Month: July 2016

Faces of ’66 – Sir Alf Ramsey

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As you are no doubt aware, 50 years ago England won the World Cup for the only time. It meant manager Alf Ramsey’s prophecy came true after he had maintained England would triumph on home soil. Today we pay tribute to the man…

“We will win the World Cup in 1966,” declared a pre-knighthood Alf Ramsey after he was appointed England manager during the 1962-63 season. He would ultimately be proved right, but at the time he was sticking his neck on the line with such a proclamation – irrespective of the fact the nation had home advantage in 1966. As we recently recalled, Ramsey had not even been first choice for the job with veteran player Jimmy Adamson turning down the opportunity. It was the start of an uneasy relationship between Ramsey and the FA hierarchy.

For Ramsey, the size of the task in front of him was clear from his first game in February 1963. Away to France in a European Nations Cup qualifier, England were crushed 5-2 and eliminated. Although the conditions were poor and many players were short of match practice following the Big Freeze, it was a night that emphasised the side’s shortcomings. “Do we always play like that?” Ramsey asked captain Jimmy Armfield, who assured him they didn’t. “That’s the first bit of good news I’ve heard all night,” Ramsey responded.


Alf Ramsey during his England playing career.

He had work to do and just two players from the side would go on to play in the 1966 World Cup final, while a defeat at home to Scotland in the following match confirmed this was going to be a tough mission. The 1953 home mauling by Hungary – with Ramsey in the side – had shown England were no longer the world leaders in football they believed they were, with several underwhelming World Cups compounding matters. Pessimism had set in.

But Ramsey had belief in himself and what was available to him. He had played for his country and as a manager had defied all expectations at Ipswich Town, hauling them from the Third Division to the First Division and then surprisingly winning the championship at the first attempt – one of the few English title wins comparable with Leicester City’s incredible Premier League victory in 2015-16 – with a system that opponents struggled to suss out. Now he was pronouncing that England would win the World Cup in 1966, a claim that was met with scepticism – not least because England had never previously been beyond the quarter-finals and were hardly invincible outside the tournaments either.

The player’s manager

Ramsey’s reputation was rather contradictory. He had a public image of being cold and aloof but the vast majority of his players held him in great respect as both a manager and individual. Goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who made his debut in Ramsey’s second game, wrote in his autobiography: “At times he appeared cold and distant, yet I know of no one who played under him who doesn’t have great affection for Alf Ramsey, the quintessential ‘player’s man’.”

Kevin Keegan, who briefly figured under Ramsey near the end of his reign, would also tell of a different man to the media image. “He’s different when he’s with us. He’s a great fellow,” he said shortly before Ramsey departed in 1974. There were countless other examples too. Ramsey could relax in the company of players and he understood them. Bar perhaps the odd Maverick player who resented being overlooked, almost every player would speak with affection for Sir Alf.

Sir Alf Ramsey with a smile while leading England.

But Ramsey would never let any player become complacent about their place in the side. Banks has frequently told the story of how he was admonished by the manager simply for saying “see you” after a match, Ramsey refusing to let anyone believe they were a certainty for selection. Also often recalled is the time when Jack Charlton asked Ramsey why he had brought him into the international fold with his 30th birthday approaching. “Well, I have a pattern of play in my mind and I pick the best players to fit the pattern,” Ramsey told him. “I don’t always necessarily pick the best players.” 

It would jokingly be recalled by the other players as a putdown to Charlton, but there was also a serious message. Ramsey believed more in choosing players to fit a system than attempting to pick a system to accommodate the best 11 players. It’s hard to imagine he would have fallen into the trap of always trying to select Gerrard and Lampard together.

Making the right calls

The 1966 World Cup saw Ramsey continually make good use of his man-management skills, as well as applying his tactical nous. Most famously he would deploy his ‘wingless wonders’ system in the three knockout matches, a formula that had proved successful the previous year away to Spain. It may have been a departure from the more conventional systems, but it worked for England.

For Ramsey there were hints throughout the 1966 tournament of the strength of his ability to handle players correctly.  The first concerned Nobby Stiles committing a bad tackle on France’s Jacques Simon during England’s final group game, with Ramsey facing calls from some members of the FA to drop his midfielder. Ramsey, who had previously ensured the archaic selection committee was done away with, threatened to walk away if he was given orders about who he could or couldn’t pick as he again had reason to resent the FA. Thankfully, Stiles stayed in the side and Ramsey remained in charge.

He may have sparked controversy with his comments about Argentina after England beat them in the quarter-finals (he was not perceived as a lover of foreigners), but behind the scenes he provided a calming influence when tempers flared between the players afterwards as the beaten South Americans vented their anger. “This does not leave this room,” he told his side, reminding them that Argentina were on the plane home while England remained in the World Cup.

Most frequently remembered are his words to his players after West Germany had scored a heartbreaking equaliser in the last minute of the World Cup final. Victory had been snatched away from England and there was a danger the psychological advantage had been handed to the Germans. But Ramsey, spotting some German players sat on the turf, ordered his men to stand up and send out the message they were more ready for the rigours of extra-time. “You’ve beaten them once now go out and beat them again,” he famously said to his team, with the players duly responding by winning the match and tournament. 

The manager may have appeared unemotional at the match’s climax, but he would surely have been filled with pride when the crowd chanted his name during the celebrations. He would not receive a medal during his lifetime, but he did get to hold the trophy during the celebrations.

Joy for England and Ramsey.

Ramsey had put his neck on the line with several decisions along the way – proclaiming England would win; standing by Stiles; opting to play without a winger in three matches; selecting Geoff Hurst over Jimmy Greaves for the final – but he had been rewarded by seeing his side triumph. England may have lacked flair but they had achieved glory, something that the subsequent 50 years has shown is far from easy.

Never repeating the magic

Ramsey would spend eight more years in charge of England but he could never replicate the glory of 1966. Each tournament brought a sense of having taken a step back. Semi-finalists in the 1968 European Championship; going out to West Germany in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final after leading 2-0; being outclassed by the Germans in the 1972 European Championship last eight; and then the ignominy of failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. Ramsey had been the first man to lead England to World Cup glory; now he was the first to fail to qualify for the World Cup. His sacking was a sad and unfortunate ending after such a glorious peak was reached earlier on.

The 1970 World Cup ended in disappointment, with worse to follow.

With hindsight at least, he probably should have stepped down after the 1970 finals when his record was still relatively unblemished and the loss to West Germany was largely written off as a fluke at the time. Ramsey had felt a strong bond with most players in the 1960s but would have far less in common with the Mavericks who defined the 1970s – players he was reluctant to select, as critics felt he was again overlooking flair. His ability to use substitutes – which hadn’t been an option in 1966 – would also be considered a weakeness. He was perceived as having acted too prematurely in making changes against West Germany in 1970, of leaving it too late against Poland in 1973. The game was changing along with the personalities in it and Ramsey no longer seemed such a natural figurehead.

“I’m rude?”

Ramsey had his critics even during the glory years, his style of football seen as functional rather than flamboyant. It was a situation not helped by his unwillingness to go out of his way to help the media. But the World Cup exit in 1970 saw the vultures start to circle, Ramsey being met by a barrage of media men as he arrived home from Mexico. He snapped, taking particular exception to the usual comments about his distant public image. “I’M BEING RUDE? I don’t there’s a word that’s been invented that would describe the mannerisms of some of the people I’ve been confronted with. And yet I’m rude,” he fumed, clearly exacerbated by the line of questioning. It was a relationship that had never been easy and unfortunately it wasn’t going to improve as England continued to decline during the 1970s.

Even after he died in 1999, Ramsey would attract the occasional spiteful article. Probably the most contentious was written by historian Frank McLynn in The Observer Sport Monthly in 2005, cruelly branding Ramsey a “humourless boor”, describing him as “the epitome of negativity” and claiming his “legend far outstrips his actual achievement”, believing England’s 1966 triumph owed much to key decisions going in their favour. It was the sort of damning view that many of the Boys of ’66 would be quick to hit back at. Ramsey may not have endured the level of personal attacks during his reign as some of his successors such as Graham Taylor, but he got the first taste of the way things were going.

In later years Ramsey cut a fairly reclusive figure in English football circles – apart from a brief spell in caretaker charge of Birmingham City – although the TV cameras would sometimes spot him in the Wembley crowd at England matches. His sacking in 1974 had evidently left a sour taste and led to a detachment from the Football Association, with senior FA director Sir Harold Thompson seen as pivotal to his dismissal. The axed manager would say: “He would always refer to me, even to my face, as Ramsey, which I found insulting.” Ramsey’s relations with some senior FA representatives had seldom been easy, with successor Don Revie enduring many of the same problems with Thompson (who soon became FA chairman).

Perhaps still reeling from the manner of his departure, Ramsey seemed unwilling to share the limelight with his players from 1966. He was the one significant absentee during the retrospective Summer of ’66 BBC series in 1986, despite presenter John Motson making a personal visit to his home to try and lure him to share his memories. He did though offer his thoughts in a tabloid newspaper on contemporary matters, incurring the wrath of Bobby Robson with criticsms of England and their manager ahead of the 1986 World Cup.

It was a surprising thing for Ramsey to do given he had been so suspicious of the press during his own managerial career and a bemused Robson hit back at him in several books he penned – his frustration heightened by having been thwarted in his attempts to meet with his near-neighbour to get advice about managing England in a World Cup in Mexico. It was a sad episode between two men whose managerial paths contained plenty of parallels, given the sides they managed.

Sadly in later years Ramsey was struck down with Alzheimer’s disease. When he died in April 1999, there was sadness over his death but there didn’t seem to be the same widespread mourning among football fans as when contemporaries such as Matt Busby, Brian Clough and Bill Shankly died, nor Ramsey’s England captain Bobby Moore. But the players who served under him felt his loss, many of them attending a memorial service in Ipswich.

Ramsey may not have been an easy man to get to know and some seem to remember him as much for his clipped accent as for his managerial achievements. But that didn’t stop many in English football feeling a great attachment to him and respect for what he did. Fifty years ago he built an England side that won the World Cup, something nobody else has done. Every England fan should be grateful for what was achieved back then.

Sir Alf, we salute you!

What Happened Next? England’s Boys of ’66

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This week marks the 50th anniversary of England winning the World Cup in 1966. The winning line-up is well remembered, but what of their international careers after July 30, 1966? Today we recall what subsequently happened when they represented their country.

George Cohen

England’s right back George Cohen initially remained a regular after the 1966 triumph and played seven more times until November 1967, when he featured in a 2-0 home win over Northern Ireland. Sadly that was to mark the end of the Fulham player’s international career after 37 caps, as Cyril Knowles and Keith Newton were selected in the matches that followed. It meant Cohen was the first member of the World Cup winning XI to leave the international scene, but he would also be the first to retire from playing when injury problems meant he had to hang up his boots a few months before his 30th birthday in 1969. Such disappointments were later put into perspective when he successfully fought cancer.

Ray Wilson

Cohen’s fellow full back Ray Wilson would remain a regular for two years after the World Cup triumph. He won 12 more caps, taking his tally to 63. Wilson played in both the semi-final and third-place match at the 1968 European Championship, but the latter game against the Soviet Union would be his last for England. His career at the top was coming to an end and he would soon leave Everton for Oldham Athletic.

England’s World Cup winning XI would all play in the next three matches before the side gradually began to change.

Roger Hunt

When England faced Scotland in April 1967 in their fourth match after winning the World Cup, Roger Hunt was the first member of the celebrated XI to miss a game as he was replaced by Jimmy Greaves. But Hunt remained in demand for his country and had scored their first goal after the World Cup when he netted against Northern Ireland in October 1966. His last goal for England came against Sweden in May 1968, going on to play at Euro ’68. But after that he only appeared in two friendlies against Romania during the 1968-69 season, the 1-1 draw at Wembley in January 1969 marking his 34th and last cap – 15 of them collected after the 1966 World Cup. Later in 1969 he left Liverpool for Second Division Bolton Wanderers, as his career at the top level ended.

Nobby Stiles

England manager Alf Ramsey stood by Nobby Stiles after the player was condemned for a bad challenge on France’s Jacues Simon during the 1966 World Cup. But the midfielder would soon lose his place in the side. He played the first four matches after the World Cup, but would then be absent for more than a year before being recalled for the third-place play off at Euro ’68 against the Soviet Union when Alan Mullery was suspended. By then Stiles had won the European Cup with Manchester United but his days as an international regular were over. He won just three more caps, the last of them against Scotland in April 1970. Stiles was part of England’s 1970 World Cup squad in Mexico but he did not feature in any of the matches, as his international career ended with 28 caps – the lowest tally of the 1966 winning XI. In 1971 he was allowed to leave Manchester United for Second Division Middlesbrough.

Jack Charlton

Like Stiles, England defender Jack Charlton would be part of the 1970 World Cup squad but was no longer a first choice player. Despite scoring twice in the first four matches after the 1966 World Cup, Charlton’s involvement became more sporadic and he did not play for England in the Euro ’68 finals in Italy. He returned to score against Romania in January 1969 and five more caps followed before the 1970 World Cup. He was left watching on for most of the tournament but was picked to start England’s 1-0 group stage win over Czechoslovakia. He was never picked again, with his England career having yielded 35 caps – 13 of them earned after the 1966 World Cup. Charlton continued to play for Leeds United until he retired in 1973.

Bobby Charlton

Jack Charlton was joined by his brother Bobby in leaving the England scene after the 1970 World Cup, as manager Ramsey began planning without his oldest players. The Manchester United star remained a key member of the side between 1966 and 1970, scoring a vital late winner against Spain in the first leg of the Euro ’68 quarter-final and then netting again in the third-place match against the USSR. By then he had won the European Cup with United and he had further cause to feel proud when he occasionally deputised for Bobby Moore as England captain. In April 1970 Charlton became only the second man to earn 100 caps for England, marking the occasion with a goal against Northern Ireland. The following month he scored his 49th and final goal for his country against Colombia.

Bobby Charlton’s England career ends in sad circumstances in 1970.

Aged 32, Charlton started all four matches for England at the World Cup in Mexico. But with England leading West Germany in the quarter-final, Charlton was substituted with one eye on conserving his energy for the next round. But they would not get there, England infamously losing 3-2 as Charlton’s international career ended in painful style with Ramsey being criticised for the substitution. Charlton bowed out with 106 caps and 49 goals – both England records at the time. He remained at Manchester United until retiring in 1973, although he would later resume playing duties while manager of Preston North End.

Geoff Hurst

England’s hat-trick hero in the 1966 World Cup final was one of five members of the side still involved after the 1970 World Cup. Still a relative newcomer even after the 1966 final, Hurst now properly established himself as a first choice forward and he would find the net during Euro ’68 against USSR. Other highlights included a hat-trick in a 5-0 friendly win over France in 1969 and scoring twice in a 4-1 victory over Scotland a few weeks later. Hurst scored the only goal as England beat Romania in their first match at the 1970 World Cup, but he would not net again during the tournament.

Geoff Hurst playing for England against Greece in 1971.

Hurst played a further right times for his country, helping them reach the quarter-finals of Euro ’72. During the first-leg defeat against West Germany at Wembley, Hurst was substituted and it would prove the end of his England career after 49 caps and 24 goals. Hurst’s first cap and finest hour had both come against West Germany and sadly his international finale was an anti-climax against the same opponents. The same year saw his long association with West Ham United end, as he moved to Stoke City.

Gordon Banks

Legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks was firmly established as England’s number one by 1966, with this status remaining pretty much unchallenged over the next six years despite being sold by Leicester City to Stoke City following Peter Shilton’s emergence. Banks played in the semi-final and third-place match at Euro ’68 and remained the regular goalkeeper going into the 1970 World Cup. That tournament would be remembered for his unforgettable save against Brazil but also for missing the quarter-final defeat by West Germany due to illness. “Of all the players to lose it had to be him,” rued manager Ramsey.

Banks helped England reach the Euro ’72 quarter-finals, playing in both legs as they lost to West Germany. Shortly after that Banks kept goal in Home Internationals matches against Wales and Scotland, but sat out a friendly against Yugoslavia in October 1972 as Shilton kept goal. Just days later Banks was involved in a car crash that cost him his sight in one eye and ended his professional career.  He had earned 73 caps since making his England debut in 1963 and his class and experience was missed by England during their ill-fated qualifying campaign for the 1974 World Cup.

Bobby Moore

England’s captain in 1966, Bobby Moore, would unsurprisingly remain almost an ever-present in the ensuing years. He helped England reach the semi-finals of the 1968 European Championship and two years later he was seen as pivotal to their hopes of retaining the World Cup. Moore was infamously accused of stealing a bracelet when in Colombia prior to the tournament and was arrested, but he showed great character upon his release to get on with the job in hand with England. He captained the side in all four matches in Mexico, making one of the most celebrated tackles in history during the iconic game against Brazil.

Moore continued to lead the side as they reached the quarter-finals of Euro ’72, although he would lose possession in the build-up to the first goal West Germany scored as they beat England 3-1 at Wembley. However, Moore was still captain of the side going into qualifying for the 1974 World Cup and in February 1973 he won his 100th cap in a 5-0 friendly win over Scotland. But in a qualifier away to Poland in June he would take the blame for the second goal England conceded as they suffered a costly 2-0 defeat.


Bobby Moore prepares to win his final England cap.

Moore became England’s most capped player by appearing in friendlies against the USSR and Italy a few days later, but he was left on the bench for the vital return match against Poland in October as England failed to make it to the World Cup. Moore returned to captain the side in a friendly against Italy the following month (Ramsey’s final home match as manager), but it was his last act. After 108 caps, his England career was over and he would soon leave West Ham United and drop into the Second Division with Fulham.

Martin Peters

As well as being one of the two men to score for England in the 1966 World Cup final, Martin Peters was one of just two players from the final to represent them after Ramsey left in 1974. When England won the World Cup Peters had only eight caps and two goals to his name. He went on to earn a further 59 caps and net 18 more goals, remaining a regular for eight years. He scored against Scotland in February 1968 as England earned the draw they needed to reach the European Championship quarter-finals, where he netted again in the win away to Spain. Peters would start all four matches for England at the 1970 World Cup, scoring against West Germany as he became the only player to net for the Three Lions against the same opponents at successive World Cups. But he was substituted in the closing stages and, like Bobby Charlton, watched on as the Germans came back to win and send England home.

Despair for captain Martin Peters against Poland in 1973.

Peters remained a key part of the England side under Ramsey, but he had to settle for coming off the bench when they drew away to West Germany and went out of Euro ’72 in the quarter-finals. Peters captained the side in a 7-0 win over Austria in September 1973 and did so again the following month for the do-or-die World Cup qualifier against Poland. He was the only player on the pitch who had featured in the 1966 World Cup final and it was to be a heartbreaking night as England failed to qualify after drawing 1-1. The clock was ticking on Peters’ England career. He appeared in Ramsey’s final two matches against Italy and Portugal, before being selected by caretaker manager Joe Mercer for the Home International defeat away to Scotland in May 1974. It was the only time Peters played under Mercer and permanent successor Don Revie would never select him. Peters continued to play top-flight football with Tottenham Hotspur and Norwich City until 1980.

Alan Ball

As the youngest member of England’s World Cup winning side it was perhaps appropriate that Alan Ball should be the last one still representing his country. Ball remained a regular under Ramsey, helping England reach the semi-finals of Euro ’68 and featuring in all four games for them during the 1970 World Cup. Ball was again in the side for both legs of the Euro ’72 quarter-finals against West Germany and went into the qualifying campaign for the 1974 World Cup as one of just three players left from the 1966 final.

Ball played in the win and draw against Wales but the defeat away to Poland would mark a real low point. Ball became the second England player to be sent off when he lashed out as tempers flared in the 2-0 defeat. He would not play for his country again until he came on as a substitute against Portugal in Ramsey’s last match as manager in April 1974. Ball made no appearances under caretaker manager Joe Mercer but new boss Don Revie handed Ball the captaincy against West Germany in March 1975. He would captain the side on six occasions before controversially being left out by Revie as England visited Switzerland in September 1975. It marked a sad end to Ball’s 10-year England career, as he finished with 72 caps. He continued to play professional football until 1983 but his England days were long over. 

There were no longer any players from the 1966 final still appearing for their country after 1975, but as we shall see it wasn’t quite the end of the story for the Boys of ’66 and the England team.

And the rest…

Of the 11 England squad members who did not play in the final, there would be no further caps for Jimmy Armfield, Gerry Byrne, John Connelly, George Eastham, Ron Flowers, Terry Paine and Ron Springett. Jimmy Greaves played three more times for England after the disappointment of missing the 1966 final, all in 1967 with the last being a friendly win over Austria. Six of Peter Bonetti’s seven England caps were won after 1966, as he occasionally deputised for regular goalkeeper Banks. The most memorable was in the 1970 World Cup quarter-final against West Germany, where he was criticised for his display in a 3-2 defeat and never capped again.

Norman Hunter looks dejected after England fail to qualify for the 1974 World Cup.

Norman Hunter was the only non-playing squad member to properly establish himself later on, all bar four of his 28 caps being won after 1966. He would play in the Euro ’68 finals, come off the bench against West Germany in the 1970 World Cup and play in both legs of the Euro ’72 quarter-final against the same opponents. His last cap came in October 1974 against Czechoslovakia, a year after his costly mistake against Poland in the decisive World Cup qualifier.

But perhaps the most intriguing case concerned Ian Callaghan, the Liverpool winger whose England career looked over after winning his second cap against France during the 1966 World Cup. After a staggering 11-year wait he was recalled at the age of 35 for matches against Switzerland and Luxembourg in 1977, meaning he was the last member of the 1966 squad to appear for his country.

England’s road to the 1966 World Cup final

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Fifty years ago England were playing in the World Cup group stage, beginning their run towards glory. Everyone knows what happened in the World Cup final against West Germany, but – bar the odd moment – far less attention is given to their five matches en route to it. We look back at them today…

“We will win the World Cup in 1966,” famously declared England manager Alf Ramsey. Not everyone believed him, despite England seldom losing after he took over in 1963. But a good run of friendly results prior to the finals and rigorous training meant England were arguably better prepared than ever for a major tournament, while also having the advantage of being hosts. After a long wait, England could now look forward to group stage matches at Wembley against Uruguay, Mexico and France.

Alf Ramsey was adamant England could win the World Cup in 1966.

Uruguay were the first opponents England would face and they were the side in the group with the strongest pedigree, having won the World Cup in 1930 and 1950 and knocked England out in 1954. But they were not seen as a potential tournament winner now, with it looking like they would compete with France for a place in the quarter-finals. Assuming England did their job properly and won the group that is…

By today’s standards, newspaper coverage on the morning of the game seems low-key for the start of the World Cup. The Daily Mirror did though include a four-page supplement, with sports writer Frank McGhee echoing Ramsey as he declared England would win the World Cup in 1966 – interestingly predicting they would beat West Germany in the final. But not all the experts were so confident Ramsey’s men would emerge triumphant. In The Times, ‘Football Association Correspondent’ (Geoffrey Green) wrote: “England will never hold a better chance. Yet England, I suspect, will go no farther than the semi-finals. If achieved, that at least would be their best performance ever in the cup.” Green fancied Italy to win the tournament.

A frustrating start

England’s line-up against Uruguay on July 11 has a familiar look, but a couple of significant absentees from the side that would win the World Cup 19 days later. It read: Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Jimmy Greaves, Roger Hunt and John Connelly. The presence of Connelly meant England had a natural winger in the side – the ‘Wingless Wonders’ reputation was still to come. It’s perhaps interesting to note the two players who would go on to score for England in the final were watching on – Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, both having only won their first cap in recent months. Prior to the match, The Queen declared the tournament open during an opening ceremony that would be deemed basic today. The stadium was not full, with the stayaways hardly left regretting their decision given the dull spectacle the sides served up.

England began the World Cup with a frustrating 0-0 draw with Uruguay.

It proved a frustrating night, England failing to make the breakthrough as Uruguay defended deeply but effectively to draw 0-0. ‘Parked the bus’ would probably be the modern-day description. It was the first time for more than 20 years that England had failed to score at Wembley, meaning it was job done for the Uruguayans who celebrated at the end. In The Daily Telegraph Donald Saunders wrote: “No doubt if I had to watch Uruguay in action every week I should soon be looking for a more interesting job. That does not alter my view that they adopted the correct policy last night and employed it with admirable efficiency.”

Greaves, whose scoreless evening summed up a tournament that would prove personally disappointing, wrote in his autobiography: “England began well but Uruguay’s negative tactics soon choked the life out of the game. Uruguay became a clinging cobweb of shifting pale blue shirts, hell bent on suffocation rather than inspiration. For the supporters it was not riveting stuff. It was more like watching riveting.”

Beating the Mexicans

There was frustration at England failing to win or score in their opening game at the time, so one can imagine the over the top reaction we’d get in the modern world with #RamseyOut trending on Twitter and hours of inquests conducted in the media. A visit for the squad to Pinewood Studios would provide a welcome diversion as attention now turned to England’s second match against Mexico five days later. The Mexicans were considered the weakest side in the group and five years earlier had been thrashed 8-0 by England. But in their opening match they had drawn with France and there was a danger England would again struggle to break their opponents down in this Saturday night Wembley clash. 

Ramsey selected Terry Paine in place of Connelly as the side again operated with a winger, while Peters came in for Ball. Bobby Charlton scored a stunning goal to break the deadlock, with Hunt wrapping up a 2-0 victory. Charlton’s goal had kickstarted England’s campaign. They hadn’t excelled, but they had achieved the win they needed.

Bobby Charlton sets England on their way with his long-range goal against Mexico.

It was only the fourth time England had won a World Cup finals match, despite having played at each tournament since 1950. In The Times Green wrote about England: “If their technique and imagination is limited, their morale and fitness are certainly at a peak.” Green would state that after one week “no one team towers head and shoulders above the field” in the competition, a situation perhaps similar to what we saw 50 years later at Euro 2016. If ever England were to go on and win a major tournament, then the 1966 World Cup on home soil appeared the ideal chance. 

The result left England on course to qualify for the next round, although they could still be eliminated if beaten by France. Uruguay had beaten France 2-1 at White City and then drew with Mexico, meaning a draw or win against the French would see England top the group and stay at Wembley.

Hunt’s birthday treat

With Paine having sustained concussion against Mexico, Ian Callaghan came into the side against France as yet another change was made on the wing. Hunt celebrated his birthday by scoring from close range after Jack Charlton hit the woodwork shortly before half-time, wrapping it up 14 minutes from the end following an assist by Liverpool team-mate Callaghan (who was rewarded by not being capped again until 1977). Ramsey’s first match as England manager in 1963 had ended in a 5-2 defeat by France, so this was welcome revenge and a sign of the progress made in the past three years. The French were departing as the bottom side in the group.

Roger Hunt opens the scoring for England against France.

But England’s 2-0 win was overshadowed by an incident in the build-up to the second goaL Jacques Simon was on the receiving end of a harsh tackle from Stiles, which led to the Frenchman having to leave the field. The foul went unpunished at the time, but Stiles would be cautioned retrospectively and warned about his future conduct. Despite pressure from sections of the Football Association, Ramsey stood by Stiles. “Alf told them he’d resign if he couldn’t pick who he wanted,” Stiles said in 2002. “He was prepared to resign in the middle of a World Cup over me. I’d never found out that ’til he’d died, Alf. What a man.” Simon was not the only player to sustain an injury during the match, as Greaves found blood pouring from his sock and he would need stitches on his shin. He would miss the next match and, as it turned out, the rest of the tournament.

Hurst’s instant impact

England were into the last eight and two of the pre-tournament favourites were not, with Italy and holders Brazil on their way home. England’s quarter-final would be against Argentina at Wembley, with the South Americans having finished behind West Germany in Group Two. Hurst came in for Greaves, while Ball – who had feared he would play no further part in the tournament – returned in place of Callaghan. England were without a recognised winger and they would not be using one again in the finals. Unlike their South American neighbours Brazil and Uruguay, Argentina had yet to lift the World Cup. They would believe they had a chance of finally winning it provided they could eliminate the hosts.

Chaos as Antonio Rattin is ordered off during England’s win over Argentina.

As with when the sides met in the knockout stages of the World Cup in 1986 and 1998, there would be plenty of controversy and lasting memories from a contest that really ignited a rivalry between England and Argentina. It was certainly not a contest for the faint-hearted. Speaking in 2006, Jimmy Armfield – who watched the match as a non-playing squad member, said: “They’re like the little boy in the story book, Argentina. When they’re good, they are very, very good. When they’re bad, they’re horrible.” Cohen would later admit: “If they hadn’t resorted to all the physical stuff they might well have beaten us.” There was a feeling Argentina took an unnecessary over-physical approach when they potentially had the ability to compete football-wise with the hosts.

Argentina’s hard tackling tactics won them few admirers in England, with the match forever remembered for the controversial sending off of their captain and key player Antonio Rattin during the first half – and his refusal to go as chaos ensued for a few minutes. The situation was not helped by language barriers between him and West German referee Rudolph Kreitlein – Rattin claiming he had been repeatedly requesting an interpreter. “The sending-off should never have happened and it wouldn’t have done if I could speak a word of German,” he said. “All I wanted to do was talk to the referee, but the next thing I knew he was pointing off the pitch.”

In the closing stages Hurst justified his selection with a deft header from an excellent Peters cross – straight from the West Ham United training ground – to give England victory, although Argentina would claim the goal was offside as they cursed decisions made by the officials. England had triumphed on a brutal afternoon in the Wembley sunshine – one in which they were not innocent in proceedings, committing more fouls than their much-criticised opponents. But Ramsey was clearly unhappy with the conduct of the South Americans, infamously preventing George Cohen from swapping shirts with an opponent while already midway through the act.

Alf Ramsey prevents shirts being swapped after England beat Argentina.

If that was controversial, then Ramsey’s next public act would produce outrage in Argentina. In a TV interview he said: “We have still to produce our best and this best is not possible until we meet the right type of opposition. That is a team that comes out to play football and not act as animals.” Ramsey had not directly referred to Argentina as “animals” but he may as well have done for the angry response he got in South America and how the quote is remembered half a century later. There would be unsavoury incidents behind the scenes too; the England players reporting years later that a chair was thrown into their dressing room, smashing a glass door as tempers boiled over afterwards.

The match was making global headlines. Two days later The Daily Mirror‘s front page headline was ‘Too-tough Argentina facing World Cup ban’, having been fined 1,000 Swiss francs and warned they could face suspension from the 1970 World Cup after the ‘Battle of Wembley’ (a tag that has not stuck). Argentina were now left with three players hit with suspensions following events at Wembley, including Rattin for four matches. On the sports pages Peter Wilson laid into the Argentine approach. “It was not as though the Battle of Wembley was an isolated incident,” he wrote. “Argentina had been the only country before Saturday to have a player – Albrecht – sent off. They were warned then to watch their play in the World Cup – and their officials declined to pass on the warning. This is sporting anarchy, soccer in chaos, welfare for nationalistic aggrandisement run riot. This is shameful.”

At the same time as England beat Argentina, the other three quarter-finals were taking place. The Soviet Union and West Germany both won through, but of direct concern to England was the match at Goodison Park. North Korea sensationally led Portugal 3-0, before Eusebio inspired the Portuguese to a 5-3 victory. For the first time since 1954 a European side would win the competition.

Charlton’s double

According to the fixtures issued before the tournament, England’s semi-final originally should have been played at Goodison Park but it would now be held at Wembley instead (a move some critics feel gave them an unfair advantage). English football prepared for a major night. “The feeling was that if we could stop Eusebio then England would win,” said broadcaster Barry Davies in 2006. The Mozambique-born forward had been a major star at the finals, having scored seven times in four games. It was the first time Portugal had qualified for the World Cup and they were making up for lost time by reaching the last four and looking to win the competition. 

England kept the line-up that beat Argentina and a much friendlier contest took place. Bobby Charlton – who along with brother Jack had been cautioned against Argentina – gave the hosts a half-time lead, before excellent work by Hurst allowed the Manchester United star to score his second on 80 minutes. But two minutes later the England defence was breached for the first time in the competition, Jack Charlton handling in the box in a bid to stop the Portuguese scoring. It proved a futile gesture, Eusebio stepping up to beat Banks from the spot. The English nation endured a nervous closing few minutes, before the final whistle sounded. England were in the World Cup final.

England and Portugal prepare to meet in the semi-final.

Eusebio left the pitch in tears, Portugal enduring the first of several near-misses before finally ending their 50 years of hut at Euro 2016. The Portuguese could take some consolation in the praise coming their way from the English press. Albert Barham wrote in The Guardian: “No finer semi-final match than that in which Portugal were defeated 2-1 could have been anticipated. No finer sporting team have had to bow out to England, at their best, in this competition. How the audience of 90,000 were held in the spell of this fine Portuguese attacking side, and of the great performance England put up against them to win. This was attacking football at its best, magnificent in every department; a triumph too, in these troublesome times, for true sportsmanship.” Two nights later Portugal beat the USSR 2-1 at Wembley in the third-place match, Eusebio scoring a penalty to take his tournament tally to nine goals.

Now all that stood in England’s way were West Germany at Wembley…

Six of the Best – Men who might have managed England

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With the search currently on for the next England manager, we recall six men who previously emerged as serious contenders for the role – but they would not become the boss…

Jimmy Adamson

Fifty years ago this month Alf Ramsey led England to World Cup glory, but it could have been so different. After manager Walter Winterbottom departed in 1962, the Football Association looked for his successor. Jimmy Adamson, who had captained Burnley in the FA Cup final, was named Footballer of the Year and been part of England’s World Cup squad earlier in the year, was the preferred choice to become the new manager. This was despite the fact he was only 33, still playing for Burnley and had never been a manager, although he had performed coaching duties during the World Cup in Chile. In 2013 a biography about Adamson was published called The Man Who Said No to England, a title which told its own story. Adamson turned down the chance to become England’s manager and the FA instead approached Ipswich Town boss Ramsey.

It’s certainly a ‘what if?’ moment for Adamson, Ramsey and the country, given what was achieved under England’s new manager. Adamson did not become a boss himself until 1970 when he took over at Burnley, later taking charge of Sparta Rotterdam, Sunderland and Leeds United. 

Brian Clough

No surprise to see this man make our list today. In 1974, 1982 and to a lesser extent 1990, Brian Clough had sections of the media championing him for the England manager’s job when it became vacant. But the real and most famous opportunity existed in 1977, when not only was he the clear public favourite for the role but he was afforded an interview. The outspoken Clough and the conservative FA would have represented a peculiar marriage, although there is no question he longed to manage his country. But it was to be perhaps inevitable disappointment, Clough losing out to caretaker boss Ron Greenwood who critics viewed as a ‘safe’ choice. Others to be disappointed after applying included Jack Charlton, Lawrie McMenemy, Bobby Moore and Bobby Robson.

Clough had the misfortune for the England job to become vacant just before Nottingham Forest’s glorious period began and it was not up for grabs again until they had started to decline slightly. Had the job been on offer in 1980 it might well have been Clough’s given his recent achievements, although even then there is no guarantee the FA would have chosen him. Clough was left to settle for the widely-applied mantle of ‘the greatest manager England never had’ and to cover the team as a TV pundit, as well as briefly being in charge of the country’s youth side.

  • For a more detailed look back at Brian Clough missing out on the England manager’s job in 1977, see here.

Joe Royle

In 1990 the England manager’s job was to become available after the World Cup with Bobby Robson moving on. One man who perhaps surprisingly emerged as a serious contender was Joe Royle, who had never managed in the English top-flight. But the 1989-90 season saw his Oldham Athletic side win many admirers with lengthy runs in the FA Cup and League Cup, claiming several notable scalps along the way. Royle, who had played for his country, seemed to have a winning mentality. If what he says he was told was accurate, then the job could have been his. But he didn’t pursue it.

“I was once told the national coach’s job would have been mine for the taking had I bothered to go for the interview,” he wrote in his autobiography. “Be that as it may, I can state categorically that the job of managing England, supposedly the pinnacle of any manager’s career, is one that I would not take if the FA begged me to.” Royle cited the press intrusion into the lives of previous managers and the criticism they received as reasons why the role has never appealed. Instead, a short spell helping coach the under-21s (see above pic) shortly after Graham Taylor became the manager instead would be as close as Royle ever came to managing his country. He duly led Oldham to promotion and later won the FA Cup with Everton, as well as achieving back-to-back promotions with Manchester City. Royle’s former Everton team-mate Howard Kendall was another contender in 1990, but he too would never manage his country. 

Luiz-Felipe Scolari

In 2002 Luiz-Felipe led Brazil to World Cup glory and in 2004 he managed Portugal to the European Championship final, on both occasions beating England in the quarter-finals. The FA seemed to have adopted the attitude of ‘if you can’t beat them, get them to be your manager’ when it was reported Scolari was all set to become the new England boss after the 2006 World Cup.

But Scolari quickly got a taste for how much pressure the job would entail, as the English media circus headed to his home. He quickly withdrew from the race. “There are 20 reporters outside my house now,” he said. “If that is part of another culture, it is not part of my culture.” It was not an episode that reflected well on the FA, who were now left to backtrack and choose between English candidates. Scolari continued to focus on his work with Portugal, yet again getting the better of England during the 2006 World Cup. A decade on he is reported to fancy the job, but his chance may have passed.

Sam Allardyce

Back in contention in 2016, Big Sam Allardyce’s previous big came a decade ago when he was interviewed for the England manager’s job and was seen as one of the final two contenders after Scolari withdrew. Although his style of football was not always to everyone’s taste, Allardyce had impressed at Bolton Wanderers in recent years and arranged to meet England captain David Beckham to help allay concerns raised about his lack of experience at the very top level. Allardyce produced a detailed PowerPoint presentation for his interview, only to be told there were no facilities at the interview venue that would allow him to deliver it that way. “So much for the progressive FA,” Allardyce mused, as he perhaps sensed it wasn’t meant to be.

He was left hoping and guessing, but lost out to Steve McClaren – a man who also denied Big Sam a major trophy in 2004 when Middlesbrough beat Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup final. Allardyce’s appointment would have created difficulties for the FA given just weeks later he was implicated in a bungs scandal – he maintained he was not guilty of any wrongdoing – but he would no doubt believe he would have qualified for Euro 2008 unlike McClaren. If he gets the job now, maybe we will finally see what might have been a decade back.

Harry Redknapp

On February 8, 2012, two key events seemed to leave Harry Redknapp on course to become England manager. He was cleared of tax evasion after a high-profile court case and then, just hours later, England boss Fabio Capello resigned. With a shortage of proven English managers to compete for the top prize, Redknapp was being championed by many for the post. He wrote in his autobiography: “There was a groundswell of support for me and I felt it wherever I went. Every time I got in a taxi, every time I went to a football match, the people were for me. The press seemed supportive too, writing as if my appointment was a foregone conclusion, and I began to think it was almost nailed on, if I wanted it. And I did want it. It would have been a tough call but, had they offered me the job, I probably would have taken it.”

Redknapp approached Brendan Rodgers about being an England coach at Euro 2012 if he became manager. But it would never happen. At the end of April Redknapp discovered that Roy Hodgson was to become the new boss, with some drawing comparisons with when Ron Greenwood was appointed instead of Brian Clough 35 years earlier. Redknapp rang Hodgson to congratulate him as he reflected that maybe managing the national team was not really for him.

He did after all still have a decent job managing Tottenham Hotspur. But not for long. Chelsea won the Champions League to qualify for the following year’s competition rather than Spurs and in June Redknapp was sacked. In weeks he had gone from potentially having to choose between club and country to not being in charge of either. He knew his one serious chance of being England manager had gone.

Six of the Best – Recent England nostalgic documentaries

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The year 2016 hasn’t been on to savour for England fans, with the team performing dismally at the European Championship and crashing out to Iceland. But while contemporary matters have made for painful viewing, there has been far more fun to be gained from a plethora of fresh documentaries concerning memorable times in England’s history. Today (in no particular order) we look at six we’ve enjoyed recently…

The Boys of ’66 (Sky Sports)

Kicking off a year full of documentaries concerning 1966 nostalgia was Sky Sports with its The Boys of ’66 programme. Although the broadcast was overshadowed by the companion Monday Night Football show claiming to prove Geoff Hurst’s second goal really did cross the line, this documentary was well worth acclaim in its own right. Sky Sports may be synonymous with football in the Premier League era, but a strong number of personnel from 1966 were interviewed – several of the players, plus others such as singer Chris Farlowe who occupied the number one UK singles spot with Out of Time when England won the World Cup

Martin Tyler, who lived through the triumph, proved a good choice as presenter. He would revisit places associated with the tournament such as England’s base of Hendon Hall. “It was a great time to be alive. It was a fantastic time to follow England. And 50 years on there’s never been anything like it,” he said during his intro to the programme while standing outside Wembley. Sadly, it’s an ever-decreasing percentage of the population who can recall the day – and it may be some time yet before such glory is repeated.

  • The programme can be viewed here via DailyMotion.

Alfie’s Boys (BBC)

One of the most enjoyable documentaries lately was Alfie’s Boys, another programme celebrating the 50th anniversary of England’s triumph. With any 1966 retrospective there’s a danger of going over the same old ground and offering little fresh insight, but the BBC made excellent use of its archives and included some footage probably not seen anywhere in the past 50 years. It helped make for a far more enjoyable 90 minutes than many of the matches at Euro 2016.

As the title suggests the programme celebrated those who helped England to their greatest triumph under Sir Alf Ramsey, but the focus was not just on the XI who played in the final with the likes of Jimmy Armfield and Ian Callaghan frequently contributing their memories to this Sunday night nostalgia-fest. Although there was some criticism of the choice of Sir David Jason (a man with seemingly limited interest in football) as presenter and his rather theatrical approach at times, this was still an enjoyable watch that did justice to the 1966 triumph. It was probably the most comprehensive BBC look back at the 1966 glory since its Summer of ’66 series in 1986 – and as we shall see with our next two entries, celebrating tournaments 20 years earlier remains in vogue today…

When Football Came Home (BBC)

The build-up to Euro 2016 saw a sudden surge in nostalgia for Euro ’96 held in England 20 years ago. The BBC certainly seemed to want to pay homage to the tournament by showing England’s matches against Scotland and Germany in full on the red button. But its main celebration of the competition – or at least England’s involvement in it – was Alan Shearer’s documentary When Football Came Home, as the tournament’s top scorer met up with several other key English personnel from 20 years ago to share their memories.

He visited former manager Terry Venables at his hotel in Spain, was reunited with Paul Gascoigne, enjoyed a round of golf with old striking partner Teddy Sheringham and went for a stroll with David Seaman. For those old enough to remember them in their prime, perhaps the most welcome sight was former BBC commentary rivals Barry Davies and John Motson being interviewed together. A companion radio show of the same name, hosted by Mike Ingham on 5 Live with Shearer one of the studio guests, was also enjoyable.

The Summer Football Came Home (ITV)

ITV also looked back 20 years with The Summer Football Came Home. It’s a shame so many enjoyable ITV sport documentaries are broadcast on ITV4 after the watershed, meaning they go unappreciated by the mainstream audience. This one would be scheduled the same way and also have the misfortune to go out a few days after the BBC had looked back at Euro ’96. But it was still good to watch, with several England players from the tournament sharing their thoughts including Gareth Southgate and Stuart Pearce (who both for whatever reason did not contribute to the BBC show). Those who don’t buy into the Euro ’96 love-in may have found England’s achievements a little overplayed in the documentaries, but ITV did at least question if errors were made as they lost out to Germany on penalties.

Pearce was full of praise for Venables but believed a mistake was made when it came to Southgate being first up for England when the penalties went to sudden death. “Football should be more than just practising penalties,” he told presenter Gabriel Clarke. “At the end of it it should be a case of knowing full well who are the best penalty takers from one to 23 and we never done (sic) that.” One senses Venables too would not be putting Southgate up to take it with the benefit of hindsight.

The Hand of God – 30 Years On

In a year of landmark anniversaries for England fans, the World Cup of 1986 has tended to be overshadowed by the World Cup glory of 1966 and near-miss of Euro ’96. But the 30th anniversary of Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal for Argentina against England certainly did not pass unnoticed, with ITV4 screening an excellent documentary looking back at the match. Gary Lineker’s production company Goalhanger Films was behind it, with Lineker joined by former team-mates Terry Butcher, Glenn Hoddle, Steve Hodge, Kenny Sansom and Peter Shilton to relive the tournament and this match in particular. Excellent use was made of the ITV sport archives, with clips played of studio coverage from 30 years ago such as from Saint and Greavsie.


“He cheated us but I’ve forgiven him,” said Lineker, a man who has enjoyed time in Maradona’s company since the incident. But others are less forgiving. “He’s a horrible git ‘cos he cheated,” snapped Sansom, while Butcher – who has never seemed to be the forgive and forget type – would label Maradona a “flawed genius”. Butcher recalled asking Maradona afterwards, while being drug tested, if it was a handball or header and being told handball – a revelation which surprised his former team-mates. But this contradicts what Butcher said in the 2000 documentary ‘Three Lions’, in which he claimed Maradona indicated to him he had used his head. Irrespective, it’s fair to assume Maradona isn’t on Butcher’s Christmas card list. The officials also came in for their fair share of stick. Lineker believed the linesman saw something but still kept his flag down, while the debate continues to rage over whether the referee was suitably experienced to be in charge of such a match.

The camaraderie among the group was still there three decades on along with visible affection for Sir Bobby Robson, in a programme that did justice to England’s campaign and that one match in particular.

  • UK viewers can currently view the programme at the ITV Hub.

Bo66y (out on DVD and blu-ray)

The only one of our six documentaries not to have been screened on television and also the sole choice not specifically about England, the release of the new Bobby Moore movie Bo66y represented good timing – marking the 50th anniversary of England’s World Cup triumph and also with West Ham United this summer leaving Upton Park, where he so often played during his career. The story is fairly familiar, but that didn’t prevent this making excellent viewing as former colleagues and relatives paid homage to Moore. A combination of still being the only captain to lift a major trophy for England and having sadly died at the age of just 51 means there is an enduring fascination with Moore.

But the later years of his life will never make for happy memories, as the question continues to be asked of why he was so overlooked for desired roles within the beautiful game – his managerial pinnacle would be a stint in charge of Southend United. There remains the great ‘what if?’ over missing out on the Watford manager’s job to Graham Taylor, having believed the post was his after meeting chairman Elton John. It was a bitter blow.

Yet such disappointments pale into insignificance compared to his battles with cancer, the last one tragically cutting his life short in 1993. Commentator Jonathan Pearce was moved to tears as he recalled having to tell his regular radio sidekick Moore – at the request of his family – that he shouldn’t come with him to a match just days before his death, having to live with Moore telling him he was disappointed with the decision (they never spoke again). As with a previous in-depth Moore documentary Hero, the viewer is left with the feeling that English football only truly began to appreciate and want to recognise the former captain after he died. For Moore it was too late, but his legendary status continues to grow.

Have you seen these documentaries? Which ones have you particularly enjoyed? Please feel free to share your views below…