The 1966 World Cup provided the greatest moment in the England football team’s history. On home soil they lifted the Jules Rimet trophy and confirmed their place at the top of the football hierarchy. Since then the Three Lions have failed to live up to expectations and, despite a few near misses, have not lifted a major international trophy. The 1966 victory was brought about by years of meticulous planning and key players hitting their peak at the right time.
England was chosen to host the tournament in 1966 by FIFA and they wanted to celebrate the centenary of the codification of football in this country. This gave England an advantage as they would have the backing of the supporters and they wouldn’t have to worry about extreme heat, unlike the previous tournament in Chile. The man given the task of leading England to glory in the tournament was Alf Ramsey. He had enjoyed domestic success by leading Ipswich Town from the Third Division to the top flight, culminating in the league championship in 1961-62. Ramsey was appointed England manager in 1963 and unlike previous managers, it was a full-time role where he was given the sole responsibility of team selection. At the start of his tenure Ramsey confidently predicted his team would win the 1966 World Cup.
The Three Lions had lost their supremacy in the 1950s and had been humbled by many of the South American teams and some European sides such as Hungary. Ramsey helped to bring about a revolution to England’s international game. He spent the years leading up to the World Cup experimenting with different formations, styles and players. Early results were poor but approaching the World Cup things began to improve and Ramsey began to settle on a formation. He settled on a 4-3-3 formation with no wingers in the side – this went against the traditions of the English game.
The spine of the team was very strong with many players at the peak of their powers. In goal was Gordon Banks, who was one of the finest goalkeeper in the world and one of England’s all time great goalkeepers. The defence was marshalled by West Ham’s Bobby Moore who was the captain of the team and allied great defensive skills with sureness in possession of the ball. He was partnered in defence by the rugged Jack Charlton. In midfield Alan Ball and Nobby Stiles provided the steel and industry with their hard work and hard tackling. This allowed creative players such as Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton to get forward to score goals and create chances. Charlton was one of the most gifted players of his generation and was capable of scoring from almost anywhere. Upfront the prolific Jimmy Greaves was supported by Roger Hunt and Geoff Hurst.
The early drama of the tournament was provided by the disappearance of the Jules Rimet trophy. It went missing when it was on display at a London stamp exhibition. This led to a big police operation to re-cover the stolen trophy and save national embarrassment. The trophy was eventually found under a bush by a dog called Pickles. The dog’s owner was rewarded with a cheque for £6,000, double what the trophy was actually worth. England started the tournament among the favourites, but by no means guaranteed victory. Other favourites were South American heavyweights Brazil and Argentina. From Europe, Portugal looked dangerous with Eusebio in the side while West Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union also provided a threat.
England were in Group One of the World Cup, pitted against Uruguay, Mexico and France. On paper it was one of the easier groups in which to qualify from. England opened their 1966 World Cup campaign against Uruguay. The South Americans were not the football power that they once were but could still be a threat. The game was a dull, uninspiring 0-0 draw as England struggled to break down their opponents. This set a precedent for the future as for the next 16 years the opening game of the World Cup was goalless.
England improved slightly in their second game against Mexico. They ran out 2-0 winners courtesy of goals from Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt. Charlton scoring with a rocket shot from 30-yards out. England produced the same scoreline to defeat France in their final group game with Liverpool striker Roger Hunt again on target as he scored both of the goals. The main talking point from the game came when England’s tough tackling midfielder Nobby Stiles received a yellow card after the game for a foul on a French player. The incident was missed by the referee but a FIFA official was in the stands and he issued a caution after the game.
England qualified for the quarter-finals by topping their group with Uruguay in second. They had yet to set the world alight and would need to improve on their performances if they were to reach the final. In the other group games there were some big upsets. Hungary defeated Brazil 3-1 in a classic game, despite featuring a young Pele Brazil failed to reach the knock out stages. The biggest shock of the tournament, and one of the biggest in World Cup history, came when North Korea beat Italy 1-0. Italy were eliminated and North Korea reached the quarter-finals.
In the last eight, England were pitched up against Argentina. The South Americans had gone unbeaten through the group stages, and although they were blessed with some fine players, they were serial under-achievers. England were forced into a change before the game as Jimmy Greaves – widely regarded as England’s best striker at the time – had picked up an injury against France. West Ham’s Geoff Hurst was brought into the team. Hurst was regarded as a solid player but not in the same class of someone like Greaves. The game was a bad natured affair from start to finish as Argentina took a very uncompromising approach to their football. Their captain Antonio Rattin, who had already been booked, was sent off for verbally abusing the referee. There was a delay for over 10 minutes as Rattin refused to leave the pitch. The ten men of Argentina managed to hold out until 13 minutes from time when Geoff Hurst glanced home a header to give England a 1-0 victory. England manager Ramsey was incensed by the Argentinians, labelling them as “animals”. He also took to the pitch at the end of the game to prevent his players from swapping shirts with the opposition.
Portugal provided the opposition in the semi-finals. They had so far been inspired through the tournament by Eusebio – who finished the tournament as top scorer with nine goals. In stark contrast to the England’s previous game it was free-flowing game, marked by good sportsmanship. England forward Bobby Charlton scored twice – the second a typical powerful shot from outside the area – to put the hosts 2-0 up. For the second goal he was congratulated by his Portuguese counterparts. Eusebio scored a late penalty – the first goal England had conceded in the tournament – but it was not enough. England’s defence had been crucial so far in the tournament with inspirational captain Bobby Moore marshalling the back-line, while in goal, Banks was almost unbeatable.
England opponents in the final were West Germany. They had made solid progress through the group stages and had defeated Uruguay and the Soviet Union in two bad tempered games to reach the final. England were the pre-match favourites but had to be wary of complacency. Germany possessed some class players such as young midfielder Franz Beckenbauer. The hosts got off to a slow start to the game and were behind after 13 minutes. Helmut Haller pounced on a weak clearance from England full-back Ray Wilson to put the Germans in front. However, within minutes England were back in the game, Bobby Moore flighted a free-kick into the area and Geoff Hurst powered home a header. England took the