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1966 and all that

I have been following Bernadette’s advice and watching The Professionals every Sunday morning. Yesterday I noticed there was a programme about Bobby Charlton before it and I became engrossed by it.

I believe that 1966-70 was the golden period of British post war football. During it England won the World Cup and first Celtic then Manchester United won the European Cup, shifting the hegemony of football from Iberia  and Italy to North Europe where it stayed with Holland and Germany domination. Bobby Charlton played in the World Cup and European Cup winning side and epitomised the success of that epoch.

Whilst England has produced talented midfielders since Charlton – one thinks of Colin Bell, Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney – none had  Charlton’s ability to get the ball, glide into open space and deliver a fierce shot. His record of England’ s top scorer with 44 goals still stands. Rooney may pass this  but if he does it so it will be in many more games.

It’s often said that football was more innocent. It was good to see unsponsored shirts, a swaying standing crowd. who played sensible prices, football matches beginning  at 3 pm on a Saturday, but lets not forget hooliganism, racism- the black Leeds forward Albert Johanesson leaving the pitch at Goodison Park Everton  in tears after sustained racial abuse and inadequate stadium security and safety making Heysel and Bradford accidents waiting to happen.

As for the World Cup it’s sometimes forgotten that England had the advantage of playing every game at Wembley. George Cohen, whom I met through Alan Tanner, said it was a sapping pitch that England’s greater fitness could exploit. Charlton rightly said that Argentina was the best team after England in the World Cup. George said Alf Ramsay respected them after the Little World Cup of 1964. It’s forgotten that England committed the more fouls in the 1-0 England victory and to this day Argentina, who returned as heroes, believe there was a stitch up on the refereeing. Ken Aston of England officiated in the 4-0 German defeat of Uruguay and Hans Kreitlein in the England victory over Argentina.

I also had the privilege of getting to know Ken Wolstenholme. He was a lovely warm Lancastrian. His take on the controversial third goal was that the greatest success a forward can achieve is to score in a World Cup and Roger Hunt was a supreme poacher. Yet you can see him wheeling way when he could have scored as he was sure the ball was over the line.

Even though  nostalgia over England ‘s only trophy can produce inaccuracies it was nonetheless a warm experience to relive 1966. The trouble is we do it so often that we cannot emulate Germany that went on to dominate World Cup and  Euro football for the next 50 years.

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About Rex Mitchell

Rex Mitchell is a Brentford supporter from childhood. This has not prevented him having a distinguished Fleet Street career as a sports reporter and later deputy football editor. A widower, Rex is a bit of a bandit golfer off his official handicap of 20 and is currently chairman of his local bowls club. More Posts