1966 World Cup

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.

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…

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.