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England is a nation that lives for football. The game was born in England, the Premier League is the best in the world, the fans simply cannot turn their attention off the beautiful game. Despite that, a good half of the English population cannot recall their success at a major tournament, namely, because they've not had any since they lifted the 1966 World Cup trophy. Here we have a look at how that historical tournament unfolded.
Before the England gig
Okay, so almost every football fan could tell you who the manager of England's 1966 World Cup-winning team was but how many of them actually know Sir Alf Ramsey? We'd hazard a guess of very few who are under the age of, ooh, say 40-years-old. The Dagenham born right-back spent his playing career with first Southampton and then Tottenham before he was forced to call time on his career due to injury; albeit he was heading towards the end of his playing days by then.
Management was always a desire for Ramsey, who earned 32 England caps as a player, but there were doubts as to whether the opportunity would present itself. It did though and quickly too. The team to reach out were then third-tier side Ipswich Town. They'd slipped down the pyramid in recent years and brought Ramsey in with the aim of improving their fortunes. Boy did he surpass expectations. He led them out of the third division in 1956/57 before following that up with a truly remarkable feat of back to back league titles; first in 1960/61 he took the Suffolk based side to the top of Division Two and then, as a side tipped for immediate relegation, he guided them to the First Division title. The England job was just around the corner.
Shooting for the stars
Ramsey was named as the successor to Walter Winterbottom with the Ipswich boss taking over in May 1963. The new gaffer had already shown himself to be a top manager but, until this point, he'd kept his ability to predict the future under wraps. What on Earth are we talking about? Ramsey made the bold claim in one of his first press conferences that England would win the 1966 World Cup citing strength, character and temperament as three key components. With those three things in mind, it is perhaps little surprise – at least with hindsight – that Ramsey stuck his neck out when appointing a 22-year-old captain. That man was Bobby Moore.
Preparing for the 1966 World Cup
As England were the hosts of the 1966 World Cup there was no qualification campaign to go through, which meant Ramsey had to find another way to develop a team in his style. Things started out reasonably well with an 8-3 win over Northern Ireland a particular highlight. Reality bites though and in 1964 a series of damaging results, including a 5-1 mauling at the hands of Brazil,had doubts cast over the ability of Ramsey to deliver on his promise of World Cup glory.
Ramsey, along with his ‘Alf Ramsey on the field' captain Moore, started to introduce new faces to his squad with Bobby and Jack Charlton two particular names you might be familiar with! Fast forward to the back end of 1965 and Ramsey wasplaying tactical innovator as his Three Lions took Spain apart 2-0 in a system that contained no wingers – think of it as a 4-3-3. It was hardly a common formation for the era. Within months, the squad was named. The 1966 World Cup was about to kick off.
The Group Phase
England were put in a group along with France, Mexico and Uruguay with all of England's fixtures being played at Wembley Stadium. Of course, it was down to the hosts to get the 1966 World Cup under way.
England 0 – 0 Uruguay
The opening game of the tournament pitted Ramsey's men against a Uruguay side managed by Ondino Viera, who had several success stories of his own from his time managing in South America. Despite the aforementioned success with the wingerless system, Ramsey opted to deploy wide midfielders in the opener. Who could blame him? It was well known that England would have the majority of the possession as their opponents banked in to defend. England had scored in their last dozen matches and they'd not failed to score in a fixture at Wembley for over 20 years but no matter how quickly they moved the ball around the could not penetrate the low block of Uruguay and the match ended in a rather depressing and unentertaining goalless draw.
England 2 – 0 Mexico
The hopes that were so high prior to the tournament were now in danger of fading. The reason being that England had failed to breakthrough a stubborn rear guard in the opener and it was anticipated that Mexico, who held France to a draw in their first game, would prove a similar challenge. Ramsey continued to use wingers in his line up but did switch personnel with Terry Paine and Martin Peters coming into the XI in place of John Connelly and Alan Ball. Still, England were hardly cutting Mexico apart and it took a 30 yard thunderbolt from Charlton to open the scoring. In the second half, Roger Hunt added a second. It wasn't vintage England but it was job done.
England 2 – 0 France
England had one match left to play but, on paper, it was the toughest of the lot.The fact France had already beatena Ramsey England side 5-2along withwhat can only be described as two below par performances up to this point had had anxiety rushing through the veins of the supporters. They needn't have worried. Hunt bagged a goal just before the interval then, in the second period,Ian Callaghan, an enforced change on the wing after Paine suffered a head injury against Mexico, set up Hunt for his brace. England were through. They hadn't conceded a goal either.
Backing Stiles with Style
Before we progress with the route England took to the final, the France game didn't just pass without incident. During the match Nobby Stiles, who was the dogged midfield man in the team, had ‘roughed up' Jacques Simon with a tough challenge. It was something the FA were unhappy with and called on Ramsey to drop the Manchester United man. Ramsey politely told them to ‘do one' with the response more eloquently put along the lines of ‘if you start picking my team, I'll quit'. He valued what Stiles brought to the team and he was happy to back his player.
England 1 – 0 Argentina
Despite making it through the group stages in top spot, England hadn't reached anywhere near their top gear. The performances and injury in the squad saw Ramsey change approach for the remainder of the tournament starting with the quarter-final tie against Group 2 runners up, Argentina.He didn't quite revisit the 4-3-3 formation from the Spain match referenced earlier but his midfield four were playing in something akin to the diamond, which meant the onus was placed upon the full backs – George Cohen and Ray Wilson -to provide width. It meant bad news for the likes of John Connelly and Terry Paine who were almost redundant in the squad under this formation.
With respect of the last eight match, Callaghan and Jimmy Greaves, who had played all three group matches before suffering injury, dropped out and in came Geoff Hurst and Ball. It was Hurst who scored the solitary goal of the game to send England through as he flicked a header beyond Roberto Perfumo from Peters' left wing cross. Argentina, however, were not really interested in playing football with Ramsey later labelling them ‘animals' for their aggressive antics. Itis an insult that hasn't been forgotten by them to this day. Regardless, England went marching on and, again, Gordon Banks was yet to be beaten between the sticks.
England 2 – 1 Portugal
The Build Up
There is no doubting that the semi-final tie against Portugalwas England's toughest test of the World Cup to date. The star name on the Portuguese team sheet was Eusebio, who had just scored four goals to carry his team through their quarter-final match against the surprise package that was North Korea, who had initially opened up a 3-0 lead.
The fixture has been scheduled to take place at Goodison Park but a late change of venue saw the match move to Wembley. This angered Portugal as this meant England could stay put where they'd been playing whilst the Portugal squad had to travel to London from Liverpool; whether that genuinely had an impact on the outcome of the match who knows! More importantly, who cares? Not any England player, coach or fan. That is for sure!
When it came to the match itself, England took the lead on 30 courtesy of Charlton. A long ball from the back was neatly taken down by Hunt. The Liverpool forward was thwarted by the on rushing keeper Jose Pereirabut the ball ran loose to Charlton who steered into the unguarded net from 20 yards. At the other end, Banks made one good stop to deny Eusebio the leveller but, in the most part, Portugal's star man had been kept out of the game due to the tireless man-marking job carried out by Stiles. Fast forward towards the latter part of the game and England would double their lead. It was Charlton again; it was a much tougher finish as he slammed powerfully across goal from outside of the box after a cut back from Hurst.
With a two goal advantage and just 10 minutes left, it really should have been a comfortable 10 minutes. It wasn't. Just two minutes after Bobby's goal, the other Charlton, Jack, was penalised for handball on the goal line. Eusebio stepped up to send Banks the wrong way and, in doing so, saw England concede their first goal of the 1966 World Cup. Still, a second Portugal goal wasn't forthcoming and England were in the final.
England 4 – 2 West Germany
The Build Up
England had transformed themselves from the early days of the tournament and after the sensational display the put in against Portugal the whole nation arrived in the final full of belief that Ramsey's premonition from three years prior could actually come true. West Germany, however, were no fools either and they too arrived confident they could get the business done.
Ramsey was 90 minutes away from having his name etched into the history books but he faced on more huge decision. What should he do about Jimmy Greaves? Greaves had played every minute of the group stage but injury forced him to miss the knockout games. As the final came around he was declared fit to play. The fans wanted him back in the starting XI. He was a proven goal scorer. Hurst, meanwhile, had only been with the squad for a few months and didn't boast the same pedigree. Ramsey stood firm against the calls of the fans though and showed loyalty to Hurst. We wonder if he made the right call!?
As the match got underway it was quite evident that there were a lot of nerves on the field. On the 12 minute mark, England found themselves having to channel all that strength and character that Ramsey had alluded to in his early press conference because they found themselves trailing a game of football for the first time in the 1966 World Cup. It was a poor goal to concede too but take nothing away from Helmut Haller; it was a good finish low down to Banks' right. Thankfully, it seemed to spark England into life. Hurst would begin to repay Ramsey's faith on 18 as he headed in unmarked although most praise should perhaps go to Moore who acted swiftly to launch a quick freekick into the German box.
The match would remain at 1-1 until the 78th minute. It was England who took the lead; Horst-Dieter Hottges made a hash of his clearance and Peters stole in behind him to send a crashing half-volley past Hans Tilkowski for 2-1. As the full time whistle neared it looked like England had done it but then disaster struck when Wolfgang Weber popped up to equalise in scrappy fashion in the 89th minute. Extra time was needed.
You might expect performances in extra time to get leggy and lethargic. That's not what you got from a Ramsey team. England were full of energy and bombarded the German area in the early exchanges. On 101 that pressure finally told, Ball, who was the youngest member of the 1966 squad, had too much in his legs for the German defence and his cross found Hurst, Hurst took a touch, turned and slammed the ball in off the bar. Germany were unconvinced but the goal stood. England were in front and at the very death victory was secured courtesy of a record setting hat-trick goal from Hurst.
They think it's all over, it is now.