Bobby Moore, center, is carried by teammates Geoff Hurst, center left, and Ray Wilson as he holds World Cup after England defeated Germany 4-2 in the final at London's Wembley Stadium
Although addicted fans of the game, and the England team, the nation was so much more sceptical prior to the World Cup Final of 1966 than Sunday’s Euro fest: about taciturn manager Alf Ramsey – astute beyond public perception – and about his team’s aura across five uneven preliminary matches.
Yet volcanic response to victory over West Germany was almost Brazilian, London throbbing all night to six-in-a-car’s honking horns: triumph for “the home of football” which had previously won only three matches in four final tournaments.
For a year most of the national media had been negative, it is no exaggeration to claim that I was one of only three Fleet Street writers to have persistently predicted an England victory, alongside Brian James from the Mail and Ken Jones from the Sunday Mirror.
Consider England’s route to the Final. All but booed off in a goalless opener with Uruguay; encouraged by Bobby Charlton’s solo goal against Mexico; niggly Nobby Stiles rousing FIFA wrath with an ugly, crucial foul against France’s key player Jacques Simon; an abysmal quarter-final belatedly nicked by Geoff Hurst’s header against malevolent Argentina’s 10 men (five booked, captain Antonio Rattin sent off); a so-so semi against fancied Portugal.
On the eve of FIFA’s finals draw in January, I had scripted a documentary for Midlands’ ATV titled “World Cup… England to Win”. The previous night England drew against Poland in a muddy Everton field. The following morning ATV’s panicking producer attempted to shelve the screening: I held firm.
The secret to Ramsey’s summit was two-fold: historically innovative tactics, at the time, while also, exactly comparable to Gareth Southgate, creating a deeply bonded team ethic under inimitable defender skipper Bobby Moore which, if not scintillating, was reliably error-free. My Telegraph forecast on the tournament’s opening: “Triumph will depend not on capability for greatness, which is slight, but upon the ability of any others to beat them, which is problematic.”
Ramsey’s revolutionary tactic symbolised an era which was to transform the game: “Total Football”. The previous December in Madrid, the former Spurs and England right-back had abandoned the conventional 4-2-4 formation – including two attacking wingers – for 4-3-3, saying: “We defend with eight, we attack with eight, including both full-backs.” Football for the next sixty years would become work-rate dominant, defence secure, scoring chance decreased – as witnessed these past weeks.
What gripped national debate prior to facing Germany was possible recall of injured maestro Jimmy Greaves, electric goal-snatcher now fit, in place of Hurst. No chance: never alter a winning team. Yet Jimmy and Bobby Charlton had been my contemporary heroes when I was trialist with UK’s Melbourne Olympics squad (unselected!) – and now a scribe yearning for the honourable prestige so elusive for the game’s founders in the previous two World Cups I attended. I was not to know that all would depend on the opinion of a Soviet Azerbaijan linesman approving Hurst’s extra-time third goal. Geoff has dined out on him – we all have – ever since.
Can Harry Kane repeat? If he can, he would happily make redundant my three-time republished reminiscence “England’s Last Glory” (Pavilion) which closed with a growing litany of disappointed managers, not to say fans over 52 years.
David Miller, inaugural football correspondent of The Telegraph in 1961, has covered 14 World Cups.