BY PAUL McPARLAN – @pmaccap
With the fiftieth anniversary of England’s solitary World Cup win looming large, the difficulty for most writers is to try to offer the public a different perspective on the events of 1966, rather than churn out the same stories and clichés that have become engrained in our collective psyche. This book is an innovative attempt to analyse the events of 1966 from a different perspective.
Ian Passingham is the author and by happy coincidence, he was born in 1966. He has worked in sports journalism for over thirty years and the fact that he is a West Ham fan gives him an obvious interest in this event. Remember, we are constantly reminded that West Ham won the World Cup or is that another cliché?
I was a mere ten years old when the World Cup came to England and I was lucky enough to see all five games that took place at Goodison Park. In addition, I collected the World Cup Willie merchandise, devoured the newspapers constantly, spent all my pocket money on World Cup publications and watched the other matches on television. I am, therefore, a hard person to please when it comes to reading histories of 1966.
The author has chosen to bring the unravelling of the World Cup forward to the present day and asks us to “relive the finals as if they were happening today”. This is a challenging task and perhaps not everyone would be prepared to rediscover the games as if they were actually taking place today. To give the events a contemporary feel, the author uses imaginary tabloid type headlines to relay the match reports, player quotes, managerial comments and the gossip between match days. As he has experience with the tabloid press, he has extensive knowledge of how to write eye catching headlines.
This is not a retrospective view of the World Cup. There are no in depth analyses of the events and the author has not interviewed any fan, manager or player to discover their views on the competition. The language of the headlines and reports used reflects modern terminology so that the partners of the players are referred to as WAGs, a term that was certainly not prevalent in 1966. Even today, I am sure neither Norma Charlton nor Vicky Ramsey would consider themselves to be such.
The author has undertaken painstaking research of the events and match reports as covered by the press at the time. I was glad to see that such long forgotten publications such as the Daily Sketch and the Sheffield Morning Telegraph are listed in the bibliography and it is reassuring to see the regional views regarding the World Cup being given such prominence.
There is a well thought out and planned structure to this book. Firstly, he attempts to put the finals in context by giving a detailed historical background to the competition, by analysing how the World Cup developed without England from 1930 – 1950 and then a review of England’s performances in the World Cup since 1950. So when Alf Ramsey proclaimed that “We can win the World Cup” you can understand the scepticism with which it was greeted.
England’s progress towards the World Cup under Ramsey is scrutinised and the use of imaginary tabloid newspaper type headlines is quite effective, especially when “Ball faces the boot” after being sent off in an Under 23 game. The analysis of the prospects of each of the sixteen contenders has a World Cup magazine special feel to it. As regards the pre-tournament favourites, we discover that with Argentina we can expect “no-nonsense defending” whereas Brazil have “a number of players who may be past their best”. Uruguay have a defence that is a “tough nut to crack” but West Germany have “added real creativity to their side”. If Gianni Rivera hits form, then “this could be Italy’s year.”
Every World Cup game is given its own factual report and many feature after match quotes from players and managers. Some of the managerial quotes are astonishing in their naivety. For example, the Italian manager Fabbri says of his star player Gianni Rivera:” Rivera was not impressive….and a man cannot keep his place purely on reputation”. Otto Gloria, manager of Portugal also states: ”This is the worst Brazilian team I have seen!”. Media training courses were not a prerequisite in those days
Looking through modern eyes, it is quite educational to realise how primitive some of the conditions were for the teams. North Korea are staying in a hotel, three hundred yards from the runway at Teesside airport. The Italians were lodging in student halls at the Durham County School of Agriculture. The Argentinian team in a hotel near a major thoroughfare in Birmingham centre where they were constantly kept awake by the noise of cars. Most teams conducted training sessions at local non-league grounds or student playing fields. Two of the teams, Switzerland and Chile were part timers!
The condition of many of the stadiums was also a concern. The Minister for Sport, Denis Howell had to plead for £50,000 to upgrade facilities at the grounds and received media criticism for wasting money. However, his response,” I keep telling officials in Whitehall that there is a hell of a lot of England north of Watford”, still holds true today. Ticket sales were a constant concern during the competition, many had bought blocks of tickets to get to the final but did not bother attending the group stage games. Actual attendances were as low as thirteen thousand for some games.
This is one of a number of themes that the author brings to our attention. During the finals, FIFA often intervened to reprimand certain players and teams for their unsporting behaviour, even Bobby Charlton was warned as to his future conduct after the Argentina game. Argentina was even threatened with expulsion from the contest and being banned from the 1970 World Cup. Drug testing was used for the first time and poor Jackie Charlton was selected four times for this procedure! Many of the South Americans felt strongly that there had been a consistent bias shown against them, especially against European countries and were even threatening to set up their own rival World Cup and their own version of FIFA. For example, when you consider that out of five sendings off, four were South Americans who were expelled playing against West Germany, you can understand their viewpoint. As one embittered Argentinian official said” If you want to know the score of the final ask Stanley Rous”
The newspaper coverage takes on a greater intensity as the final approaches and a hitherto sceptical nation starts to come to terms with the fact that England might actually win the trophy. Plans are hurriedly made for some type of victory parade and the Queen confirms that she will be attending. There is also a demand from the press that the owner of Pickles should receive a ticket for the final. (He did not).
I enjoyed reading the aftermath chapters and how the players did struggle at time to cope with their new status as national heroes. Roger Hunt was quite stunned to find a crowd of over six hundred fans waiting for him outside his house in Warrington. However, the Argentinian press described England as,” Lucky Pirates”.
As stated previously, this is a well-researched book with only some minor errors. The Bulgarians complained about not being allowed to train on Chester City’s ground, although they were known as Chester until 1983. Also the author gets himself into a mathematical muddle when talking about Ramsey’s World Cup squad hopefuls. He states that the original squad of forty was cut down to twenty eight although fifteen were dropped! In fact, by this time the squad was effectively reduced to twenty-seven as Brian Labone had withdrawn and five players were then subsequently dropped not six.
The technique of asking the reader to imagine that the World Cup is taking place today may not be to everyone’s liking but the book is incredibly well researched and reveals a host of facts and details which will add to your understanding of how the competition developed. As the years have passed since England’s victory, this book provides a unique opportunity to understand how England progressed from losing 5-2 to France to winning the World Cup in less than four years. As Harold Wilson said to Sir Alf “It’s only once in a lifetime you know”