World Cup 1966: When Football Came Home


36 years and eight tournaments in the World Cup finally arrived in the country that founded the beautiful game. England ’66 would make legends of the eventual victors, but their win was far from simple and the tournament not without controversy, so here it is the story of when football came home.

The first World Cup Mascot: World Cup Willie

Pickles to the Rescue

At FIFA’s 1960 congress England were chosen to host the ’66 World Cup over Spain and West Germany. England looked a safe choice for hosting the tournament, as the ’60s rolled in heading to The Beatles homeland with a final in swinging London looked perfect. The ’66 tournament provided several innovations, notably improvements in broadcast technology meant games could be shown live, 400 million would tune in for the final. There was the first official World Cup colour documentary movie ‘Mundial 66’ and memorably the first ever World Cup mascot in the shape of ‘World Cup Willie’ designed by children’s book illustrator Reg Hoye.

The best laid plans fell into chaos on 20th March, when the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen whilst on display in Westminster Hall. An acutely embarrassed FA received a ransom note and a huge police enquiry was launched. The intrigue went on for a week, but the case was ultimately solved by man’s best friend. A dog named Pickles sniffed out a parcel under a hedge in South East London, his owner unwrapped it to find himself holding the trophy and the World Cup was saved, Pickles became a national hero.

A record 70 teams entered the tournament with ’62 runners up Czechoslovakia and semi-finalists Yugoslavia amongst those falling in qualification. Two new nations made it to the finals in North Korea and Portugal both of whom would have a major impact in England. However the entire continent of Africa boycotted the tournament due to a row over the lack of guaranteed places for African nations.

Uncertain Start for England

England may have founded football, but they were no longer its masters with none of their first four campaigns going beyond the quarter-finals. Alf Ramsey had become England manager in October 1962, his predecessor Walter Winterbottom had slipped Ramsey an ace by forcing the FA to agree to letting his successor have complete control over team selection. Ramsey had arguably the three best players his country had ever produced in goalkeeper Gordon Banks, forward Bobby Charlton who would win that year’s Ballon d’Or and captain Bobby Moore. Ramsey recognised that for the elegant Moore to influence the game going forward he needed defensive security provided by two late additions to the team in Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton.

England opened in front of 87,000 at Wembley against a tough Uruguay team. England struggled for fluency as Uruguay lead by Hoarcio Troche frustrated the hosts into a 0-0 draw. In the other group 1 game Mexico and France played out a 1-1 draw with promising young striker Enrique Borja scoring for Mexico. Uruguay then took the lead in the group with goals from Pedro Rocha and Julio Cesar Cortes enough to see off France 2-1.

With an ever critical British press out for blood Ramsey began tinkering with his team’s attack and brought Martin Peters into the side to face Mexico. England needed lift-off and after 37 minutes they got it when Bobby Charlton burst through midfield and hit a trademark 25 yard screamer which found the top corner 1-0. Mexico rarely troubled the hosts and Charlton secured the win when his throughball found Jimmy Greaves whose shot was parried straight to Roger Hunt for a 2-0 win.

Uruguay ground out a draw with Mexico to secure their passage to the last eight, England knew a win over France would guarantee winning the group and playing the knockout phase at Wembley. England controlled the game and a knockdown from Jack Charlton saw Hunt pounce to give them the lead on 38 minutes. In the second half England remained in the ascendancy and a cross from Ian Callaghan saw Hunt add his second in a 2-0 win. England were through but with sterner tests ahead Ramsey was still looking for the perfect blend in attack.

Pele helped off at Goodison Park

Brazil Suffer in Liverpool

Double champions Brazil were initial favourites to retain their title. However the draw was tough with Brazil facing Bulgaria, Portugal and Hungary. Pele was the star attraction and determined to make up for his personal disappointment in Chile four years earlier. Brazil’s squad was at the crossroads of two generations there were still double World Cup winning veterans Garrincha, Djalma Santos and Zito and there was a dynamic new talent in the shape of 21-year-old winger Jairzinho. However the final squad was picked just two weeks before their opening game leaving little time to blend the team.

Brazil would play their group games in Liverpool at Everton’s Goodison Park, starting against Bulgaria. From the outset Bulgaria’s tackling was brutal particularly on Pele. On 15 minutes Brazil’s number ten exacted retribution for a poor foul by blasting in the ensuing free kick for 1-0. Bulgaria rarely threatened and a Garrincha goal in the second half was enough for a 2-0 win. They didn’t realise it yet but that would be the last time Pele and Garrincha would play together for Brazil .

Brazil’s second opponents would be tournament dark horses Hungary. Hungary had won the 1964 Olympics where Ferenc Bene had been top scorer, Bene now formed a lethal front pairing with ’62 hero Florian Albert. There were other major talents hoping to add World Cup glory to their gold medals including rock solid defender Kalman Meszoly.

With Pele missing Brazil fell behind almost immediately to a Bene striker. Pele’s replacement Tostao quickly equalised but Brazil were disjointed in sharp contrast to their fluent opponents. Janos Farkas gave Hungary a 2-1 lead midway through the second half and a Meszoly penalty made it 3-1 and Brazil lost their first World Cup match in 12 years. Meanwhile Portugal recorded their second straight win to leave the holders on the brink of elimination.

Franz Beckenbauer’s World Cup debut

Beckenbauer’s Bow

As one legend was struggling for Brazil another was making his World Cup debut for West Germany. 20-year-old Franz Beckenbauer only made his senior Bayern Munich debut in 1965 and was now central to a vibrant West Germany team with Horst-Dieter Hoettges and Wolfgang Overath amongst the other young stars. Beckenbauer was a ball playing central defender in the mould of Bobby Moore, offering defensive security and initiating attacks. Striker Uwe Seeler playing in his third World Cup was now captain, Karl-Heinz Schnellinger provided security at the back whilst Helmut Haller offered goals.

West Germany opened up by smashing Switzerland 5-1 in Sheffield, Beckenbauer and Haller both scoring twice. The group was tough with European Champions Spain and Argentina to play. Argentina’s opening clash with Spain proved a slow burner at Villa Park with Argentina taking a second half lead through the prolific Luis Artime only for Spain to hit back within six minutes through Pirri. The last laugh belonged to Artime whose 77th minute strike proved decisive.

Spain lead by Real Madrid legend Francisco Gento got their campaign up and running by eliminating the Swiss with a come from behind win with Amanclo’s late winner preserving Spain’s hopes of progressing. A stubborn Argentina then held West Germany to a 0-0 draw. Argentina then eased past Switzerland with Artime getting the opener in a 2-0 win to seal a quarter-final spot.

The following night Spain faced West Germany, Spain needed a win to progress. A tidy finish from Josep Maria Fuste gave Spain an early. The Germans were soon level when a quickly taken throw saw Lothar Emmerich get free level on 39 minutes. The second half was tight but with six minutes left a cross from the left fell to Seeler who finished with aplomb for a 2-1 win. West Germany’s win meant they topped the group and would face Uruguay whilst Argentina would travel south to face the hosts at Wembley.

North Korea shock Italy

Shock in the North East

The ’66 draw threw up an immediate grudge match with Italy given the chance to avenge the infamous Battle of Santiago with an opener against Chile. The rematch at Sunderland’s Roker Park was unsurprisingly fraught but an early goal from Sandro Mazzola settled Italian nerves. Italy’s old nemesis Leonel Sanchez was captain for Chile but couldn’t inspire a comeback and a Paolo Barison goal in the closing minutes sealed a 2-0 win. After a barren spell at the World Cup much was expected of Italy in ’66 with the brilliant Enrico Albertosi in goal and midfield maestro Giacomo Bulgarelli two of their stars.

The other two team in Group 4 met in Middlesbrough with the Soviet Union taking on an unheralded North Korea. The Soviets were seen as contenders in ’66, they still had legendary goalkeeper Lev Yashin, striker Igor Chislenko and the most complete midfielder in the tournament in Valery Voronin. The match went as expected with the Soviets proving too good, Eduard Malofeyev scoring twice in a 3-0 win.

Next up Chile faced North Korea and a Ruben Marcos penalty gave Chile the first half lead. It looked like that would be enough for Chile. In the 88th minute North Korea launched a hopeful long freekick into Chile’s box, the South Americans failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to Pak Seung-zin who lashed home a shot from the edge of the box for 1-1 and a surprise point. That result looked mutually beneficial for the two group heavyweights who clashed the following night. After a cagey first half Chislenko picked up the ball on the edge of the Italian box and smashed a stunning left foot shot into the top corner to give the Soviets a 1-0 win, guaranteeing them a quarter-final berth.

Despite the loss Italy were still expected to progress with their last game against North Korea. Regardless of the political sensitivities the people of Middlesbrough had taken the spirited North Koreans to their hearts, when they stepped out for their game at Ayresome Park they were very much the home side. Italy manager Fabbri Edmondo made a huge call for the game, picking Bulgarelli despite the midfielder suffering from injury. In the early exchanges Bulgarelli aggravated the problem in a challenge with Seung-zin. Italy’s captain left on a stretcher and in the era before substitutes Italy were forced to carry on with ten men.

The decisive moment came just before half-time when Ha Yong-won headed forward a poor clearance into the path of Pak Doo-ik who allowed the ball to run across his body and smashed a low drive beyond Albertosi’s dive 1-0. Italy desperately pushed forward in the second half but North Korea were resolute, all Italy could muster was a pair of late chances for Mariano Perani neither of which he could take and perhaps the biggest World Cup shock ever belonged to North Korea. The following night Chile were beaten by the Soviets and North Korea were through, the humiliated Italians flew home to be greeted by a torrent of rotten tomatoes at Rome Airport.

Eusebio takes flight

The Portuguese Pele

After defeat to Hungary, Brazil needed to win their last group game to advance but were boosted by the return of Pele. Standing in their way were Portugal and there own star striker who was making quite an impression in England. Eusebio had been part of the Benfica team that had taken down Real Madrid to win the European Cup, he’d scored his first World Cup in Portugal’s 3-1 win over Bulgaria. Eusebio combined great technique with unerring pace and a prolific right foot, the complete striker.

Portugal had the better of the opening exchanges with Eusebio a constant threat, but Brazil started to settle only to see Pele hacked down by an appalling knee high tackle, the rough tackling didn’t relent. At the other end Eusebio skipped down the left and his cross was parried straight to Antonio Simoes who nooded in. After 27 minutes it was 2-0 when Eusebio leapt highest to head home, Brazil’s grip on the World Cup was loosening.

The second half saw Brazil force the pace, but the agricultural challenges continued to frustrate them whilst Euesbio threatened on the break. Just when the match seemed lost Brazilian defender Rildo struck on 73 minutes to half the deficit. Five minutes from time Eusebio struck the killer blow, lashing home an unstoppable drive 3-1. Brazil were out through a combination of tough tackling and the brilliance of the man being dubbed ‘The Portuguese Pele.’

In the quarter-final Portugal faced surprise package North Korea, could Portugal really go the way of Italy? It seemed they could when Pak Seung-zin smashed in the opener just a minute into the game. Portugal goalkeeper Jose Pereira’s mistake saw the ball drop nicely for Li Dong-woon to make it 0-2 after 22 minutes. Three minutes later Yang Seung-kook skipped through the Portuguese penalty area to slot home and incredibly it was 0-3, Portugal were stunned.

Cometh the hour, cometh Eusebio. North Korea got careless and Portugal’s main man was on hand to make it 1-3 on 27 minutes. North Korea were forced onto the backfoot and the shots began to rain in on their goal. On 42 minutes Eusebio’s quick feet saw him slip a tackle and he was brought down for a penalty which he picked himself up to despatch, 2-3 at half time.

The second half began with a wave of intense Portuguese pressure and on 50 minutes a throughball slid Eusebio in and he fired home the equaliser. Four minutes later a rash challenge in the box gifted Portugal a penalty and Euesbio was on hand to score his fourth 4-3. North Korea were out of gas and Eusebio was putting on a clinic, a late header from Jose Augusto made absolutely sure of a semi final place and a 5-3 win.

Bobby Charlton pushes England forward

The Wingless Wonders Take Flight

Alf Ramsey had yet to name an unchanged team and for England’s quarter final against Argentina he had an enforced change with Centre forward Jimmy Greaves ruled out of the quarter-final with a shin injury. Ramsey opted for the in-form Geoff Hurst to replace Greaves whilst recalling midfielder Alan Ball. Bringing in Ball left England without a natural winger and a trio of attacking midfielders, leading to the nickname ‘The Wingless Wonders.’

Argentina began the game aggressively as England looked to find their fluency. German referee Rudold Kreitlein cautioned Argentina captain Antonio Rattin for an over the top challenge on Bobby Charlton. Rattin responded vocally and Kreitlein sent him off, Rattin refused to leave and was eventually escorted from the pitch claiming conspiracy and promptly showed his irritation by sitting on the Wembley red carpet and wrangling a corner flag sporting the Union Jack.

England continued to dominate the ball and eventually Argentina cracked when a cross from Peters found Hurst who powered in the header for a 1-0 win. At fulltime the traditional swapping of shirts was cut short by Ramsey who described Argentina as ‘Animals’ lighting a football rivalry between the two nations that would echo down the decades.

West Germany continued their impressive form in the quarter-finals with Haller giving them the vital early breakthrough against Uruguay. The South Americans hung on gamely but West Germany’s superior quality told with Beckenbauer scoring the crucial second before Seeler and Haller added gloss to the 4-0 scoreline.

Meanwhile the Soviet Union took on the artistic Hungarians in Sunderland, a handling mistake by Hungarian goalkeeper Jozsef Gelei was pounced by Chislenko to give the Soviets an early 1-0 lead. A goal from Valeriy Porkuyan at the start of the second half made it 2-0. Bene soon pulled a goal back for Hungary with a third of the game left to play, but try as they might Hungary couldn’t find a way through and the Soviets were in the final four.

Tension Mounts

West Germany faced the Soviet Union at Goodison Park for a place in the final. West Germany created the early running and a flowing counter attack saw Haller race through and smash the ball past Yashin for a first half lead. The game remained close until Chislenko’s poor challenge on Sigi Held saw him dismissed. Yashin was keeping his country in the tournament but on 67 minutes a corner was cleared only to Beckenabauer who drove in from the edge of the box for 2-0. Forced to gamble the Soviets found some hope in the dying minutes with a disputed goal from Porkuyan but it wasn’t enough and West Germany were heading to Wembley.

With a settled line up now in place England faced Portugal in front of 95,000 at Wembley. The game brought together the two hardest shots in the tournament in Charlton and Eusebio. England went on the attack and on 30 minutes Hunt burst into the penalty area, his shot was saved but fell straight to Charlton who stroked home 1-0. Eusebio was being tracked by Stiles but he got free in the box to unleash a powerful drive which Banks pushed away. The game remained close but with 10 minutes left England got the crucial breakthrough, Hurst picked up a hopeful ball into the box and cleverly laid it back to Charlton to lash home for 2-0. Just as England seemed to have punched their ticket to the final, Portugal struck back when Jack Charlton handled in the England box and Eusebio sent Banks the wrong way from the penalty spot. England however hung on to book a home final as Eusebio left Wembley in tears. The brilliant Portuguese forward went on to score his ninth goal of the tournament in the third placed playoff to help Portugal into third place, sadly he would never grace the World Cup again.

Hurst makes history

They Think It’s All Over…

England and West Germany walked out of the Wembley tunnel on 30th July to play a classic final. Ramsey took another huge gamble, identifying Beckenbauer as the biggest threat he opted to deploy Bobby Charlton to man mark him from deep. What Ramsey didn’t know was his counterpart Helmut Schon had decided to deploy Beckenbauer as a man marker on Charlton meaning the two best players on the pitch cancelled each other out.

West Germany settled quickly and Held tested Banks from long range. On 12 minutes West Germany got their reward for an enterprising start when a low drive from Haller put them ahead. England went on the front foot and on 18 minutes Moore floated in a free-kick which Hurst rose unchallenged to nod in for 1-1. Both team created further chances but at halftime it remained level.

England were in the ascendancy in the second half but found West Germany’s defence a tough obstacle. On 77 minutes a corner from Ball was met by a Hurst shot from the edge of the box that found its way to Peters who tapped home for 2-1. England searched for the killer third goal with Ball’s probing a thorn in West Germany’s side but the goal wouldn’t come. West Germany weren’t done though and in the 89th minute they won a free kick on the edge of England’s box. Emmerich’s attempt struck George Cohen, rebounded to Held whose shot hit a teammate, deflected across the box and was scrambled home by Wolfgang Weber 2-2 and extra time.

Ramsey told his charges they had to win the game all over again and Ball went close as England pressed for the winner. Eleven minutes into extra time a Cohen cross found Hurst who swivelled and smashed the ball onto the under side of the crossbar, the lurking Hunt turned away in celebration but the ball had rebounded out not into the goal. Referee Gottfried Dienst was unsure if the ball had crossed the line turned to linesman Tofiq Bahramov who had a clearer view, after consultation Dienst signalled goal and England were ahead.

As the minutes ticked down England looked for the fourth but in the closing minutes West Germany again pushed for an equaliser, England regained possession and as it seemed the referee was about to blow for full-time he instead waved play on, Moore picked out the unmarked Hurst who ran forward and blasted a shot high into the near corner 4-2. England were champions as commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme uttered the immortal phrase “Some people are on the pitch they think it’s all over…it is now!”

England celebrate at Wembley

The Legacy

’66 remains the high water mark for England, a moment that has sometimes been a millstone around the neck of later England teams. Hurst remains the only player ever to score a hat-trick in the final, his second goal became known as the ‘Wembley Tor’ and debate still continues as to if the ball crossed the line. That does a disservice to England who were a great team and worthy winners with Charlton among the brightest stars of the tournament alongside Beckenbauer and Eusebio. The roughhousing of Pele in the group games lead to changes to protect skillful players. ’66 will always be England’s tournament but the advances in TV coverage made the final a truly live global event took the World Cup to new heights of worldwide popularity.

Jonathan Fearby

Jonathan Fearby is a United Kingdom native. Prior to joining The Athletes Hub as a staff writer, he founded and operated Football England.

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