English Glory: The Path to Victory in the 1966 FIFA World Cup

The 1966 FIFA World Cup is still spoken about by Englishmen as the ultimate feat in the long history of English football. It has been almost 58 years since Bobby Moore raised the coveted Gilles Rimet trophy in front of an appreciative crowd of 96,924 that packed Wembley Stadium for the final.

The 1961 legalisation of betting shops in the UK, a far cry from the online sportsbooks available today, meant that much of that Wembley support could also back their heroes at the bookies, further increasing their cause for celebration. Nowadays, it’s essential to choose the right football betting site, whereas back then, placing a bet on the winners was simpler than gambling at sites like this

As England’s wait for a second major trophy continues, much is remembered about their performance in the 1966 final against West Germany, so much so that Three Lions supporters often forget the team’s build-up to reaching it. We’ll go back in history and describe the matches that preceded that momentous final, including the 1966 warm-ups and the earlier games of the 1966 FIFA World Cup.

Warming Up for the World Cup

England manager Sir Alf Ramsey had assumed the role in 1962, replacing the long-standing Walter Winterbottom, who resigned five months after the Three Lions lost to Brazil in the 1962 World Cup quarter-finals. As such, the new manager had almost a full four-year term to identify his best players for the next tournament.

With a FIFA brief to qualifying countries to name their 22-member final squads by 3 July 1966, eight days before the start of the tournament, the first six months of 1966 included several friendly matches as England, as the tournament hosts, were exempt from the rigorous World Cup qualifying process.

England began its World Cup warm-up campaign with a 1-1 draw against Poland at Goodison Park on 5 January, with captain Bobby Moore scoring a second-half equaliser. On 23 February at Wembley, another defender, the volatile Nobby Stiles, got the only goal as the English won against West Germany in front of 75,000 fans.

April started with a trip across the Cheviot Hills to face Scotland at Hampden Park. In a thrilling match where England never lost the lead, the forwards finally found their scoring touch as goals by Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt (2), and Bobby Charlton were enough to see off the Scottish challenge 4-3. 

After the match against the Old Enemy, Alf Ramsey named his provisional 40-member squad for the World Cup, which he would have to whittle down to 22 before the tournament started. In England’s first match after the squad announcement, goals by Charlton and Jimmy Greaves against Yugoslavia at Wembley in early May led to a 2-0 win. 

Settling on a Squad and Formation

With half the friendly fixtures played, Ramsey had tested out his numerous combinations, while his new narrow formation, which saw England dubbed “The Wingless Wonders” by the press, was proving successful. On 6 May, the manager trimmed his squad to 28, with the surviving members reporting to pre-World Cup training at Shropshire’s Lilleshall National Recreation Centre on 6 June. By the time England embarked on its final European warm-up tour towards the end of June, final preparations were complete, and the squad was essentially tournament-ready. 

The tour started with a match against Finland, then moved on to Norway and Denmark before culminating with another game against Poland. Martin Peters, Roger Hunt and Bobby Charlton’s brother Jack provided the goals in a 3-0 victory over the Fins in Helsinki before England ran riot in Oslo against Norway. 

After Norway took a shock fourth-minute lead, a majestic Jimmy Greaves scored a first-half hattrick as England netted five before the interval. John Connolly and Moore had scored the others, with Greaves adding his fourth in the second half for good measure, as Ramsey’s well-oiled unit ran out 6-1 winners on the day. 

On 3 July, a much-changed England team saw off some stern resistance from Denmark in Copenhagen, as Jack Charlton and George Eastham’s goals gave the Three Lions a 2-0 win. On the same day, Alf Ramsey submitted his final 22-man squad to FIFA. 

As had been the case in January’s drawn Wembley encounter, Poland was again a worthy opponent, but England prevailed on this occasion, with Roger Hunt’s 14th-minute strike deciding the fixture. England’s 1966 warm-up friendlies had been successful, with the national team undefeated with seven wins and a draw – Ramsey and his squad would start the World Cup with every reason to feel confident.

The 1966 FIFA World Cup

England opened the 1966 FIFA World Cup with a Group 1 encounter against Uruguay in front of 87,000 expectant fans at Wembley on 11 July. Despite the successful warm-up campaign, England never got going in a somewhat dour World Cup opener, with their South American opposition stifling any chance of free-flowing play. The 0-0 final result was a disappointing start for the hosts.

Ramsey made two changes to England’s starting XI for the second Group 1 match against Mexico five days later. Martin Peters replaced Alan Ball, while Terry Paine got the nod ahead of John Connolly. The changes had the desired effect, and a much brighter England ended victorious through goals by Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt. England’s World Cup campaign was underway in earnest.

A positive result in the third and final Group 1 match-up against France on 20 July was crucial to England’s progression. With Uruguay’s draw against Mexico the previous day, a win by the hosts would see them top the group. Ian Callaghan replaced Paine in an otherwise unchanged England team, with his Liverpool teammate Roger Hunt proving the difference in the game, scoring both goals in a 2-0 win.

Following England’s progression to the knockout stages without conceding a goal, the host nation was finding favour in local betting shops. After a mediocre start, expectations were again high amongst the public for the upcoming quarter-final against Argentina. 

The Argentina encounter saw Ball restored to the England starting XI, replacing Callaghan, while Geoff Hurst made his first World Cup appearance in favour of Greaves. Hurst would score the game’s only goal, but not before an unsavoury incident that marked the beginning of a longstanding footballing rivalry between the two countries.

When the Argentinian captain, Antonio Rattín, refused to leave the field after receiving a second caution in the 35th minute, chaos ensued. After an extended period, Rattín finally departed, but not before scrunching the Union Jack-endowed corner flag, which drew an animated response from England fans. 

Hurst would seal England’s victory with a header in the 78th minute, with Ramsey preventing his players from swapping shirts with the Argentinians after the final whistle and later calling them “animals” in the press. England had reached the World Cup semi-finals, with an Eusébio-inspired Portugal lying in wait.

Many describe the 1966 World Cup semi-final at Wembley on 26 July as one of the best matches in World Cup history. Featuring an unchanged starting lineup for the first time in the tournament, England succeeded in nullifying the effect of Eusébio for large portions of the match, with a brace by Man Utd’s Bobby Charlton proving the difference. Eusébio reduced the deficit late on from the penalty spot, but it was too late for the brave Portuguese who succumbed to a 2-1 defeat.

England had reached the World Cup Final on home soil.

The rest is history. Geoff Hurst’s hattrick and another goal from Martin Peters secured England’s first and only major tournament victory with a 4-2 win against West Germany after a tense extra-time period. Manager Alf Ramsey was proclaimed a national hero and subsequently knighted, along with Hurst and Bobby Charlton. 

With the 2024 European Championships in Germany approaching, could we witness a new breed of English football heroes? As they were in the 1966 FIFA World Cup build-up, the signs are promising.

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Michael P
Los Angeles based finance writer covering everything from crypto to the markets.

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