LONDON – The innocence of youth.
As I left Wembley on July 30, 1966, as a happy teenager having seen England beat West Germany 4-2 in the World Cup final, I had the naive belief that I would experience similar joy over the years.
Half a century later I am still waiting to celebrate another England victory, or even a second appearance in the final.
Was 1966 as good as it will get in my lifetime?
My ticket for the final cost 17 shillings and six pence, or 75 pence these days. Yes, less than a pound to see the World Cup final. You couldn’t even buy a cup of coffee for that now. Or even half a cup.
I was given a season ticket for the games at Wembley as a present by my godfather Syd. I had just started work as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper and each day during the World Cup I kept a diary — the word “blog” hadn’t yet been invented; neither had the internet. Television coverage was in black and white. There were no mobile phones, yet somehow life went on.
After much deliberation I decided to adopt North Korea as my other team, mainly because I had never heard of these mystery men from a country no one could visit.
What did they have to hide, I wondered?
England’s opening game against Uruguay was so poor it was lucky to finish even 0-0. Uruguay did what South Americans do (or so I thought), which was to defend for their lives and England couldn’t break them down. The crowd started to boo Uruguay so I joined in. As one headline said, it was a lot to do about nothing.
My second team, North Korea, had strange eating habits. I read that its breakfast was boiled beef, cabbage, onions and cucumber. It didn’t do it much good against the USSR, which beat the Diddymen 3-0, but I decided to stay with North Korea despite this defeat.
My faith in NK was rewarded in its next game, a 1-1 draw with Chile. I remember the Korean players crying after the final whistle and not just because they remembered what dinner was.
The next day England beat Mexico 2-0, but it was another dire game though Bobby Charlton was superb, scoring a terrific goal. The crowd did all it could to put some spark into England; the guy sitting next to me kept shouting “get it up . . . get it up,” which annoyed me no end. However, he was bigger than me and didn’t seem like the sort of chap who would appreciate me telling him to shut up.
In Middlesbrough, the locals were calling North Korea “us.” The camaraderie even extended to the North Koreans going to the Town Hall and singing a song which must have been an unforgettable experience for those present.
The Italians weren’t singing after their final group game which saw the Diddymen win 1-0, with Pak Doo-Ik guaranteeing himself to be the answer in quiz nights for years to come with the winning goal.
Roger Hunt went one better by scoring twice as England beat France 2-0. It was a much better performance, which in fairness didn’t take much, and Mr. Big Mouth was almost silenced. Nobby Stiles was cautioned during the game (yellow and red cards were introduced in 1970) and FIFA’s disciplinary committee told the Football Association if Stiles is reported to it again then serious action will be taken.
After a booking!
Having qualified for the knockout stages North Korea moved to Liverpool, but hadn’t booked a hotel, not believing it would reach the quarterfinals where Portugal was the opponent. NK ended up staying in the hotel the more confident Italians had reserved. The North Koreans are getting a bit above themselves, though. They are now claiming they invented football. Steady on, boys.
All the quarterfinals kicked off at 3 p.m. and two things stood out from England’s 1-0 defeat of Argentina at Wembley. One, was seeing Antonio Rattin, the Argentina captain, sent off — I think it was the first sending off I had witnessed. Second was the scoreline from Goodison Park: “Portugal 0, North Korea 3” after 25 minutes.
Sadly, Eusebio spoiled the party by scoring four goals.
Rattin was sent off in the 35th minute, not for a foul but for dissent, constantly questioning referee Rudolf Kreitlein of West Germany who eventually decided enough was enough. It took almost 10 minutes for Rattin to leave the pitch which, at the time, I thought was really exciting especially when the police intervened.
Alf Ramsey, the England manager, likened Argentina to “animals” though England committed twice as many fouls as the South Americans.
When football broke out, Geoff Hurst scored the winner to set up a semifinal against North Korea’s conqueror, Portugal. At last, the sort of display we had been waiting for from England materialized. Even Mr. Big Mouth was happy. Bobby Charlton’s two goals were stunning, someone behind me so excited he spilled whatever he was drinking all over me, not that I minded. Bring on West Germany.
Incredibly, Wembley wasn’t a sellout for the final, impossible to imagine now. We were told to keep our ticket stubs, not that I would have thrown it away, in case there is a replay. There was an article in one paper where scalpers were saying they even gave some tickets away for previous England matches. Maybe they are a misunderstood, generous bunch after all.
One standout memory of July 30 — in fact the entire tournament — is that virtually nobody wore replica shirts of their country, which has since become almost obligatory. The journey to Wembley was like any other journey; the underground was crowded as it was during the rush hour. As much as anything when I look back, there was not a hint of trouble — hooliganism, or the English disease as it became known, was a decade away.
I cannot recall many West Germany fans at Wembley, but the home supporters were in good spirits with many waving rattles, which would be considered a dangerous weapon now. I was confident England would win, my teenage logic that we were at home and had played well against Portugal.
We had our money’s worth, in my case my 75 pence-worth. England won 4-2 after extra time with Geoff Hurst scoring a hat trick. The big controversy — whether the ball was over the line for Hurst’s second and England’s third goal. There were no slo-mo replays or goal-line technology to prove one way or the other, so West Germany’s justified (it must be said) annoyance that all of the ball had not crossed all of the line was minimal.
England celebrated though the triumph has come to mean more than it did at the time because there has been no repeat. Half the nation watched the final on television, but press coverage of the event in 1966 was minimal compared to the sports supplements, social media, radio phone-ins and forensic television angles football now enjoys . . . or at times endures.
At the Euro 2016 final, English national newspapers had four or five reporters in Paris without England playing. Fifty years ago, one football writer wrote a match report and that was pretty well it. The back page of the Sunday Telegraph when England won the World Cup also had fishing (by “The Angler”) and bowls columns.
I still have my ticket from the final which I subsequently had signed by the two captains, Bobby Moore and Uwe Seeler. Hopefully, one day I will be able to have a second successful World Cup final ticket, signed or not.
Breath is not being held.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.