A manager boldly claiming that his side will win a major championship while playing a revolutionary formation, all very Mourinho-esque, but this wasn’t The Special One or his nemesis at the Etihad Stadium, this was 1963. New England manager, Alf Ramsey, sat in front of the press and gave his outlandish statement. Not only would England win the World Cup but they would do it using a 4-3-3 formation. Astonished football dinosaurs said it couldn’t be done; the wings would be too exposed and the midfield overrun. It didn’t matter to Ramsey, his Ipswich Town side of the early 1960s had taken the domestic game by storm and had risen through the divisions to become champions of England in 1962. Upon his appointment as England manager he demanded complete control of team selection, previous managers had only part control as a committee at the FA ultimately selected the team.
England had fought off bids from Spain and West Germany to hold the tournament and a record number of entrants entered the qualifying rounds. There was, however, a boycott by all of the African nations as they had been forced to play off against the winners of Oceania and Asia for just one place at the Finals. Winning their confederation obviously wasn’t enough to justify qualification on its own but this method was changed in qualification for the 1970 finals.
The hosts began their preparations under their new manager and new captain, the youngest ever, in the form of West Ham United centre half, Bobby Moore. Moore would go on to become England’s most capped outfield player with 108, his record stood until 2009.
Going into the tournament England’s squad boasted some real talent but had much to prove after unimpressive tournaments in Sweden in 1958, Chile in 1962 and failing to qualify for the European Championships in Spain in 1964. Jimmy Greaves had helped Tottenham Hotspur to a 1963 European Cup Winner’s Cup victory and had finished as the First Division’s top goal scorer in the two seasons prior to the tournament. Roger Hunt was closing in on Liverpool’s all-time goal scoring record (he would surpass it in 1967) and was a member of the 1962 World Cup squad. Bobby Charlton was the 1966 version of the trequartista, linking the midfield and attack with great tenacity and goal scoring instinct, he went on to hold England’s goal scoring record for over 40 years.
West Ham’s, Martin Peters also made a significant contribution after playing all but the first game against Uruguay. He was favoured in a more central role as Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ evolved during the competition. Despite plenty of domestic success, he was another of the unsung heroes of the Ramsey-era and his technical ability, agility and stamina were vital as he helped spread the play out wide and stretch opposing defences. Nobby Stiles and Alan Ball gave work rate and athleticism to the central midfield.
At the back Ray Wilson and George Cohen remain two of the most underrated players to have played for England and their stamina and positioning abilities were vital in Ramsey’s revolutionary tactic. Jack Charlton and Bobby Moore provided the defensive stability. Moore in particular was a whole world away from the tough tackling, hard men who usually played the position. His athleticism, anticipation and balance marked him out as almost peerless, only Franz Beckenbauer could be compared to Moore during this era, and the two would set the bar very high for future generations of ball-playing defenders.
Gordon Banks’ talents would come to the fore four years later in Mexico, however he had proven to be a very reliable goalkeeper and until the Semi Final he went over 700 minutes without conceding a goal for the national team.
Although that squad neatly encompasses a who’s who of English football’s hall of fame, England were not pre-tournament favourites. Their opening game, a dour 0-0 draw against Uruguay, failed to capture the public’s imagination and sucked any life from the feel good factor surrounding the tournament. Credit must be given to the Uruguayan’s as their game plan to defend in numbers and frustrate England worked very well.
Change was required and Ramsey dropped John Connelly in favour of Terry Paine and Alan Ball came in for Peters for the second game against Mexico, the changes worked and England strolled to a 2-0 victory with Bobby Charlton’s memorable long range goal capping a win which lifted some of the pressure and relaxed the nation somewhat. Fellow favourites Brazil, Soviet Union, Italy and Portugal had also made a strong start. The tournament felt as though it was finally underway.
Two of those favourites would be sent home much earlier than expected as they suffered earth shattering losses in the final round of group games. Italy lost to North Korea, a team made up of amateur players, 1-0 at Goodison Park, in a game, which is still referred to in Italy today. Italy were world renowned and Korea’s victory is on a par with Cameroon’s 1990 win over then world champions Argentina.
Pele and Brazil were knocked out, almost literally in the player’s case, during a highly physical game against Portugal. Pele was substituted with an injury after a number of rough challenges on him and his team slumped to a 3-1 defeat. Brazil would return four years later, fresher and more flamboyant than ever, for now the sight of Pele shattered and wrapped in an itchy, woollen blanket as he was lead off is one to make the football purists weep (or maybe I’m just confusing this with Escape to Victory?!).
The hosts completed their group campaign with a 2-0 victory over bottom side, France. Paine made way for Ian Callaghan and it was his Liverpool team-mate, Roger Hunt’s brace which sent England through to face Argentina as group winners.
Jimmy Greaves had been injured against France and Martin Peters took his place in the starting line-up. For Greaves it would be his last meaningful action for the national team as he failed to regain his starting place for the remainder of the tournament.
On to the Quarter Final, and a mostly average game was memorable for Argentine captain, Antonio Rattin’s sending off, which also marked the start of the Anglo-Argentinian footballing rivalry which still exists. There are many reports suggesting why he received his second caution, according to some the referee had stated he didn’t like the way he looked at him, others state it was “violence of the tongue”; suggesting he swore at the referee, this reason is most confusing as the referee was German and didn’t speak Spanish. Nevertheless, Rattin refused to leave the pitch and after much persuasion was escorted by two police officers, off the field of play. He caused further offence by sitting on a red carpet, which was specially reserved, for the Queen to walk on, not a huge crime, but this added further fuel to an already tense situation. England eventually won the game with a Hurst header from Peters’ pinpoint cross. He ghosted in between the Argentinean centre halves and nodded England in to the Semi Final. At the final whistle, enraged by the behaviour of Rattin, Alf Ramsey prevented a couple of England players, Cohen included, from swapping shirts with their Argentinean counterparts, he also later described the opposing team as “animals”.
England were joined in the Semi Final by Portugal after they defeated North Korea in a remarkable match at Goodison Park, the Koreans raced into a 3-0 lead within half an hour, but the tournament’s eventual Golden Boot winner, Eusebio, dragged his side back into the Semi Final with a stunning four goal haul. West Germany eased past Uruguay, 4-0, with Beckenbauer scoring his fourth (of five) of the tournament. The game ended in controversy as police officers had to escort Hector Silva from the field after his sending off, he was one of two Uruguayans to see red.
England were made to sweat for the final eight minutes of the Semi Final after Eusebio halved a two goal lead given to them by Bobby Charlton’s fantastic brace. Simply put, this game could have been the Final as the majestic Portuguese played their part in a thrilling match, however England’s greater defensive discipline, especially in those final minutes was the deciding factor. West Germany defeated a talented Soviet Union side 2-1 in the other Semi Final.
England had reached the Final, imagine any one of the subsequent teams achieving that feat let alone winning the tournament. Also imagine if Theresa May turned up at half time for such a monumental event, that’s exactly what then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson did.
30 July 1966. A day still to be bettered in English football. The game itself wasn’t high on quality, England, in unfamiliar (but now very familiar) red shirts, lead twice but were pegged back as West Germany forced extra time. There was more drama in extra time than the previous 90 minutes as Hurst’s second goal and England’s third definitely crossed the line and caused absolutely no controversy in the following 52 years, where is VAR when you need it?!
Of course the legend is far more interesting as eagle-eyed linesman, Tofiq Bahramov, during conversation with the referee signalled that the ball to had crossed the line and England were ahead. Bahramov has since had a stadium in his native Azerbaijan named after him.
As the game drifted towards its conclusion Bobby Moore cleared the ball up field as far as he could, but directly in to the path of Hurst. I don’t need to mention the rest. For someone who wouldn’t be born for another 13 years I find the footage and commentary of Hurst’s third goal spine tingling. England were world champions.
One player not to celebrate and be part of the nation’s euphoria was Jimmy Greaves. He has since claimed he wasn’t affected by not playing in the World Cup Final, but a player of immense goal scoring ability would surely have been an automatic choice after recovering from injury, however, Ramsey would not disrupt the team who had taken England to the brink of glory. Given Greaves’ personal demise it is difficult to argue it didn’t contribute to his alcohol addiction in the 1970s. He retired from international football in 1969.
It is easy to poke fun at 1966, especially considering England’s failures since then. One can argue it’s all seems a little twee and pompous, plus there was also an undercurrent of favourable refereeing towards European nations after alleged dubious red cards and a bias allowing European teams to be overly physical on the pitch at the expense of their South American counterparts. This alleged favouritism started a divide between the South American and European delegates of FIFA, which is reported to still exist today. Furthermore, the FA failed to support many of the team during their retirement from football, both Moore and Hurst suffered from financial hardship in the 1980s, and although the FA shouldn’t have to bail out former players who make bad financial decisions, it wouldn’t have been too much to expect them to at least assist two of their most legendary players.
We, however, cannot deny England’s victory is deeply ingrained in the British culture, as much as Carry On, Britpop and binge drinking. Given the intervening years of failure, both glorious and inglorious, it is almost incomprehensible to most modern football fans that once upon a time, England were the best team in the world. That legendary team gave us a legacy and a millstone, both to be revered and feared until the day, whenever that may be, when they reach the pinnacle again. Ramsey had made good on his pre-tournament promise and England headed to the 1970 World Cup as one of the favourites.
England jetted to Mexico having spent the years following their home-soil triumph picking up where they left off. They lost just four of 35 games and debuted in the European Championships in 1968 in Italy, finishing third. The slightly bizarre format, only changed to 16 teams in 1996, meant just four teams contested the finals and in 1968 the hosts progressed to the Final via a coin toss. The mega corporation sponsors would be apoplectic at the thought of that happening in 2020!
1970 also marked the first tournament where the folks back home could tune in to watch the tournament in colour. Something we take for granted now but it marked a real milestone in broadcasting and supporting history. For the first time a fan was able to see a tournament unfold from their own living room and thus give the public a window into the future of consuming games.
England travelled to South America before the tournament for two friendlies versus Ecuador and Colombia. Those games, both convincing wins, were to help the squad acclimatise for Mexico, however not everything went according to plan as we shall find out. They had retained much of the squad from 1966, with the addition of Chelsea goalkeeper, Peter Bonetti and Allan Clarke of Leeds United. West Bromwich Albion’s, Jeff Astle and Manchester City playmaker, Colin Bell, also made the trip to Mexico. Some had even suggested this was a better squad than the one from 1966.
1966 Quarter Finalists, Argentina, and Portugal, who made the Semi Final in England, failed to qualify. El Salvador did, their first appearance. Sadly, tensions between them and qualification play off opponents, Honduras, sparked a four-day war between the two. Failing diplomatic relations and fan violence were reportedly the catalyst.
The defence of the trophy did not start well for England, while staying in Colombia for their pre-tournament friendly game, England captain, Bobby Moore, was accused of stealing a bracelet from a jewellers in Bogota. He wasn’t arrested at the time, but gave a statement and was allowed to leave the country for the Ecuador friendly. The squad returned a few days later and he was arrested almost upon arrival and was placed under house arrest for four days. However, during the court hearing, the shop owner changed her story numerous times and the evidence was brought into question by the judge. On 28 May, Moore was released and the case was dismissed.
The incident has long since been claimed to be an attempt at framing the England squad and a chance for their rivals to weaken the chances of defending their title. Worse was to follow, Jeff Astle’s fear of flying meant he needed a little liquid encouragement before the flight from Ecuador back to Colombia, upon arrival it was clear he had help from his team mates simply to remain upright, this coupled with the bracelet incident lead the local press to brand the squad as “A team of drunks and thieves”.
Nevertheless, England made a fine start to the campaign by beating Romania, 1-0 in Guadalajara; 1966 hero Geoff Hurst scoring the only goal. Ramsey, by now Sir Alf after his 1967 knighthood, had kept the same revolutionary formation from four years earlier as the team lined up with a midfield diamond with Alan Mullery in a defensive midfield role and Bobby Charlton behind the front pair.
Group rivals Brazil were busy thundering their way to another World Cup victory with a 4-1 demolition of Czechoslovakia. The team hadn’t dropped a point in qualifying and were in sumptuous form again. Pele had recovered from being kicked around the pitches of England and the squad now boasted real match winning talent in Jarzinho, Gerson, Rivelino and Tostao.
However, it was the group game between England and Brazil, which is remembered with relish; a match between two real football powerhouses (I’ll let that sink in), which could have been the Final, in fact many expected them to meet again a few weeks later with the trophy at stake. The game was an entertaining spectacle; Jarzinho opened the scoring with a vicious drive into the roof of Banks’ net, Banks later denied Pele’s pinpoint header with a truly miraculous save, low down to his right, when it looked destined to be a certain goal. Jarzinho would probably have added to Brazil’s one goal but for Moore’s majestic tackle on the marauding Brazilian (years later to be recounted in the Euro 96 summer anthem, ‘Three Lions’). England lost though, and Jeff Astle’s late miss, goal at his mercy barely 10 yards out, meant England didn’t get the point they deserved. After the game Moore and Pele embraced as they swapped shirts; that snapshot instantly produced one of the World Cup’s most iconic images; two of the game’s most acclaimed players in a moment of mutual respect.
England’s final group game saw them overcome Czechoslovakia, 1-0, with an Allan Clarke penalty. If nothing other than guaranteeing England’s qualification it was also notable for the very cool all-sky blue kit they wore; something of a cult classic now.
England’s Quarter Final pitted them against a very familiar foe and West Germany had an immediate chance to exact revenge for the events of four years previous. Gordon Banks was replaced by Peter Bonnetti, as the regular England custodian was suffering with food poisoning. The red away shirts made a re-appearance in the midday heat of Leon and England, suddenly hitting their stride, raced in to a two goal lead courtesy of Mullery and Peters. However, second half substitutions on both sides changed the course of the game. Bobby Charlton came off with the game nearing an end, one eye on the Semi Final. Charlton’s exit allowed Franz Beckenbauer to finally dictate the game and drag his side back into it with a goal with just over 20 minutes remaining. The goal, many believe, was Bonetti’s fault as he allowed the shot to squirm under his body. Just eight minutes before the end Uwe Seeler completed the German’s comeback with a marvellous backwards, glancing header to send the game into extra time. Both teams, exhausted, physically and mentally, pushed themselves for another half an hour, however Gerd Muller with an acrobatic, close range volley, gave them their first competitive win over England and in a now familiar ending, Germany had knocked England out. It was tough on England, as they had more than matched two teams of world-beating proportions; they had overcome scandals, illnesses, conspiracies, hostility from local fans, the heat and altitude, to be within a game of the Final again.
The Semi Finals in Mexico were polar opposites, Brazil eased into the Final with a 3-1 win over Uruguay. While West Germany and Italy served up an all-time classic with an exhilarating five goals in extra time. Muller completed his Golden Boot quest, with his ninth and tenth of the tournament and Beckenbauer played extra time with his arm in a sling after dislocating his shoulder. Italy scored the two best goals of the game as Roberto Boninsegna’s volley opened the scoring and Rivera’s winner, a magnificent finish from a flowing team move, came with just 8 minutes of extra time remaining.
Brazil crowned their third victorious World Cup campaign with a rout of monumental proportions. Many of the preconceptions about Brazil and their eye-catching ‘joga bonito’ emanate from this tournament. They were absolutely frightening to watch, they won every game they played and Italy, despite being very capable of winning the trophy themselves, were blown away, 4-1, by a flair, confidence and intelligence which has yet to be matched by any football nation, before or since. Carlos Alberto’s finish for the fourth goal, after the Brazil team passed around the Italy team at will, is still recognised as one of the greatest World Cup moments. Pele ended his international career as a three-time World Cup winner, in amongst a sea of fans who had sprinted on to the pitch at the final whistle. Like England, this represented a transition in their football history and would have to wait 24 years for their next triumph; At least they still had ‘joga bonito’ and only had to wait 24 years.
The accomplished England squad from 1970 would never play at another tournament together, in fact 1970 marked the start of the barren years of English football. World champions in 1966, they failed to qualify for another tournament for ten years after 1970 and their next World Cup would be in Spain in 1982. Ramsey resigned after failing to qualify for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany; a tournament lit up by the Dutch. 1970 belonged to Brazil. 48 years later England are still waiting for their next one.