6 million. FIFA estimate the overall audience to be over 1 billion. ² Temporary seating was added to four venues, while Wembley received a new pavilion.

7. Has football's revolution been positive?

The 1966 World Cup heralded football's modernisation, bringing change to all aspects of the sport. What does it mean for fans, players and the game itself?

The fans

Has the experience of football supporters changed for the better since 1966?

Supporters Direct

Kevin Rye

"Report after report says that stadiums and facilities are better and safer. But those same reports also say the game is detached from fans and communities."

The players

Has the lot of those playing the game professionally improved since 1966?

PFA chief executive

Gordon Taylor

"Top players are millionaires and their welfare is looked after more professionally. However pressures are greater than ever, with instant success expected."

The game

Has football benefited from its increased exposure since 1966?

Fifa vice-president

Jim Boyce

"The impact of the '66 World Cup was unbelievable, especially in England. Since then the World Cup has grown into the greatest sporting event in the world."