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The story of the 1966 World Cup

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Jonathan Stevenson | 17:32 UK time, Thursday, 6 May 2010

Between now and the start of the World Cup, BBC Sport will be looking back at every tournament since 1966 with the help of some of the key characters.

England, July 1966.

When football truly did come home.

Thirty years before Frank Skinner and David Baddiel used the tagline to awaken the nation's sporting senses ahead of Euro 96, England's footballers put their country on top of the world.

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With the Twin Towers bathed in glorious sunshine, Sir Alf Ramsey's side - led by the incomparable Bobby Moore - beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time to win the World Cup for the first and, so far, only time.

After climbing Wembley's 39 steps to heaven to cement his place in football folklore Moore, the perfect gentleman, wiped his battle-worn hands clean on the velvet drape of the Royal Box before shaking hands with the Queen and holding the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft in front of 98,000 delirious fans and millions more watching on television.

A nation was in ecstasy according to veteran BBC commentator Barry Davies, back then working at the tournament for ITV and the Sunday Times. "There was an immense feeling of national pride," reveals Davies, who watched the final at the back of the ITV commentary box. "I remember the atmosphere in Trafalgar Square and it was something akin to VE Day, I would imagine."

But if hadn't been for Pickles the dog, there might not even have been a trophy for Moore to collect from Her Majesty.

On 20 March, only 114 days before kick-off, the precious gold cup was stolen and though the thief was soon caught, the trophy remained lost. It was eventually found seven days later when Pickles' owner took him for a walk and, at the bottom of their garden in South Norwood, the black-and-white mongrel unearthed the glistening Jules Rimet, clumsily wrapped in newspaper.

Pickles enjoyed instant global fame and his star find meant the FA avoided a potentially huge embarrassment as they prepared to welcome the footballing world to England, the country widely credited with inventing the sport, for the first time.

Yet the hosts' hopes of winning the competition seemed slim. Humiliated at the 1950 World Cup by the USA, demolished 6-3 at Wembley by the Magical Magyars of Hungary in 1953, thrashed 5-2 in France in 1963 and having flattered to deceive at previous World Cups, England were no longer seen as one of the powerhouses of the game.

Reigning champions Brazil, 1954 winners West Germany and the established sides of Uruguay, Hungary, Italy and Argentina were all considered likelier victors, especially after England opened the tournament with an abysmal 0-0 draw with the Uruguayans.

Manager Sir Alf Ramsey, however, stayed positive. Upon taking the job in October 1962, Ramsey had immediately declared that England would win the next World Cup. He saw no reason to backtrack, something Davies believes had a powerful effect on players and supporters alike.

"He came out so early with that statement, I'm sure he was caught on the hop with it a bit," Davies told me. "He found it a bit difficult to deal with the press and I'm sure early on in the tournament there were times when he quite regretted saying it.

"But the expectation steadily grew and there was a certain fascination because Ramsey had said England would win it. There were doubts, but when Bobby Charlton scored his spectacular long-range goal in the second game, when they beat Mexico 2-0, that lit the blue touch paper."

England had arrived, but as Ramsey's men began to make the other teams sit up and take notice, the World Cup was busy producing two other remarkable stories that came together in the quarter-finals.

First-time qualifiers North Korea, given no chance of progressing, produced arguably the biggest upset in World Cup history as the minnows dumped out a strong Italian side boasting the likes of Giacinto Facchetti, Sandro Mazzola and Gianni Rivera, 1-0 at Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park.

Their opponents in the last eight at Goodison Park were a Portuguese side containing the tournament's best player in Eusebio, the 1965 European Footballer of the Year who would go on to score nine goals. But the North Koreans, who had been "adopted by the people of Middlesbrough" according to Davies, cared little for reputation and swept into an astonishing 3-0 lead with only 25 minutes gone.

Eusebio, however, was not to be denied. The 'Black Panther' clinically struck four times without reply as Portugal produced a stunning fightback to book a semi-final place against hosts England, fresh from a bad-tempered 1-0 win over Argentina, at Wembley.

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Eusebio got his name on the scoresheet again, but two Bobby Charlton strikes were enough to earn England a final berth against the Germans, who had sealed their own place by creeping past the Russians and their legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin 2-1.

And so the scene was set for English football's golden moment. Alec Weeks, the BBC's producer at Wembley that day, says the area around the stadium on 30 July "was like Hampstead Heath on a bank holiday. There were stalls everywhere selling everything you could imagine, including Kenneth Wolstenholme commentaries in French and German."

BBC commentator Wolstenholme's defining moment was yet to come as the teams exchanged goals in the early stages before Martin Peters fired England into a 77th-minute lead. It seemed that would be enough, only for Wolfgang Weber to net a late leveller and send the game into extra-time.

In the days before penalty shootouts there was suddenly a very realistic chance of the first World Cup final replay taking place at Wembley on Tuesday 2 August. But Weeks believes the capacity crowd, along with Ramsey telling his players "you won it once, now go and win it again", spurred England on to glory.

"Just after it went into extra-time the crowd started thumping their feet on the floor to a rhythm and chanting 'England, England, England'," said Weeks. "The cameras in the gantry were vibrating and the whole stadium was shuddering. I'll never forget it. It must have been a huge boost for the players."

When Geoff Hurst's shot bounced off the bar and on to the line and was controversially given as a goal by Russian linesman Tofik Bakhramov, England were almost home. It was only left to Hurst to run through and complete his hat-trick - or, as Wolstenholme so famously put it: "And here comes Hurst. He's got... some people are on the pitch, they think it's all over - it is now! It's four!"

A British record 32.6m viewers watched on television as Moore collected the trophy and midfielder Nobby Stiles danced his way around the Wembley turf in jubilation, and the whole country began to celebrate.

Weeks and his team left Wembley a couple of hours after the on-pitch celebrations had ended, having wrapped up their post-match interviews, but London was still in the mood to party.

"There were 10 or 12 of us - cameramen, soundmen, producers and so on - who had all left our cars at BBC Television Centre about five miles away, so we decided to walk back. Word must have got around that we were on the streets and people were desperate to share in what had just happened to us.

"They brought us wine and beers and talked to us in the street - it was like we'd just won the World Cup. They wanted to know what it was like to be there, wanted to shake hands with the World Cup final cameraman. It was incredible. People were so happy and it was such an innocent happiness. We didn't get back to our cars until five o'clock in the morning."

It's hard not to talk to Barry Davies and Alec Weeks without feeling just a little bit of envy. One day, I hope someone will ask me what it was like to be there the day England won the World Cup.

Watch West Germany beat USSR in the semi-finals
Watch England get past Portugal to reach the final
Watch the top 10 goals from the 1966 World Cup

As ever, I'm keen to hear your memories and thoughts on the events of 1966.

On Thursday we'll have the story of the 1970 World Cup, including the memories of one of the stars of the tournament.


  • Comment number 1.

    Nice blog, cannot wait till you write about 1982. That Socrates goal was truly magnificent.

    Can England do it this time? Dont think so.

  • Comment number 2.

    The third goal will always be a controversial moment, then they had an excuse technology wasn't as good. If it happens nowadays where will the blame fall?

    Sorry for double posting, cannot edit my other one:(

  • Comment number 3.

    Bobby Moore was over rated, as an Englishman desperate for England to lose it annoys me you have to drag up the past time and time again.

    I want France, Germany or Argentina to win this time.

  • Comment number 4.

    One month to go and it starts already, why start at the 1966 World Cup, surely the first post war event would have been a more logical choice. I hope we win, if only to stop the media going on about 1966. Sure, it was great, but it was 44 years ago!

  • Comment number 5.

    Sure enough you mentioned the non-goal in which the assistant was eating KitKat and changed his mind when asked 'are you sure'.

    But you forgot to mention or are too young to remember Rattin in the quarters, widely known as the most shocking decision in football history, whom the referee sent straight off because as he officially wrote "he didn't like the look on his face".

    And of course Ramseys's disgraceful remarks made to take attention away from events (any similarities with unfounded racial stereotyping by other British managers such as Clough & Ferguson are purely coincidental).

    You can also have a look at the iffy officiating in the semi, which continent's teams did the European refs take charge of and how they treated them, which person decided that, why England didn't play the semi at Goodison as officially scheduled etc.

    A sole tournament success in history and a dodgy one at that.

  • Comment number 6.

    please stop!!!!! 1966 before the competition kicks off...your countries ingnorance knows no bounds...All I need now is Guy Tildsley going on about it when South Africa kick it off 3 weeks on friday. I will wait until 3 seconds of the first match before he mentions "1966". You seem to be the only country who think you can win it. You have a great manager and a good bunch of players. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO WIN IT. NOT NOW AND NOT IN THE FORESEABLE FUTURE.

    sorry if this is emotional but we are 3/4 weeks away and 1966 crops up. We get this evry 4 years no make that 2 years because even during the eruoes it comes up. Please stop it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Why do some people throw such a paddy whenever 1966 is mentioned. Of course we're going to talk about it, we won the World Cup for goodness sake. I Suppose if Scotland, Wales or Ireland had ever won the World Cup (an amusing thought I know) they'd never go on about it in those countries would they?!

  • Comment number 8.

    stop going on about 1966. All we need now is Clive Tildsley talking about it 2 seconds into the opening match. Please stop thr 1966 comparisons. Your conutry has had plenty of praise over the last 44 years!!!!

    Well done you won in 1966. Can we move on now please!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Your "story of the 1966 World Cup with the help of some of the key characters" also forgot to mention who were the presidents of FIFA in 1966 and the decade before it. Their impact turned out to be more "key" than anyone else's.

  • Comment number 10.

    Not sure why people are surprised that the predominately English media in the UK chose to begin their recap of previous World Cups with the one that England won. What is wrong with that? You have to start somewhere I guess, and as a purely historical piece it is quite interesting. So thanks Stevo.

    What does get my goat however, is the constant references to 1966 by commentators watching games England aren't even involved. Let's hope that doesn't happen this year. Plus, while 1966 is undoubtedly something to be proud of, an international record of one final and one semi final in 44 years of international football is not to be boasted about at all, and would suggest that England are not the world heavyweights that some of the media portray themselves as.

    That is by the by though. This blog was really interesting and I look forward to the next one.

  • Comment number 11.

    Interesting you chose what is largely regarded as one of the worst World Cups in terms of the quality of football to begin your roundup.


    "Not sure why people are surprised that the predominately English media in the UK chose to begin their recap of previous World Cups with the one that England won."

    I don't think anybody is surprised, and that is kind of the point, really. I'd have thought the 1950 World Cup would have been the best place to start, given it was the first one after WWII, or even 1958 given that a certain young "Best Player Ever" Pele burst onto the scene at that World Cup.

    But of course, 1966 is as arbitrary a date as any... isn't it?

    It's all a bit predictable really.

  • Comment number 12.

    This country (the UK) has only one win to mention, so they will. If it had been Scotland, N. Ireland or Wales we would have had the same level of repetition, but probably slightly less whinging about it.

    It's a build up to a tournament. When the Rugby world cup comes up it will be 2003 over and over again until Ireland win it this time and then we will have that as well.

    As for dodgy world cups, singling 66 out is a bit rich when compared with '78, and ask Cruyf about the '74 final. England's win in 66 will keep coming up until a home country (or possibly Ireland which the BBC seems to think is a home country too) wins it. Lets hope that is soon.

  • Comment number 13.

    To those above whinging about a 1966 article, isn't it simple.. DON'T READ IT! Let alone post about about how you hate it.. Surely if your sick of reading about such things, what are you doing clicking on the link in the first place? Some people like to reminisce about previous achievements. If the BBC listened to half the moaning that gets posted on these comment boards, the site would be a blank page!

  • Comment number 14.

    "To those above whinging about a 1966 article, isn't it simple.. DON'T READ IT!"

    What a ridiculous thing to say. The whole point of a blog or a piece of journalism is to create discussion, positive or negative, not expect a bunch of people to come on here and creep to the author telling him how great it all is.

    The critcisms are valid (whether you agree or not)... shame your post isn't. Typical reactionary rubbish.

  • Comment number 15.

    'When the Rugby world cup comes up it will be 2003 over and over again until Ireland win it this time and then we will have that as well.'

    SO WHAT?!Unlike the football that was only 7 years ago! FFS! And in 2007 England reached the final.

    And Ireland will not win it.

  • Comment number 16.

    RE: E13_Big_dave - "To those above whinging about a 1966 article, isn't it simple.. DON'T READ IT!"

    I very much doubt they did read it, to them its just "oh an article about '66, what a great chance to have a go at England and the English because they are at the World Cup, whereas my country isn't and never are"

  • Comment number 17.

    Hey Nibs,

    Surprise seeing you make bitter comments about the English! I'm sure that an incidence that was lucky could be pointed out for every cup winning team.

    Look forward to your comments about Fulham later when hopefully they win and you throw a hissy fit!

  • Comment number 18.

    Great blog Jon . Its great to learn about the history of the World Cups and from your blog I came to know things that i never knew . Like the Korean's amazing run . Those who don't like such blogs about the World Cup can just stay away from this page . For me , it's always nice to know the history of the game we all love so much.

  • Comment number 19.

    On ESPN Classic last week, I watched the complete England v Portugal semi-final. Martin Peters and George Cohen were in the studio providing insightful comments about the match and the 66 campaign in general. Amazing for such a big match the referee hardly blew for a single free-kick in a free-flowing, end-to-end first half. My... that England side was a well-organised, tactically savvy outfit. Moving the ball forward in fluid packs of three or four. Strong at the back, any Portuguese attacking threat completely nullified. England never looked like conceding a goal, didn't concede a goal in open play until the final.

    Also FIFA does an official world cup film for each competition. I have seen them all and the 1966 film is the best of the lot. Finals day in particular is brilliantly captured. From the groundsman opening the gates at 7 am, the build-up and the ensuing drama during the match.

  • Comment number 20.

    Great blog, but I think it a pity we started with 66. With so long before the WC to start I think you should have started with 54 or 58 at the very least. To never mention Puskas's Magyars or the great tournament of 58 (Brazil and 4-4-2, Fontaine, 3 British teams)is such a shame.

    As for 66, pity so many revert to the stereotypical 'we only won it because it was in England and dodgy refs'. If that was true, we were not the first nor last hosts to enjoy such beneits (78 comes to mind in particular, but I wouldn't deny Argentina's win was also a truly geat WC moment and that they were a great team).

    Wherever the WC was held in 66, England would have been SERIOUS contenders. We may not have won it, but we would have gone a long way. I believe the only contentious decision in our favour was Hurst's second goal in the final. In the modern game, Rattin would not have lasted as long as he did in the QF. He continuously baited the ref and fully deserved his marching orders. That Argentina were down to 10 men was their own fault.

    Well done England. Dodgy refs, home advantage - RUBBISH. The best team won the 66 World Cup - as indeed it nearly always does (54 & 74 excepted). If it hadn't been England, who else?

  • Comment number 21.

    I suppose 1966 is firstly the one we won and secondly the first one where there's much BBC footage available. Even if I have seen action from the final a ton of times and I wasn't even born then!

  • Comment number 22.

    I wonder what would happen nowadays if a goal was scored during a pitch invasion. I doubt it would be allowed to stand.

  • Comment number 23.

    Englans were roughly 5th-favourite for the 1966 World Cup - and rightly so, the team was mediocre.

    Home advantage, negative anti-football tactics and dodgy refs were the story of that tournament.

    Let's hope the 2018 tournament goes to a proper footballing nation.

  • Comment number 24.

    England were worthy winners of this tournament. The best all round team by far. I would say that England has produced some quality fooballing sides in the last couple of decades since the 1986 world cup. But the difference between now and 1966 is that the world in general has caught up in terms of professionalism and footballing ability. So it is much more difficult for anyone to win it. But hopefully England will put the smile back on our faces again one day hopfully before the 22nd century !! Lets do it in Qatar. Especially if it will be held in the winter so the players won't have the "suffering from fatique" excuse !


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