1966 England

There was a young Hammer called Geoff
Who had a big hand from the ref.
Was it over the line?
The Germans cried "Nein"!
Then none cared, as he scored with his lef'.

The World Cup came to the home of football in 1966, and England became the first host nation to win the Jules Rimet trophy for 32 years. But it was a dour tournament with only a few stand out matches, indeed a tournament rescued by the brilliance of Eusebio and the plucky North Koreans.

What was going on in the world in 1966?

  • John Lennon states that the Beatles are "more popular than Jesus now".
  • World Cup trophy is stolen in London; found 7 days later by a dog named "Pickles"
  • Mao Zedong begins the Cultural Revolution to purge and reorganize China's Communist Party
  • Ronald Reagan is elected Governor of California
  • Walt Disney dies while producing The Jungle Book

And 1966 saw the birth of some future famous people:

  • Cindy Crawford, Helena Bonham Carter, and Kiefer Sutherland from the acting world
  • Stefan Edberg, Romário, Hristo Stoichkov, Mike Tyson and Alberto Tomba from the sports world
  • Jimmy Wales and Roman Abramovich from the business world

Back to the World Cup – The Format

FIFA finally stopped messing around with the format and stuck with 16 teams in 4 groups of 4, no playoffs or replays, and with the top 2 from each group going into the quarter finals. However, the qualification system was still not perfect. Sixteen African nations boycotted the tournament in protest of a 1964 FIFA ruling that required the three second-round winners from the African zone to enter a play-off round against the winners of the Asian zone in order to win a place at the finals


Portugal and North Korea qualified for the first time, and both were a much needed breath of fresh air in the tournament. Notable teams failing to make it to England were Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, who had reached the final and semi-final respectively in 1962.

North Korea supplied one of the all-time great upsets in defeating Italy 1-0 and thereby going through to the quarter-final at Italy’s expense. Indeed the North Koreans were more than just plucky, they won over the hearts of the English public with this victory at Ayresome Park and their subsequent heroic defeat in the quarter-final at Goodison Park to Portugal, a match in which they had led 3-0 after 25 minutes.

Portugal ‘s performances were driven by tournament top scorer Eusebio, with 9 goals, including 4 penalties, and they reached the semi-final in their World Cup debut.

Contrast that with Brazil; it was their worst performance since 1934. Brazil again suffered from some brutal tackling. Pele missed the second match against Hungary which was probably the best match of the tournament in terms of quality, but returned for the final group game against Portugal, a 3-1 defeat, in which Joao Morais scythed him down, in what has been described as a gratuitous manner. Pele only realised how bad the tackle was after later seeing footage of it and vowed never again to play in a World Cup. Fortunately he did not follow through on that vow.

Who should have won but didn’t?

Though Portugal made a great impact, it was largely down to Eusebio and it would be a stretch to say there was a more deserving winner than England. England’s group games were certainly dull but this was only partly due to Ramsey’s cautious tactics, and at least as much down to other teams coming to ‘park the bus’, to coin a modern phrase. This was a disappointing development of the game in the 1960s which may have been the worst decade for the international game’s progression. However, England’s semi-final against Portugal and the final against West Germany were both entertaining matches, and in both cases it is generally regarded that England were the better side.

Controversial matches

If Brazil left the tournament in grumpy mood, the outcome of the quarter-finals threatened to drive a wedge between European and South American football, to the extent that boycotts were seriously considered. West Germany’s quarter final against Uruguay was refereed by an Englishman and England’s quarter final with Argentina was refereed by a German. In each case the South Americans believed that bad refereeing, which affected the result, was due to an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy.

In the Uruguay game, a blatant handball on the goal line from West Germany’s Schnellinger was missed, or ignored, and later two Uruguayans were sent off. In the Argentina match, their captain, Antonio Rattin, was infamously sent off and took 10 minutes to leave the field. He is the villain of the tournament.

Heroes and villains

Villain: Antonio Rattin

Argentina had captain Antonio Rattin sent off in the 35th minute for arguing with referee Rudolf Kreitlein, following a spate of fouls, mostly disputed by Rattin. Rattin initially refused to leave the field, believing that the referee was biased and wanted England to win, and when he did finally walk after 10 minutes delay and with a police escort, the 29-year-old allegedly insulted the Queen. Quite how the referee picked this up when he spoke no Spanish, is unclear. The incident was described in the media rather creatively as 'violence of the tongue'.

Three Lions manager Sir Alf Ramsey let rip at the opposition with comments that were viewed as racist in Argentina. “We have still to produce our best, and this is not possible until we meet the right sort of opponents, and that is a team that comes out to play football and not act as animals,” sniped Ramsey.

Post match statistics showed that Argentina had committed only 19 fouls in the game, to England’s 33. The Argentinians have referred to this match as 'el robo del siglo' (the robbery of the century).

Hero: Tofiq Bakhramov

If England got a helping hand from the referee in the quarter-final, the same is undoubtedly true in the final. As the famous story goes, England's third goal, in extra time, may not have crossed the line, after hitting the underside of the crossbar and from there down on to or perhaps just over the goal line. With the referee dithering, the "Russian linesman" intervened and raised his flag, possibly at the instigation of Alan Ball who was in his ear out on the right touchline. After a brief consultation, the referee concurred and awarded a goal. England went on to score again and win 4-2.

There was a young Hammer called Geoff
Who got a big hand from the ref.
Was it over the line?
The Germans cried "Nein"!
Then none cared as he scroed with his lef'.

In fact, the linesman, Tofiq Bakhramov, was not Russian, but Azerbaijani. He subsequently said the ball had hit the net and not the crossbar, and so had to be a goal. There is also an apochryphal story that when asked on his death bed why he had awarded the goal, his one word reply was "Stalingrad", which brings a whole new layer of motivation into this.

In mitigation, despite this controversy, the second German goal to equalise in the 89th minute was also questionable. The free kick awarded against Jack Charlton was very harsh and there were claims for hand ball before Wolfgang Weber scored. So we should be careful before claiming any miscarriage of justice in this match.

Watch the highlights of the final here.

Quick Facts

Teams: 16
When: 11 July 1966 to 30 July 1966
Final: 30 July 1966
Matches: 32
Goals Scored: 89 (average 2.8 per match)
Attendance: 1,563,135 (average 48,847)

Verdict: Good, Bad or Ugly?

Really quite a bad World Cup, rescued by Eusebio and North Korea. England probably deserved their win, but home advantage was a significant factor. Fortunately this was the last World Cup in the 1960s and the 1970s would open in spectacular fashion and put the World Cup back on a glorious path.


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