Fifty years ago today England won the World Cup. I watched the Final on TV, but cannot remember it, as I was only 19 months old at the time. Here is my perspective, with recollection of my book about the competition.
The World Cup was published in 1990. The back cover featured a rather dry blurb, written by myself, setting out the narrative and statistical contents. An inner flap of the dust jacket had a curious, and more ambitious, take on what my work meant. The place of football in English literature was explained with references to Geoffrey Chaucer, Alexander Barclay, and William Shakespeare. There was a quote from Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors: “Am I so round…that like a football you do spurn me thus”. The commentary concluded: “In his book Andrew Godsell presents an unblinkered view of the game’s World Cup history. Far from excluding the problems encountered, he offers an unedited account, not only of the championship, but the traumas of those involved as well as their triumphs which inspire hope and optimism for the future of the game”. The first I knew of this breathless prose, written by a young lady named Tracy, who did a lot of the typesetting, was upon receipt of the published book. At the time I was sceptical about the piece, and persuaded the publisher to substitute it with something I wrote in the second edition. In retrospect, the original literary approach was in keeping with the spirit of the book.
A particularly enjoyable aspect of writing The World Cup was composition of a chapter that chronicled the 1966 competition. The story has been told many times, by many people. Here is my view of the culmination of the English triumph:
England met West Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final, before a crowd of 93,000 at Wembley Stadium, on Saturday July 30 – the anniversary of Uruguay’s 4-2 win against Argentina in the first such contest, back in 1930. Besides playing in their own country, England had the advantage that each of their matches in the finals was staged at Wembley, whereas West Germany had not previously appeared there during the tournament. England retained the team which beat Argentina, in the Quarter Finals, and Portugal, in the Semi Finals. Jimmy Greaves, who missed those matches due to injury, was fit again, but Alf Ramsey decided against changing a winning team, and omitted Greaves. Jack Charlton felt unwell on the evening before the match, and Ramsey told Ron Flowers that he might be in the team. Charlton recovered overnight, and retained his place. Helmut Schoen, West Germany’s manager, had selection problems. Hans Tilkowski, the goalkeeper, was out of form and received an injury in the Semi Final against the Soviet Union, but he played, as the reserve, Sepp Maier, was also injured. Franz Beckenbauer was doubtful for a while, there being confusion over whether he received a second booking in the tournament during the Semi Final, which would have meant he was suspended. He was only cleared to play on the morning of the Final.
Neither team had shown consistent flair in the tournament, and West Germany displayed a physical form of football. England contributed a new tactical idea, but it did not seem adventurous, as they dispensed with wingers, and initiated a 4-4-2 formation, relying on strength in midfield, rather than numbers in attack. In the face of unpromising circumstances, the players produced a surprise. The match saw the fortunes of each team alternate along with the weather – which mixed sunshine with showers – in a display of sparkling football, drama, controversy, and six goals. It added up to the best ever World Cup Final.
England had the better of the opening exchanges, but West Germany took the lead after 12 minutes. Sigi Held crossed from the left, and England’s Ray Wilson, although not under any real pressure, headed weakly into the path of Helmut Haller, who swept the ball past Gordon Banks. Six minutes later Bobby Moore, having been fouled on the left wing by Wolfgang Overath, chipped a quick free kick into the opposition penalty area, and Geoff Hurst met the ball with a firm header, past the static Tilkowski, to equalise. Play moved from end to end during the remainder of the first half, with each team creating several chances to score, but there were no more goals. West Germany were denied by some great goalkeeping by Gordon Banks, including a double save from Overath and Lothar Emmerich.
After the interval, England controlled the play for a sustained spell, but failed to take advantage of numerous attempts on goal. Alan Ball was a major influence, through tireless efforts. With 12 minutes remaining, Ball’s corner from the right was only headed by Wolfgang Weber, a German defender, as far as Hurst, standing just outside the penalty area. Hurst’s shot deflected off Horst Hottges into the path of Martin Peters, who scored with a decisive strike, to give England the lead. West Germany, searching for an equaliser, were caught on the break with four minutes left to play. Ball sent a pass to Roger Hunt, who ran through the German half supported by Hurst and Bobby Charlton, but Hunt misdirected a pass to Charlton, whose shot went wide. In the final minute, West Germany scored a contentious equaliser. Jack Charlton, the brother of Bobby, challenged Held, and had a free kick dubiously awarded against him, by Gottfried Dienst, the referee from Switzerland. Emmerich’s shot deflected off George Cohen, in the defensive wall, and the ball travelled into the crowded penalty area. Held crossed from the left, and the ball hit Karl-Heinz Schnellinger on the arm, as it flew across the goalmouth, before falling into the path of Weber, who drove it into the net, past the despairing dive of Banks. England had appealed for handball against Schnellinger, and a linesman momentarily signalled for this, before changing his mind. Dienst blew the final whistle just seconds after England restarted play. With the score level at 2-2, extra time was required. Ramsey inspired further effort from the England team, declaring “You won it once, now you must win it again”.
In the early minutes of extra time, England regained the initiative. Ball forced Tilkowski to turn a powerful shot over the bar, and the goalkeeper struggled to tip an effort from Bobby Charlton on to a post, from where it rolled to safety. After 100 minutes, the match produced one of the most controversial incidents in the history of football. Nobby Stiles provided a fine pass to Ball on the right wing, he in turn crossed to Hurst, who hit a powerful shot, whereupon the ball flew past Tilkowski, and crashed against the underside of the crossbar, before dropping and bouncing towards Weber, who headed it over the bar, presuming that the ball had not crossed the line, while the England players claimed a goal. After consulting with a linesman, Tofik Bakhramov, from the Soviet Union, Dienst awarded England a goal. The German players briefly disputed the decision, without success. The debate as to whether the ball crossed the line has continued ever since, with the balance of evidence suggesting it did not. At the time, however, England had regained the lead. West Germany battled for an equaliser during the second period of extra time, but England held firm. In the last minute, Bobby Moore sent a long pass out of defence to Hurst, with some jubilant England supporters on the pitch, thinking the match was already over. Hurst ran into the German penalty area, and drove the ball into the roof of the net – he remains the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup Final. A few seconds later, the referee blew the final whistle, and England had won 4-2. After a hesitant start to the tournament, England improved, with brilliant teamwork proving more important than individual skill. England had won the competition, fulfilling a prediction made by Ramsey upon his appointment, and Bobby Moore collected the Jules Rimet Trophy from Queen Elizabeth II. The World Cup had finally come to the home of football.
The above account is not actually the version that appeared in The World Cup, as it features improvements – some written in 1997 for Famous Football Matches, an unpublished book. The World Cup has long been out of print, becoming a collector’s item, with copies sold for several times the original cover price, despite it being a book without pictures or conversation. It is disappointing that an update has not been published, but material from The World Cup, combined with new work on the competition, has continued to play a part in my writing. There has also been academic recognition, in National Identity and Global Sports Events: Culture, Politics and Spectacle in the Olympics and the Football World Cup, edited by Alan Tomlinson and Christopher Young, published by the State University of New York Press, in 2006. The essay Italy 1934: Football and Fascism, by Robert S C Gordon and John London, looks at the relevant tournament, and mentions that “Chroniclers of the World Cup concur in describing how the Italians exploited the event for propagandistic purposes” – a point supported by citation of The World Cup.