Faces of ’66

Faces of ’66 – Hugh Johns

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This week sadly marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Hugh Johns, the man who commentated for ITV on the 1966 World Cup final. But there was far more to his career than simply being the answer to a pub quiz question…

On the afternoon of July 30, 1966, Hugh Johns completed his live commentary for ITV on England’s World Cup final win over West Germany. It had been job done. ITV were heavily beaten by the BBC in the ratings but Johns – so exhausted from describing the drama that he retired to bed early after a few gins – could feel satisfied at having described such a famous and dramatic occasion.

And then, at some point in due course, Johns would be made aware of what the BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme had said in the dying seconds of extra-time. “They think it’s all over. It is now…” would become immortalised and known by generations to come. It meant that whatever Johns had said during the afternoon became totally’ overshadowed by Wolstenholme’s words as Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick. But not that Johns’ description of the moment has been ignored. A certain intrigue has built up over what was being said on ITV. And here it is:

“Here’s Hurst, he might make it three. He has, he has… so that’s it. That is IT!”

While the line may have lacked the impact of Wolstenholme’s, it still told the viewer what they needed to know (save for mentioning that fans thought the final whistle had already sounded) in just a few words. Simplicity and repetition – helping to emphasise the significance of what was happening – would be two of Johns’ trademarks and he utilised both to describe the much-recalled moment .

Hugh Johns in later years.

In the BBC’s shadow

ITV’s football coverage has, rightly or wrongly, come in for its fair share of stick down the years and in 1966 it was certainly not winning many plaudits. In 1962 they opted not to cover the World Cup in Chile at all – in fairness they could only have shown delayed coverage a couple of days later, but this did not deter the BBC – and then in October 1965 the channel missed Austria’s winning goal over England at Wembley, an error compounded by commentator Gerry Loftus offering the double entente of “Alf Ramsey will need to get his chopper out” when summing up the game. Then come the World Cup in England the commercial channel would allow the BBC to steal a match in securing viewers as ITV often joined big matches either later than their rivals or didn’t show them live at all – possibly fearful of alienating the non-football audience in the days when viewers had just the BBC and ITV to choose from. There was little to persuade football fans to switch over to ITV during the tournament.

But for the minority who did opt to watch the World Cup on ITV, Johns would become the most familiar voice over the three weeks. He was joined by Wales manager Dave Bowen as summariser (co-commentator in today’s money) to cover the opening match against Uruguay and the same partnership would remain in place for the rest of the tournament. It was one compensation for Welshmen after seeing their country fail to qualify.

Over on the ‘other side’, Wolstenholme was the lead voice and synonymous with football coverage. Johns knew that trying to directly take on the broadcasting great by mimicking him would not work; he would have to develop his own distinctive style. “There’s no doubt about it, he was great. And so if you were going to do it you had to find a way of beating Ken, or doing something Ken hadn’t thought of,” Johns said many years later. He would offer affectionate respect rather than resentment towards his BBC counterpart, despite the national obsession with Wolstenholme and his “they think it’s all over” line.

Over the years, when the BBC and ITV have gone head-to-head and shared live coverage the latter has usually come off well-beaten in the ratings war. As a result, the nation tends to recall more readily Barry Davies describing Argentina against England in 1986 than Martin Tyler; John Motson’s on England’s Italia ’90 semi-final against West Germany more than Brian Moore; and Davies describing the epic Euro ’96 semi-final between England and Germany instead of Moore. It generally applied in the days they both showed the FA Cup final live too. For example, Motson’s description of Ricky Villa’s amazing goal in the 1981 replay for Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City is still regularly recalled. Few seem to reel off Moore’s words at the same moment.

And so in that respect Johns – whose name led to him being affectionately known as  ‘Huge Ones’ – was always going to struggle to make a lasting impact with his commentary on the 1966 World Cup final. Indeed, hypothetically speaking had Johns been the one to come out with the “they think it’s all over line” it’s questionable if it would have passed into national folklore like it has thanks to Wolstenholme. We will never know. But watching the 1966 final with ITV commentary is a bit like seeing a film remade – the outcome is the same, but yet it also feels very different to what you are used to. A fair chunk of the nation can recite at least a couple of Wolstenholme’s lines from that day; sadly, the same does not apply to the work of poor old Johns.

So good he said it twice

It has to be said Johns did not give a faultless display on the final. Prior to kick-off he said England had won the cup when he meant the coin toss (he chuckled on air over that one); he bemusingly spoke of “Harold Ramsey” as England’s manager came into view ahead of extra-time; and he erroneously identified the England player bearing down on goal in the dying seconds as Martin Peters, but quickly corrected himself as he realised it was Geoff Hurst. It wouldn’t be the last time in his career he mixed up the duo.

One trademark of Johns’ commentary on the final was to repeat himself, stressing the significance of what had just happened.  “A goal. A goal,” was the simplistic description of West Germany’s opener; “It’s there. It’s there,” he roared as Hurst equalised: “It’s Martin Peters. Martin Peters,” came the cry as Peters put England 2-1 up. “It IS a goal. It IS a goal,” he proclaimed as the third England goal was eventually given. And so on, including his description of Hurst completing his hat-trick (“He has. He has.”). It was parodied when Martin Peters appeared on Fantasy Football during Euro 2004 in a Phoenix from the Flames sketch. “He said bloody everything twice,” joked Peters.

For all the differences with Wolstenholme’s commentary, there were similarities too. The words offered by Johns over Hurst’s ‘did it cross the line?’ goal followed the same pattern as those of Wolstenholme, switching between it being a goal to not being so and back again before it was finally awarded. And Johns would also refer to the Jules Rimet Trophy as being “only 12 inches high” as Bobby Moore went up to collect it from The Queen.

Covering the decline

Despite his strong Welsh heritage, war veteran Johns was actually born in England and like many of his contemporaries served as a print journalist before landing his broadcasting opportunity. The nation of his birth would continue to feature prominently in his TV career beyond 1966.

Unlike Wolstenholme, Johns would commentate on England matches at the 1970 World Cup – a tournament where he enjoyed increased exposure thanks to ITV unusually winning the ratings war amid the popular studio panel back home. Johns seemed to have grown as a commentator in the four years since 1966, although the tournament saw him again confuse Hurst and Peters – this time crediting the former with putting England 2-0 up against West Germany before quickly realising it was Peters! Johns was left to describe England’s shock collapse in the same game, a week after covering the iconic match against Brazil. “And that’s a fantastic save by Banks,” he proclaimed after that unforgettable save was made.

Three years later, Johns found himself covering the antithesis of the 1966 World Cup final. England had to beat Poland to qualify for the World Cup and it was being shown live on ITV. As is well-known. England were held to a 1-1 draw and failed to make it. Johns was left to provide the words as the nation watched with disbelief when the final whistle sounded. “It’s over. It’s all over,” he uttered, as he again used repetition to emphasise the significance of what was happening. “And for England, one of the blackest days they’ve ever had.” In a broadcast best remembered for the comments of Brian Clough about Jan Tomaszewski, Johns had also played his part.

With lead commentator Brian Moore continuing to stay at home to present the tournaments, Johns remained ITV’s choice to cover the World Cup Final in 1974 and 1978 – competitions which England were sadly absent from. They were there in 1982 but by then Johns had made way for Tyler as lead commentator at the finals and he was restricted to just covering highlights on a few games, as he slipped well down the pecking order.

1982 also saw Johns turn 60 and make way for Peter Brackley as ITV’s man in the Midlands, but the ensuing years saw him still regularly hold the microphone. He would work for more than a decade for HTV Wales and in the mid-1990s he was still regularly covering matches involving Cardiff City, Swansea and Wrexham for the station’s Soccer Sunday programme, with the nation catching glimpses of the veteran’s efforts on Football League Extra – a show which broadcast the delightful feature below about him. In an era where Sky Sports, the Premier League and “a whole new ball game” were taking hold, it was refreshing to hear there was still room on our screens for an old-school commentator who could utter an “oh, good gracious me” after a goal was scored.

And in September 1994. Johns was called upon to commentate on highlights for regions including Central and Granada on Port Vale hosting Manchester United in the League Cup. It was a night that saw a new generation of English players really start to come to the fore, with youngster Paul Scholes scoring twice and others including David Beckham, Nicky Butt and Gary Neville all starting. Having Johns covering it seemed as much an unlikely generational crossover as it would be to hear Clive Tyldesley commenting on members of England’s 1966 side in action. But on a night otherside about the future, Johns was rolling back the years with the disctinctive and charming style still there. It was a bit like watching football with your grandad – one who freely admitted to smoking more than 20 fags a day for decades and who loved drinking Banks’s Bitter. He even managed a trademark “one-nothing” when Vale took the lead that night. Memories of his heyday came rushing back.

Johns was now in his 70s and would end his commentary duties later in the decade, but he had left a fine legacy. Dismissing him as simply the ‘other’ commentator on the 1966 World Cup final would be unfair. He covered the next three as well and his years working for ATV (and briefly Central) coincided with Midlands football thriving, with Derby County, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa being First Division champions and the latter two lifting the European Cup – plus such characters as Brian Clough and Derek Dougan were operating in the region and there was the celebrated West Bromwich Albion side under Ron Atkinson. It was certainly a far greater era for the region than the ensuing 35 years.

Johns provided the soundtrack for that and other famous moments in that era such as Manchester United winning the European Cup in 1968. He wasn’t Wolstenholme, he didn’t claim to be. He was Hugh Johns and he had the honour of describing England winning the World Cup for ITV (something to elude successors such as Moore, Tyldesley and Tyler). He did. He did.

The Boys of ’66 and Management

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This summer marked 50 years since England won the World Cup. Today we look at how the players fared if they moved into football management afterwards..

Alan Ball

The baby of the 1966 side would be the last of the team still working as a football manager when he led Portsmouth for a second time in the late 1990s. His managerial career would be written off by some as a catastrophic failure, but a case can also be made for him being the second most successful manager from the 1966 XI (after Jack Charlton). At Blackpool, Portsmouth, Stoke City, Exeter City and Manchester City he would be in charge for at least part of a season in which relegation was sustained, although only on two occasions was he at the helm for an entire demotion campaign.

His reign with Manchester City would do most damage to his reputation, not helped by the lasting memory of him wrongly believing a draw was enough to keep them up against Liverpool on the last day of 1995-96. At Stoke he would also endure an unhappy time, while his image as a failure was not helped by being part of Graham Taylor’s England set-up.


But on the South Coast he would be remembered more fondly for his time in the dugout. With Portsmouth the side just missed out on promotion to the top-flight in 1985 and 1986, before they finally made it in 1987. Although they would be immediately relegated back down, Ball had provided Pompey’s first season in the First Division for almost 30 years and in 1997-98 he returned to pull off a great escape to stop them slipping into the third tier.

In between he took charge at Pompey’s arch-rivals Southampton, a club he had served as a player in two spells (the second of them after his managerial reign at Blackpool ended). Bringing out the best in Matt Le Tissier, Ball led the Saints to Premier League safety in 1993-94 and again kept them up the following season. Although his decision to leave for Man City proved unpopular as well as ill-fated, Ball had again enjoyed more managerial success than critics might remember him having.

Bobby Charlton

The summer of 1973 saw both Charlton brothers retire from playing and move into football management with Second Division clubs. While Jack went to Middlesbrough, Bobby joined Preston North End and it summed up how different the brothers were that they would endure vastly contrasting seasons. We’ll deal with Jack below but Bobby learnt the hard way as North End were relegated to the Third Division.

It was a failure that would often be cited by those proclaiming great players don’t make great managers. When a director of Manchester United more than a decade later, Charlton expressed reservations about the club wanting to splash out on defender Terry Butcher. Angry manager Ron Atkinson snapped back that Butcher might have been good enough to help Preston avoid relegation when Charlton was manager. That season with Preston remained a stigma his managerial career could never shake off.

Bobby Charlton plays for Preston North End against Aldershot in

Bobby Charlton came out of playing retirement while with Preston.

Charlton came out of retirement to combine management with playing for the next year, but he quit early in 1975-76 in protest at John Bird being sold to Newcastle United. Apart from a spell as caretaker manager at Wigan Athletic, Charlton would not take charge of a team again. Instead he found other post-playing career pursuits that he felt more comfortable with, including running a soccer school, being on the board at Old Trafford and holding ambassadorial roles within the game.

Jack Charlton

Bar perhaps the odd Newcastle United fan still bitter about his short reign there in the mid-1980s and those who loathed the direct style of play he became associated with, most people would have no hesitation in proclaiming Jack Charlton as the most successful manager to emerge from the Boys of ’66. As brother Bobby headed down from the Second Division in 1974,  Jack was going up from it as Middlesbrough romped to the title. For a time the following season it seemed they might even become champions of England, eventually finishing seventh but just five points off the top. After two mid-table finishes he left in 1977 and then focused on an even greater challenge.

Despite the size of their support, Sheffield Wednesday were bottom of the Third Division when Charlton took over in October 1977. By the time he departed in 1983 they were a good Second Division side (winning promotion the season after he left), narrowly missing out on both promotion to the top-flight and a place in the FA Cup Final towards the end of his reign. After a brief spell as caretaker boss back at Middlesbrough, Charlton took charge of newly-promoted Newcastle in 1984. Despite leading the side to safety and handing Paul Gascoigne his first-team debut, Charlton struggled to win admirers in his native North-East and quit after barracking at a pre-season friendly in 1985. It was the one real low point in his managerial days.


But for all his years in club management, it would be on the international stage that he would be remembered most in the eyes of many. Charlton was snubbed by England when the manager’s job became vacant in 1977 and it was a rejection he would not forget in a hurry. After the Newcastle ordeal, Englishman Charlton was the surprising choice to manage Republic of Ireland midway through the 1985-86 season. Despite having players of the calibre of Liam Brady, Mark Lawrenson and Frank Stapleton in their ranks and enduring a few near-misses, the Irish had never qualified for a major tournament. But Charlton would soon put that right, steering them to Euro ’88 and exacting revenge on his homeland by beating England during the tournament – the first of four competitive meetings in as many years in which the Irish did not lose to the English.

He then led the Irish to the quarter-finals of Italia ’90 and – after failing to qualify for Euro ’92 behind England despite finishing unbeaten – the last 16 of the 1994 World Cup, famously beating Italy in the group stage. That perhaps should have been the natural time to leave, Charlton blotting his copybook slightly by overseeing the side’s failure to make it to the expanded finals of Euro ’96. But Charlton remained a much-loved figure in Ireland, having transformed their footballing fortunes.

Charlton’s bluntness and not being afraid to get his sides playing it long when necessary did not make him everyone’s cup of tea, but in a 21-year managerial career the successes comfortably outweighed the failures and he had more concrete achievements on his managerial CV than any of his 1966 colleagues. It has been suggested that his success in management stemmed from being arguably the least naturally talented footballer in the 1966 side, something we will leave for another day to assess…

Geoff Hurst

A decade after scoring a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup Final, Geoff Hurst was turning out for non-league Telford United as player-manager. After narrowly avoiding relegation from the Southern Premier League in his first season, Hurst made progress and eventually steered them to third place in 1978-79 and qualification for the new Alliance Premier League (National League today).

Chelsea FC Archive

Geoff Hurst (left) with assistant Bobby Gould at Chelsea.

Hurst was then lured back into the professional game, becoming assistant boss at Chelsea who had just been relegated to the Second Division. He soon found himself as manager in place of Danny Blanchflower, seeing promotion slip through their grasp as they missed out by one place. The following campaign all seemed to be going well, Match of the Day viewers seeing a 6-0 win over Newcastle United in October that left them in the promotion spots.

But things would soon fall apart in alarming fashion. For all Hurst’s goalscoring ability as a player, he just could not get his side to find the net in the second half of the campaign. Incredibly they failed to score in 19 of their last 22 league games, slipping into mid-table with Hurst sacked before the final game. It proved the end of his managerial career in England, although he would continue to be part of Ron Greenwood’s coaching staff with the England side and had a spell managing in Kuwait. However, he would soon move into working in the insurance industry and find himself in demand within football in ambassadorial roles.

Bobby Moore

What might have been. In the summer of 1977 the Watford manager’s job became vacant and pop star chairman Elton John was all set to hand former England captain Bobby Moore the role. Moore, who had just retired from playing professionally, headed off on holiday believing the job was his, only to soon discover Lincoln City’s Graham Taylor had instead been lured to Vicarage Road. It is questionable if Moore could have matched what Taylor achieved in the ensuing years at Watford, but he would have had more chance of achieving success than he gained elsewhere.


Bobby Moore managed Southend United in the mid-1980s.

Sadly, Moore was left as something of an outsider in his post-football career and his first managerial role raised a few eyebrows as he took over at non-league Oxford City, being assisted by Harry Redknapp. Moore was yet another managerial departure at the end of 1980-81 – having suffered relegation from the Isthmian Premier League a year earlier. “We had no chance,” reflected Redknapp in Matt Dickinson’s biography of Moore. “We didn’t know the league, we didn’t know the players. We didn’t have a clue.” The book also revealed Moore rejected the potential opportunity to move to First Division Norwich City as John Bond’s successor during the period.

After a spell in Hong Kong, Moore became team boss of Southend United after already serving as chief executive at Roots Hall. Moore was unable to save them from relegation to the Fourth Division after he took over during the 1983-84 season, while he would soon find the club fighting for its very existence. But the 1985-86 campaign finally seemed to mark a turning point, Southend looking serious promotion contenders in the first half of the campaign. Then came a slump that left them finishing mid-table. Although viewers of the BBC series Summer of ’66 saw Moore at work on the Southend training ground, by the time the show went out in May 1986 he had already left his role as manager – never holding such a position again.

Martin Peters

If 1980-81 was a bad season for Geoff Hurst, then it was even worse for England’s other goalscorer in the 1966 final. Martin Peters had joined Sheffield United as a player-coach in the summer, the club punching below their traditional weight in the Third Division. Midway through the season Peters became manager in place of Harry Hallam, calling time on his playing days to focus on the job. But it’s fair to say it didn’t go well, just three wins being achieved in the rest of the season as the Blades sank into deep relegation trouble. To compound matters, young goalkeeper Keith Solomon died suddenly on the training ground during Peters’ reign.


Martin Peters playing for Sheffield United.

It came down to the final day of the season, Don Givens failing to score a last-gasp penalty against Walsall as the Saddlers stayed up while United went down. The fact the Blades had finished with a positive goal difference and they were a mere three points off a place in the top half was no consolation for a club that was at its lowest ever point. Peters unsurprisingly left and would not manage again, his next footballing role being turning out for non-league Gorleston as he pursued a career outside the sport.

Nobby Stiles

Given his tough-tackling reputation on the field, it’s surprising to read why Nobby Stiles did not find football management easy. “I had come to suspect that I simply wasn’t hard enough to be a manager,” he said in 2003. “When I told a kid he was finished I felt his pain. I couldn’t put enough distance between me and the player, the hopeful lad and the scarred old pro, and me the manager who, in his own way, had to play God.”


Nobby Stiles playing for Preston, where he later became manager.

Yet Stiles was far from a total failure in management. After briefly being caretaker manager of Preston North End after Bobby Charlton left in 1975, he returned two years later to take permanent charge. His first season ended in promotion, followed by an impressive seventh spot in the Second Division in 1978-79 and 10th place a year later. But 1980-81 was to be the annus horribilis for the Boys of ’66, Stiles joining several of his former colleagues on the managerial scrapheap as the side suffered relegation. It was close, North End only going down on goal difference after runaway champions West Ham United failed to win at Cardiff City. It cost Stiles his job, although he conceded this may have been a blessing in disguise as he was feeling unwell at the time.

Stiles would later manage Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps before returning to England, working at West Bromwich Albion where he took charge of for a short spell during their awful 1985-86 relegation season. He was at a low ebb but would later find a happier niche, working as youth team coach with his beloved Manchester United.

And the rest…

Two other members of the 1966 side entered management at non-league level only, with Gordon Banks following Hurst to Telford United and George Cohen having a spell at the helm with Tonbridge Angels – the latter winning the Kent Senior Cup. The only two members of the 1966 XI who did not become managers were Roger Hunt and Ray Wilson. When media interest in the whereabouts of the 1966 side took off two decades later, the new careers of the said pair were perhaps the most intriguing – Hunt running a haulage firm and Wilson well-established as an undertaker.

Of the rest of the squad, Jimmy Armfield would enjoy success as he led Bolton Wanderers to the Third Division title in 1972-73. He then moved to Leeds United in the wake of Brian Clough’s infamous reign there, reaching the European Cup final in his first season. Norman Hunter made a positive start in management with Barnsley by winning promotion from Division Three in 1980-81 and then mounting a further promotion challenge the following season.

But he would eventually be sacked and struggle to replicate the success at Rotherham United. Ron Flowers had a stint as player-manager at Northampton Town and later proceeded Hurst and Banks as Telford United manager, while George Eastham took over at Stoke City towards the end of their 1976-77 relegation season. He was unable to steer them back up and left midway through the following campaign. Terry Paine had a spell as Cheltenham Town boss prior to them entering the Football League

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.

Faces of ’66 – Tofiq Bahramov

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In the latest of our recollections on individuals who became synonymous with the 1966 World Cup, we turn the spotlight on the man who would forever known as the ‘Russian linesman’ – Tofiq Bahramov, from Azerbaijan.

During the first period of extra time in the 1966 World Cup final, a linesman by the name of Tofiq Bahramov was elevated from being a footnote in the match into playing a major role that would long be recalled. With the game locked at 2-2, Geoff Hurst’s shot struck the underside of the bar and bounced down and out amid confusion over whether it had crossed the line.

“No, no, the linesman says no,” said BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme amid the uncertainty. Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst went over to consult Bahramov with nobody still any the wiser what was going to be decided. Wolstenholme referred to “the linesman who can only speak Russian and Turkish” as he waited for the decision (a delay probably not helped by language barriers). And so it began. The goal was given, England went on to win and the never-ending legend of the ‘Russian linesman’ was born.

The moment that changed Tofiq Bahramov’s life.

We have previously reflected on how differently the 1966 World Cup final would be remembered if West Germany hadn’t equalised in the dying seconds to force extra-time. One of the key differences was Bahramov would have barely been recalled for his involvement in the final, in keeping with how counterpart Karol Galba from Czechoslovakia’s contribution is long forgotten. But the second Hurst’s shot bounced down and out, Bahramov’s life was never to be the same again. By virtue of being from the USSR, he was dubbed the ‘Russian linesman’ – and far more would he be called that than by his real name. Take this passage from the match report in The Times for example: “The referee consulted his Russian linesman. The wait was agonising. The answer was ‘goal’.”

But as those in the know will like to point out, Bahramov (or Bakhramov as some sources name him) was not, in today’s terms at least, Russian. He came from Azerbaijan. However, it should be remembered that at the time it was part of the Soviet Union and there was a tendency to refer to anyone from the USSR as ‘Russian’ and the nation’s football team would often be called Russia in match reports etc. It is little wonder then that the ‘Russian linesman’ tag stuck, even after the break-up of the USSR.

Bahramov checks his watch before the 1966 World Cup final.

The standing in which Bahramov is held in Azerbaijan was made clear when England visited in October 2004 for a World Cup qualifier in Baku. Not only would they be playing in a stadium named after the former match official, but a statue was being unveiled in his honour. In a nation of limited footballing repute, Bahramov assumed star status having reached the global stage. But getting people from other countries to realise Bahramov’s true nationality wasn’t easy. “In 1966 it was the USSR and people confused the country with Russia,” Tofiq’s son Bahram said ahead of the statue being unveiled. “We want all the world to know he was Azeri, and not just from the Soviet Union.”

When Bahramov arrived in England to officiate at the 1966 World Cup he was 41 years old, having become a referee after his playing career was curtailed by injury. As was the case until relevantly recently, match referees at the tournament would double up as linesmen in other games. Bahramov was referee as Spain beat Switzerland in the group stage, but it would be while running the line that his tournament was best remembered.

He performed the duty at the tournament opener between England and Uruguay and almost three weeks later was back at Wembley for the final. Bahramov could quite feasibly have been blocked from participating in the final due to the Soviet Union’s progress in the tournament. They reached the semi-finals and met West Germany at Goodison Park, where they lost. Out of the USSR’s exit came the chance for Bahramov to grace football’s biggest match. And that one moment would catapult him into the spotlight.

The debate has continued for the last 50 years over whether the ball crossed the line. Earlier this year Sky Sports claimed they had proved it had, but that will never silence the naysayers. Modern technology has also been used previously to suggest the ball didn’t cross the line. There’s never likely to be an end to the debate.

The statue in Bahramov’s honour in Baku.

Whatever decision Bahramov made would have been criticised, so fine were the margins. But like Hurst, plenty of Englishmen would have happily shaken Bahramov’s hand if they had the chance. During that trip to Baku in 2004, England fans wore red shirts with ‘Bahramov 66’ on the back in his honour.

Bahramov died in March 1993, a few weeks after the death of Bobby Moore. In different ways both men made a big contribution to England’s success in 1966. And in their respective homelands, the pair continue to revered today more than 20 years after they died. The ‘Russian’ linesman from Azerbaijan will never be forgotten.

Faces of ’66 – Pickles

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In the third entry in our series focusing on those whose lives were changed forever by the 1966 World Cup, we turn our attention to the animal world. Fifty years ago this month the Jules Rimet Trophy was infamously stolen, before a dog called Pickles came to the rescue…

On March 20, 1966, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen while on display at a rare stamp exhibition at Westminster Central Hall in London. The lapse in security that had led to the World Cup being snatched did not reflect well on the English nation and over the next seven days the question of the trophy’s whereabouts filled many column inches around the world. The trophy had been handed over to the Football Association in January 1966 ahead of that summer’s World Cup in England and the theft of the item was an embarrassment to the FA and tournament organisers.

A week on from the theft, Thames lighterman David Corbett, 26, took his mixed breed collie Pickles for a walk near their home in South Norwood, London. It proved to be one of the more eventful moments in both the dog and owner’s lives.

David Corbett with Pickles in 1966.

Mr Corbett said in 2006: “Pickles drew my attention to a package, tightly bound in newspaper, lying by the front wheel (of a neighbour’s car). I picked it up and tore some paper and saw a woman holding a dish over her head and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil.” He soon realised that in his hands was the World Cup, which his beloved dog had just found.

A night of questioning

If Mr Corbett felt a rush of excitement over the discovery, then soon his feelings briefly changed to almost wishing he had never come across the trophy. Reporting the find to police, he was taken to Scotland Yard and endured a night of questioning. “I was suspect number one,” he recalled years later. “They questioned me until 2.30am. I wondered if I should have chucked it back into the road. I was up at 6am the next day for work.”

Finally free to go and eliminated from enquiries, Mr Corbett was duly rewarded for the find made by Pickles and he could again feel proud about his dog’s endeavours. He received at least £4,000 in rewards (a lot of money at the time). Speaking to the Daily Mirror two days after the World Cup was found amid speculation he may not receive the offered reward money, Mr Corbett said: “If I get the rewards the first thing I would buy is a house.” He duly moved to his new home in Lingfield, Surrey. 

The fact a dog had made the discovery added to the global intrigue in the story. For Pickles – and Mr Corbett – the invites kept coming. Numerous TV appearances were enjoyed, along with the dog being invited to perform in the comedy film The Spy With a Cold Nose. When Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy four months later at Wembley, Pickles was invited to the celebration banquet.

There were also offers for Mr Corbett to take his dog overseas, with the story having attracted great interest far beyond Britain. But those offers were turned down. “I would have had to put Pickles into quarantine for six months and he was only a pet so I didn’t think I could do that,” said Mr Corbett in 2006. Any dog lover would have felt the same way, but sadly Mr Corbett and his family would only have a short time left to enjoy with Pickles.

Pickles attracted widespread media attention after finding the World Cup.

A tragic ending

Pickles would only live to enjoy the proverbial 15 minutes of fame. A few months after the 1966 glory, he choked to death on his lead while chasing a cat near his home. It was a tragic ending, but his discovery of the World Cup would never be forgotten. Every World Cup or landmark anniversary sees Mr Corbett approached for interviews, which he seems happy to provide. “My family love Pickles,” Mr Corbett told the Croydon Advertiser earlier this year. “My grandaughter did a presentation on him at school the other day and my children in Australia live on the fame too.” It seems the story of Pickles will never lose its magic.

We are focusing here on Pickles and Mr Corbett, although there was obviously more to the story than that. To simplify matters, a replica of the trophy was commissioned after the theft and FA chairman Joe Mears – whose death in July 1966 from a heart attack has been linked in some reports to the stress caused by the trophy being stolen – received a £15,000 ransom note for the original. Only one person, a 46-year-old man named Edward Betchley who insisted he was merely a middleman in the process, was ever prosecuted in relation to the World Cup’s disappearance. He was convicted of demanding money with menaces with intent to steal and jailed. The Jules Rimet Trophy was permanently awarded to Brazil after they won it for a third time in 1970, but in December 1983 it was again stolen. This time it would never be recovered.

Pickles remains fondly remembered almost 50 years after he died.

The lasting fame of Pickles

The odds are that, in due course, someone would have discovered the World Cup lying where it was and handed it over. But there is no guarantee of that and it should not detract from the contribution Pickles made in finding it. As Martin Atherton writes in the book The Theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy: The Hidden History of the 1966 World Cup: “It is perhaps fortunate that it was found in the circumstances it was. It could just as easily been driven over if the car had been moved or been found by someone who would not have handed it in to police. Being found by Pickles the dog was certainly a godsend for the World Cup organising committee, bringing some much-needed good publicity to the story and helping to deflect criticism from those responsible for its loss in the first place.”

On Sunday, March 27, the South Norwood Tourist Board is holding ‘Picklesfest’ as the region pays homage to Pickles on the 50th anniversary. Mr Corbett has also called for a statue to be built on Wembley Way in the pet’s honour. “It’s the world’s most famous dog that saved the FA’s bacon,” said a proud Mr Corbett as he pressed the case for the statue. Regardless of whether one is created, Pickles’ discovery of the World Cup 50 years ago will never be forgotten. As with others including Sir Geoff Hurst and Kenneth Wolstenholme, he is synonymous with the 1966 World Cup. And quite deservedly too.

Faces of ’66 – Kenneth Wolstenholme

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In the second of our posts focusing on individuals who had life-changing years in 1966 thanks to the World Cup, we look at the man who became known as the ‘voice’ of the tournament – Kenneth Wolstenholme. The BBC commentator’s immortal words as Geoff Hurst completed his hat-trick in the final will be forever recalled and earned Wolstenholme lasting fame, but they failed to stop the clock soon ticking on his days at the BBC…

We have previously wondered how differently things might have been if West Germany hadn’t equalised in the dying seconds of the 1966 World Cup final. There would have been no hat-trick for Geoff Hurst, no ‘Russian’ linesman (more on him in the near-future) and these magical words would almost certainly never have been uttered by Kenneth Wolstenholme: “Some people are on the pitch… they think it’s all over… it is now.”

The phrase has become known by millions, footage of Hurst’s third goal to make it 4-2 in the 1966 final not seeming right if it isn’t accompanied by Wolstenholme’s commentary. Wolsteholme had been saying: “And here comes Hurst, he’s got…”. Suddenly his attention was drawn from the forward bearing down on goal to fans running onto the playing surface. Although there was nothing particularly exceptional about pointing out that some people were on the pitch thinking the final whistle had sounded, the timing of the words as Hurst then scored and Wolstenholme uttered “it is now” meant they fitted perfectly. 

For Wolstenholme it was a line that would earn him lasting fame and he became almost as synonymous with England’s triumph as their 11 players in the final (poor old Hugh Johns was left to simply be the answer to the quiz question of ‘who commentated for ITV on the 1966 World Cup final?’). “He was one of us,” said England’s Martin Peters when talking about Wolstenholme.

Wolstenholme followed it up with another famous set of words as Bobby Moore went to collect the Jules Rimet Trophy. “It is only 12 inches high… solid gold… and it means England are the world champions.” It was simple but telling and Wolstenholme later said he felt greater pride over this phrase than “they think it’s all over”. But the latter line would be the one he would forever be known for. If the BBC quiz show Pointless asked 100 people to name a Kenneth Wolstenholme commentary moment, it’s fair to assume the vast majority would give that as their answer.

At the time he said it, nobody could have envisaged just how celebrated the phrase would become in decades to come – least of all the commentator. “I never realised my 1966 words would have such an impact,” he recalled years later. “They didn’t at the time, all the talk was about winning the World Cup and nobody gave a tuppeny stuff what anyone had said on television or what the coverage had been like. But BBC2 repeated the match later in the year and it was after that, when people were watching it already knowing the result, that the words came out and hit them.”

War hero turned commentary star

Wolstenholme could quite feasibly have not lived to enjoy his commentary fame, having put his life on the line serving as a bomber pilot in the Second World War. He thankfully emerged unscathed and with the Distinguished Flying Cross to his name. After being demobbed he established himself as the BBC’s top football commentator and covered the World Cups of 1954, 1958 and 1962. In August 1964 he both hosted and commentated on the first edition of Match of the Day but the following January he was hospitalised after a health scare.

Mercifully he pulled through and, after a period of absence, returned to the commentary box. He was back to full form long before the 1966 World Cup began. He covered all England’s matches, including the controversial quarter-final win over Argentina when Jimmy Hill was alongside him as ‘summariser’. Paying tribute after Wolstenholme died, Hill went so far as to say: “It was like, for me, sitting there with God.” That perhaps gives some indication of just how highly regarded Wolstenhome was at his peak.

Despite this new-found acclamation from beyond his regular MOTD viewers after 1966, Wolstenholme’s days as the BBC’s top football man were soon under-threat. So much so that he never commentated on another England World Cup match. As black and white coverage gave way to colour television in the late 1960s, Wolstenholme’s face – or more appropriately his voice – no longer seemed to fit at the Beeb.

David Coleman, already well-established as a sports broadcaster, was in growing demand as a football commentator and at the 1970 World Cup he was to describe England’s matches. Given that England were the defending champions and the big ratings winner back home, that says much about how the balance of power was tipping away from Wolstenholme just four years on from his greatest day.

Wolstenholme was due to commentate on the final, but there was a potential collision course if England were involved in it as Coleman would then be the wanted man. For Wolstenholme it was time to act. “I paid for counsel’s opinion,” he later recalled. “They read my contract and said if the BBC wanted to give the commentary to anybody else I could have had an injunction, which would have been very nasty.”

England’s collapse in the quarter-final against West Germany meant the anticipated row never erupted, but the die had been cast. Wolstenholme waxed lyrical about the “sheer delightful football” Brazil played in beating Italy in the final, but when it came to renegotiating his contract a year later he found the BBC wanted to remove the clause that he covered World Cup and FA Cup finals. It proved the last straw and Wolstenholme left the corporation just five years on from 1966 and shortly before his 51st birthday. His BBC days really were all over.

Life after the Beeb

In the present day, a commentator of Wolstenholme’s stature would almost certainly have been snapped up by a satellite broadcaster. But there was no such option in an era when viewers had just the choice of BBC or ITV. He was later to commentate on weekly highlights for the ITV’s regional North-East channel Tyne-Tees. There were worse gigs to have than covering matches in a football-mad region, but he was hardly being heard across the nation every week. In the rest of the country the match would be afforded brief highlights or nothing at all. Wolstenholme left Tyne-Tees in 1979, but when Channel 4 began covering Italian football in 1992 his voice returned to our screens on a regular basis as he rounded-up the latest Serie A action.

In the 1990s Wolstenholme’s most famous line became the title for BBC comedy quiz show They Think It’s All OverWolstenholme complained about its use and it wasn’t the only time he would get protective over the phrase being applied. Its presence in a dog food advert particularly rankled. “I just can’t see what the phrase has to do with dog food,” he argued. “I am pretty proud of that phrase and it annoys me to see others pinching it and living off it.” It was surprisingly immodest stuff from Wolstenholme, although criticism could often be found coming from his lips in later years regarding the way he believed football commentary was going.

Tributes galore

Wolstenholme died in March 2002, aged 81. The tributes flooded in, particularly from the England stars of ’66. Sir Bobby Charlton said: “He loved the game and he was good at what he did. He had a marvellous voice which everybody remembers, and of course, those very famous words. He created the picture. 1966 was not just about the players, it was about Kenneth Wolstenholme as well.”

Criticisms of present-day commentary did not stop many of Wolstenholme’s successors paying tribute, including Barry Davies. Speaking of the commentary great, Davies said: “He had a great voice and knew when to use it and when to remain silent. He produced the definitive line of commentary at the most important moment in the history of English football – ‘They think it’s all over, it is now’.”

Wolstenholme’s commentary career was about far more than just one line, covering numerous memorable matches at both international and club level. But it was ultimately what he would be defined by. Wherever you looked after his death, a single piece of commentary on a July afternoon 36 years earlier was being talked about. And being synonymous with his own nation’s most glorious football moment wasn’t a bad way to be remembered.