The build up to their greatest day was a calm one for the 1966 squad

Alf Ramsey was a practical man, temperamentally incapable of pitches of rhetorical passion or exhibitions of infectious enthusiasm. His gift was for uniting a squad in common purpose and conveying it in pragmatic language. 

On the Tuesday night after England had beaten Portugal 2-1 at Wembley to progress to the 1966 World Cup final – and until Wednesday, the only time England had won a major tournament semi-final – he did not talk of destiny or being “one step away from glory”. Instead he identified a more down to earth goal, judging perfectly both how to appeal to hard-boiled professionals and keep their merrier instincts in check.   

“Gentleman,” Nobby Stiles remembered him saying. “Congratulations on a fine performance and on making the final. Tonight you may have two pints – and I mean two pints. Not like last Saturday after the Argentina game when some of you were rat-a—-. Not tonight, gentlemen. Just two pints because on Saturday you are going to win the World Cup. And when you do I shall see to it that you are permanently p——.”

Members of the England World Cup squad, including Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton, relax the day before the final


And so, with some members of his squad, notably the captain Bobby Moore, straining on the leash to celebrate victory in the traditional manner, Ramsey whisked them back to the Hendon Hall Hotel, let them enjoy their rationed pints and shepherded them upstairs to bed. 

England’s training base in 1966 was a world away from their 2021 successors’ St George’s Park headquarters, and it is difficult to imagine Stiles or Jack Charlton buying into hot pod yoga sessions or inflatable unicorns in the pool.

Sir Bobby Charlton is among those to wander outside England's base at Hendon Hall Hotel


Hendon Hall did not even have its own training pitches: indeed, the daily coach commute to Roehampton to train at the Bank of England Sports Club, a journey around the North Circular from north-west to south-west London that often took 90 minutes each way, was a bone of contention. Moore was deputed to ask Ramsey if they could train somewhere closer to their base and walked up the coach to let the manager know the squad’s concerns. 

“Thank you, Bobby. I’ll consider it,” he said. Moore walked back down the aisle smiling but before his trousers had touched his seat, Ramsey shouted: “I’ve considered it, Bobby, and we’ll stay as we are.” 

On the morning after the semi-final he relented for one day only, taking the squad a few miles north to London Colney where the ‘Second XI’ who had not played the night before, and seven of whom had seen no World Cup action at all, took on Arsenal. 

Arsenal had been back in pre-season training for only two days and were easily beaten 3-1. Jimmy Greaves, absent since the victory over France in the last group game, made his return with a pad and extra foam to guard the deeply-gashed shin that had taken so long to heal and yielded his starting place to Geoff Hurst. He scored and stated that he would be fit for the final … if selected. 

That night, as they often had, they strolled down the hill from the hotel to the Hendon Odeon, going in moments after the film had started so they could enter in the dark. Ramsey, as was his custom, purchased 26 tickets and they took their seats in the circle to watch the Blue Max, a film about a German WWI fighter ace that had all the action Ramsey loved but was rather intense.

They returned to Roehampton the next two mornings, rounding off the training sessions as usual with a game of cricket – one thing that generation does have in common with the class of 2021, who chose to go to Lord’s on one of their days off in the current Euros campaign. 

Sir Bobby Charlton relaxes by playing cricket the day before the World Cup final


“It was circumspect cricket,” wrote Bobby Charlton, “there were no beamers and bouncers and very few heroics in the slips – but it was relaxing.” On Thursday night the whole squad were among the crowd of 87,696 at Wembley to watch the Portugal team they so admired beat the Soviet Union 2-1 in the third/fourth place play-off. 

Playing golf was, and still is, a favourite way to past the time while away with England


After training on Friday, back at the hotel they watched a BBC screening of West Germany’s victory over Spain earlier in the competition with Ramsey stopping the film to emphasise points of strength and opportunity. In the evening, sticking with the aeronautical theme, they returned to the cinema to see Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines but this time, on their way in, Ramsey waited and told 10 players that they would be starting the following day. He left Alan Ball hanging until Saturday morning, possibly because of his youth, possibly because he was still mulling over whether to recall Greaves. 

World Cup fever took a long time to strike in 1966. The image of a modern, swinging nation enraptured by a 19-day carnival of football is one that was minted in the afterglow of victory but the papers were preoccupied with another sterling crisis and the Prime Minister’s lightning, cap-in-hand trip to Washington. 

In those days The Telegraph ran three pages of sport and on the day of the final coverage took up three of eight columns on a single one of those pages. The Mirror had a supplement, but it was merely four tabloid pages. Muhammad Ali was in town. Having knocked out Henry Cooper in May, the world heavyweight champion was preparing for another title defence at Earl’s Court against Brian London. Advertising his presence at the final was the first real stroke of global, crossover glamour. No wonder the players noticed an eruption of fervour only on their way to Wembley at lunchtime on Saturday. 

No sign of any pre-game nerves from Bobby Moore


That morning Nobby Stiles had gone to mass in Golders Green as usual, Bobby Charlton and Ray Wilson bought some clothes, Ball, after being told he was in the team, took £1,000 in cash from the Adidas rep to wear the company’s boots and treated himself to a watch.  

Within hours he would join the ranks of the immortal but the build-up to their greatest day was as calm as their manager himself, something Gareth Southgate will no doubt be planning to replicate with his sequestered squad at St George’s Park.