In common with most people reading this I was not alive the one and only time England won the World Cup, although when I was born we were still the holders of the ultimate football prize. Back in 1966 England capitalised on home advantage to land the Jules Rimet trophy, and both my parents were fortunate enough to be at Wembley that day. So what is it like to see your country win the World Cup?
My Dad had no problem ordering two sets of tickets to all 10 matches scheduled to be played at Wembley, including England’s quarterfinal, semi final and the final itself. He sent off for them in the post and they came back a couple of days later. He and my Mum attended most of the games in England’s group, which also contained Uruguay, Mexico and France. The one exception was the match between Uruguay and France which had to be moved to White City stadium, now no longer with us, when, incredibly, the owner of Wembley refused to reschedule a previously planned dog race.
Prior to World War II England had not participated in any World Cups, viewing itself as far too good to need to compete with other nations. That changed post war, with the 6-3 Wembley defeat to Hungary in 1953 a real wake up call. England entered the World Cups between 1950 and 1962 with limited success, but despite home advantage in 1966 there was a real apprehension that the team may not be good enough.
While my Dad has few memories of England’s group games, he specifically remembers Bobby Charlton’s belter of a goal against Mexico. He also clearly recalls Argentina’s Antonia Rattin being sent off in the quarter final against England and the near riot by the Argentine players as he refused to leave the field. At one of the group games my Mum fainted in the dense crowds and had to be revived by a policeman with smelling salts.
The atmosphere at the early games was lively. Every Wembley game had a crowd of 100,000, most of whom were standing, and they made plenty of noise. As England progressed towards the final, beating first Argentina then Portugal in the semi final, excitement levels grew. “The papers were very strongly behind England,” my Dad recalls. “It would maybe be seen as a bit undignified these days. But that feeling was everywhere. It still wasn’t that long after the war and there was a lot of national pride.”
Watching football was also different back then. There were obviously no replays and few other distractions, so people watched every second of the game. There was a lot of knowledge about football among those who went to games at a time when crowds of 50,000 to 60,000 were not uncommon at second division matches. Football was very male dominated, although the World Cup matches saw many more women attending.
The final itself was, in my Dad’s words, the most extraordinary sporting event he has ever been to. “We got there early and we had quite a good view from one end of the ground.” He remembers the noise too. “There were a lot of Germans there but there was no chanting. We would cheer a good move by the Germans, as long as it didn’t end in a goal. The noise levels rose as the game went on.”
An early Haller goal for West Germany had been overturned by goals from Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. With two minutes left on the clock the Germans equalised through Weber, but despite the disappointment of the game being forced into extra time the crowd were not disheartened. The noise and excitement continued to grow. Hurst’s second and England’s third, still argued about to this day over whether it actually crossed the line, raised that even more. My Dad remembers everyone around him discussing it immediately and deciding that the ball had definitely gone in.
"There were a lot of Germans there but there was no chanting. We would cheer a good move by the Germans, as long as it didn’t end in a goal"
My Dad was upset as a Chelsea fan that Jimmy Greaves wasn’t playing in the final, and thought England would suffer as a result. Hurst, of course, proved otherwise. He has a vivid memory as Hurst’s hat trick goal hit the net in the last minute of extra time of looking down a few rows and seeing a man screaming at the top of his voice while simultaneously emptying a cup of orange juice into the hood of the person in front of him. By this time the atmosphere was electric. “It built and built. As England attacked for the last goal I remember the noise level became unbelievable. It got to a point where it sounded more like a crackle. It was a strange feeling. That continued for a long time – after the final whistle, when the players were running round the pitch, and for the presentation. I haven’t heard anything like it before or since. There must have been 15 or 20 minutes of that noise. Our ears were hurting afterwards.”
People stayed at the stadium for a while, talking excitedly about what they’d just seen, then the crowds slowly dispersed and made their way back home. My parents lived in Reading, so it was a fairly lengthy drive before they got back. At the time they didn’t own a TV but as soon as they got in they put the radio on and continued listening to news of England’s win. “It lived on for days afterwards,” says my Dad. “Everybody was talking about it.”
It has lived on for a lot longer than that, and we England fans may never see it again. But for those few short weeks back in 1966, England ruled the football world.