Back in 2006 I was commissioned to write a book charting 40 years of hurt, which became the working title `40 Years of Hurst, detailing abject failure by the England team to add to its solitary World Cup win in 1966. Ten years on, with the 50th anniversary looming, it is disheartening that there has been no improvement in that record. Every long-suffering England fan, including those of yet another new generation, has had to put up with renewed hope, anticipation and expectation before disappointment becomes the order of the day.
From a personal perspective I am grateful that over the years I have been fortunate to meet or interview, or both, all bar one of the members of that victorious England XI that lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy, Ray Wilson always seemed to elude me.
It took 36 years and a World War before the home of football could stage the most important international football tournament of them all. The entire nation was jingoistic in its patriotic fervour as the domestic season wound down to the summer. Up to that point football fans could only read about Pele, Eusebio, Beckenbauer et el with the occasional film clip on the news. Now, at last, we were going to have the opportunity of seeing them in the flesh; Fans from Goodison Park to Wembley, White City to Roker Park, English fans would get to pay at the turnstiles and watch the best footballers the world had to offer, on English soil. Manna from heaven in the days where there was no wall to wall television coverage and the odd TV game was either an England international and the FA Cup Final. Now a feast of black and white World Cup football would beam out of Rediffusion, Grundig and and Pye television sets in living rooms across the nation.
When appointed England manager Alf Ramsey announced, `England will win the World Cup`. But even with World class players like Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks and Jimmy Greaves it took a great deal of rose-tinted perspective to share Ramsey`s optimism. Nevertheless home advantage was a bonus and England made full use of it although Ramsey`s best team line-up was still the subject of much debate.
England opened the tournament with a goalless draw against Uruguay which was not a great advert for either football in general or England`s trophy chances in particular. For the second game Martin Peters replaced Alan Ball and Terry Paine came in for John Connelly. For Connelly, the Manchester United winger it was the end of his 20 cap England career but it could have been so different as he once told me in an interview. He said.
“It wasn`t a good game against Uruguay and I did have one great chance, a header, but it hit the bar. If I had scored the result might have been different and I might have kept my place but it wasn`t to be.”
The changed line-up beat Mexico 2-0 with goals from Bobby Charlton and the ever reliable Liverpool forward Roger Hunt. Ramsey then gave a winger one last throw of the dice when he recalled Ian Callaghan in place of Terry Paine. Alan Ball, youngest member of the England squad was again omitted and it hurt. He recalled.
” I was very upset to be left out of the team. I wasn`t happy at all but just had to get on with it, be one of the squad, but I couldn`t hide my disappointment.”
Ball eventually returned to the team for the quarter final after England beat France 2-0 in the final group game. The other significant selection for the game against Argentina was Geoff Hurst and it was that quarter-final which announced his arrival on the international stage. An arrival that signalled the end of the line for England scoring legend Jimmy Greaves.
Ball was told by Ramsey that he would play against Argentina because he wanted Ball`s boundless energy to peg back the South American`s left back Marzolini, prevent his forward runs and take the England attack down that flank where Alf felt Marzolini`s defensive frailties could be exploited. Ball carried out both tasks faultlessly and Hurst popped up with a sublime header to end a game which Argentina had disrupted with continuous foul play and dissent. An approach that saw skipper Rattin sent off and cost them the game.
Hurst, along with Martin Peters, was fairly new to the England team where they joined club, and England, skipper Bobby Moore. Hurst paid tribute to that club connection when it came to the quarter-final winner.
“It was a move straight off the West Ham training ground. A deep cross into the box and a run to the near post. We practised it many times and for it to come off against one of the best sides in the world and one of the toughest, defensively, was very satisfying.”
Four games gone, no goals conceded and England were in the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time. They faced Portugal who, as well as being a fine side, perhaps the best footballing side after they kicked, quite literally, Brazil out of the competition, would be the toughest test AND they had the best player in the world, after Pele, Eusebio.
The Portuguese star was the biggest threat to England. Ramsey decided to play Nobby Stiles as a `man-marker` on the striker. The Manchester United `terrier` did a magnificent job in nullifying Eusebio and the only sniff of goal the striker got was to convert the penalty which was the first goal conceded by England in the tournament. But England were already 2-0 up with a brace from Nobby`s United team mate Bobby Charlton and they held on to reach the Final and face West Germany.
Nobby Stiles` performance against Portugal might not have a happened if Alf Ramsey had bowed to pressure from the powers that be at the FA who wanted Stiles dropped for the quarter-final.
I met Nobby a few years back at the National Football Museum where I was honoured to hold the same Jules Rimet Trophy that England lifted in July 1966. When I asked him about the doubts cast about his selection for the game against Argentina he told me.
“The FA Selection Committee wanted me dropped for the quarter-final after a booking against France for `rough play` but Alf wasn`t having any of that although I didn`t know that at the time. I was just sick to my stomach at the thought of not playing. But Alf came up to me on the day before we played Argentina and told me in a very matter of fact way, `by the way I thought you might like to know you are playing tomorrow`. I never found out until after Alf died just how far he would have gone if the FA had forced him to drop me. He was ready to resign, in the middle of a World Cup, that`s how loyal he was to his players.”
It was loyalty with an element of pragmatism also. He selected the same eleven players who beat Argentina, for the following five internationals, an England record for an unchanged line-up.
The World Cup Final, England v West Germany, at Wembley, and for the team it was a sixth consecutive game at home. Dissidents said it gave England an unfair advantage but that was just sour grapes. However full back George Cohen agreed but for reasons only football folk would understand.
“The Wembley pitch was very big and faster than normal and it gave us an advantage. The Germans hadn`t played on the pitch and were not used to it. It was a difficult surface to get to grips with and that was in part down to the large number of tufts of grass to the square inch which made it very spongy. The ball would zip off it especially if there was a bit of damp on it. It was two yards faster than a normal pitch and because of the make up underfoot you, as a player, were going to be a yard slower. It was something that any other team would have to handle and get to understand very quickly. We played all our games there so it helped us a lot and especially against the Germans we understood how to handle it better than them.”
West Germany struck first after 13 minutes when Haller pivoted in the box to fire home after a poor Wilson header but inside six minutes England equalised with another West Ham, one-two. Against Argentina the cross into Hurst was from Martin Peters. Against the Germans it was a Moore free-kick. Geoff Hurst remembers.
“That first goal in the Final, like the one against Argentina, was a culmination of many hours of hard work on the training ground at West Ham.”
That header, almost caught on the Hurst forehead and virtually `passed` into the net is one of the best headers ever seen by an England player and it gave the home side parity. England went 2-1 up through Martin Peters. As West Germany had opened the scoring after 13 minutes Peters` goal came 13 minutes from the end. Almost there but there was still a sting in the tale. One minute from the end of normal time Jack Charlton was, wrongly, penalised for climbing all over Zigi Held although it was the German who made a back. Just wide of left and just outside the penalty area it was a free-kick in a threatening position especially with legendary German efficiency at set-pieces to available. Nobby Stiles can take up the story here because he was a little bit closer to the situation on the day.
“It was my job to line the defensive wall up. We would normally have five in the wall and for that I would take my directions from the best goalkeeper in the world, Gordon Banks and we had sorted all the details out the day before the Final. My position was at the end of the wall, outside a line with the near post. But when we conceded that free-kick on the day Gordon decided he wanted two extra men in the wall so instead of me being one over in the line I was two over. The shot came in from Emmerich, hit the wall and broke wide of the wall which had done its job. The ball didn`t go straight into the goal. It didn`t bend around the wall, it broke wide to where Weber slid it in.”
There`s a nice little post script to that free-kick which Nobby recalled for me.
“Some years later, perhaps six or seven, I was doing my coaching badges at Lilleshall and at the end of one day we were all assembled in a room to review the day. Charles Hughes, he of POMO ( Position of Maximum Opportunity) fame used a clip of film to talk about free-kicks and he just happened to use that free-kick in the World Cup Final. When he ran the film he followed up by asking the assemble coaches. “What was wrong with that free-kick?”
“I raised my hand and Ray Treacy, who was seated next to me, suggested I `take it easy if I wanted to pass my badges.` So I restricted myself to saying – there was nothing wrong with the free-kick because the wall did its job.”
Weber`s sliding equaliser took the Final into the most famous 30 minute period of English football history. One incident stands out and another episode gets very little exposure.
The incident that stands out, and still does 50 years later and probably will for another 50 years and more. Geoff Hurst`s second goal of the Final that controversially put England 3-2 up when the striker crashed a shot off the crossbar, the ball bounced down on the line and was cleared by a defender. Years of analysis, dissection and German sour grapes not to mention myriad examinations by x-ray filming and forensic, graphic investigation has not really clarified the moment though the record books clearly state it was a goal.
My perspective comes not from Geoff, though he believes the ball was in, and not from Roger Hunt, who wheeled away in triumph instead of prodding the ball home from close range. My assessment comes from an interview with Kenneth Wolstenholme, whose legendary commentary of that day is forever enshrined in those immortal words. “They think it`s all over. It is now.”
Ken told me.
“What most people don`t know is that the crossbars for that Final at Wembley were elliptical in shape. So when the ball hit the bar it spun downwards in the air, behind the line, before hitting the line itself. A goal.”
Good enough and if anyone ever gets the chance, should they ever doubt the validity of that goal or Ken`s judgement, should visit the National Football Museum which has those goals and see for themselves.
So, England led 3-2, and as the game entered its dying moments and the team was on the brink of history Bobby Moore took possession of the ball after breaking up a German attack, deep in the England box. Not for England`s most cultured defender `Row Z`. Instead he chested the ball down, in a congested box, and played an inch perfect pass up field for Geoff Hurst to chase. Geoff takes up the story for a revelation that doesn`t get much exposure though that may change in the build up to July 30th and the 50th anniversary.
“My thoughts are as clear, many years later, as they were on that day as I got to the edge of their box. I decided I was just going to waste time. I was going to hit the ball as hard as I could and if it goes beyond the sand track around the pitch by the time the ball boy gets back with it the game will be over. Unfortunately that plan went out of the window as the ball took a little bobble just as I struck it and instead of striking it with my toes I caught it with the full meat of the foot and it flew into the back of the net.”
“They think it`s all over. It is now.”
Written by Brian Beard