The Foundations of Greatness: England in 1966

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It seems like an implausible scenario now, but there was once a day when the sun beat down on Wembley Stadium, an England side had just rammed four past Germany, and the World Cup was on its way to Lancaster Gate. That day was July 30, 1966, a date that every true Englander knows as well as the Battle of Hastings, the declaration of World War II, or the death of Princess Diana. It represented the completion of an impossible dream, forged by many years of toil, ingenuity and fortitude.
So, just how did England win the 1966 World Cup?

‘Four years ago’...

While Sir Alf Ramsey, the immortal England manager of 1966, was far more set in his ways, he is known for pioneering what were then unique systems of play by English standards. However, the story of England’s 1966 World Cup campaign goes much further back, and the very foundations of the ultimate victory it brought lie in its predecessor.

Though England had debuted at the World Cup twelve years earlier, little had changed by the time 1962 rolled around. England had never progressed beyond the quarterfinals by that point, never winning more than one game in any tournament. Perhaps affected by travel fatigue and the high-altitude climate of Chilean venues, Walter Winterbottom’s England squad of 1962 continued to underperform in football’s greatest tournament. There were, however, flashes of potential within the squad.

An avant-garde attacking midfielder on the pitch, and once a survivor of it, Bobby Charlton was arguably the breakout player of 1962 from an English perspective. His style of play would not be out of place even by today’s technical standards, and his presence in the squad provided a centric point around which to construct a game plan
As the dull 1950s gave way to the ‘swinging sixties’, England would eventually champion attack-minded play through the centre of the field. Ultimately, this would pave the way for the type of counter-attacking football that is considered not only a norm today, but an essential cornerstone of success.

Bobby Charlton relives 1966.

If the history of the World Cup, including the difference between England in 1962 and 1966 has taught football fanatics across the world anything, it is to avoid judging a team based on its last performance. Indeed, England have what many perceive to be an easier draw compared to 2014, but many of those who fell short four years ago have since grown, becoming both physically and psychologically stronger.

This 'growth' is also reflected within activity in World Cup betting circles, with punters often attracted by decent sums of money. Other nations have also highlighted the importance of looking ahead, rather than behind. In the last two decades, France have been a particularly erratic side, alternating between being finalists and finishing bottom at the group stage in four tournaments between 1998 and 2010.

Three Lions become hosts

Curiously, the history of international football over the past half-century could have read very differently. England and Germany were the two frontrunners to host the 1966 World Cup, at a time when World Cup hosts were selected within a public forum of the FIFA Congress. A Grimsby fish trader by the name of Arthur Drewry was FIFA president at that time, and the call was not a difficult one.

With England announced as the World Cup hosts, several stadia across the country – in traditionally working-class cities, such as Middlesbrough, Sheffield and Liverpool – received some unprecedented worldwide coverage. Though their status as hosts made England favourites, and unquestionably had a positive impact on morale, the Three Lions were not so by a huge margin
The lack of universal belief was also compounded by the fact that England had been cursed with a difficult group, containing two-time World Cup winners Uruguay, a France side thirsting for success after failing to qualify in 1962, and Mexico, an ever-present nation in the post-war era. England did themselves no favours in drawing 0-0 with Uruguay for their opening match, but in typical headstrong fashion, Ramsey persisted with a 4-3-3 for the matches against Mexico and France.

Two formations

It was the switch in formation for the knockout stages, to a near-unprecedented 4-1-3-2, that some experts believe was a major component in the World Cup win. Aside from giving England a distinct sense of unpredictability, it was the adaptability of the aforementioned Bobby Charlton during the switch that was the most crucial element of all.

How England did it

Tactics mean nothing without the right personnel to effectively execute them. Ever since the 1966 tournament, Englanders have fervently sought after comparisons between the teams of upcoming World Cups and the heroes of 1966. Today, in 2018, the current generation is no different. In Gareth Southgate, the current squad has a leading figure who – despite not being a superlatively popular pick – boasts several traits that can play in England’s favour.

What those precise traits are will differ between pundits, but he undoubtedly embodies a healthy blend of top-level experience and the open-mindedness and flexibility that only a newer breed of international manager can bring.

One Captain Fantastic

Naturally, no retrospective look at the story of 1966 would be complete without a reference to Bobby Moore. While his leadership qualities are well-documented, along with his ambidextrous ball play and composed distribution from the back, his demeanour on the pitch is often overlooked. He proved that while being vocal will always be a part of effective captaincy, his energy was reserved for being a leader rather than a commander. He rarely showed emotion on the pitch, and proved stingy with praise – only achievement, not mere effort, would be enough to earn his adulation.

1966, and what it represents to a success-starved nation, requires no further elaboration. The image of Bobby Moore, holding football’s greatest prize aloft underneath a bright blue Wembley sky, is more than just a photograph. That image is an iconic symbol of hope, a constant assertion that no matter how dire England’s chances may be, no matter how long the wait for glory, there is a hero waiting to pounce and etch the name of England into the annals of history once again.

Read 2813 times Last modified on Monday, 26 February 2018 14:30
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