England's World Cup 50 years on - Shropshire remembers

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Jamaica was preparing to host its first Commonwealth Games in Kingston. Thirty-seven competitors took part in Ludlow Angling Club's open competition. And, in a small square at the top of the Shropshire Star's back page, there was a passing reference to the fact England had just won the World Cup.

By today's standards, press coverage of England's World Cup win 50 years ago today was distinctly low-key.

But while the World Cup is today the flagship of the sporting calendar, back in 1966 it was still really in it infancy. England, along with the other home nations, had refused to enter the tournament until 1950, ostensibly because it meant playing against their wartime enemies, but probably more down to resentment of foreign interference in what was still perceived as a British game.

Paul Booth, 72, former director of AFC Telford:

Paul Booth, 72, was at the 1966 World Cup final and has kept his programme

He was just a young man of 22 when he saw England storm to victory at Wembley Stadium.

But the memories of that day have stuck with Paul Booth for 50 years – and he even has his original programme.

Now in his 70s, Mr Booth says being a part of the World Cup Final was a day he will never forget.

He said: "I was about 22 at the time and I was working in London. I had a season ticket to Wembley so I saw all 10 matches which guaranteed me a ticket for the final.


"I would have to say it was one of the most memorable days of my life, I can't really put it above my wedding but it was definitely in the top five."

Not only a special day for him, Mr Booth said the whole country was behind the team in the run-up to the match and everyone was overjoyed when the team actually brought home the cup.

Mr Booth said: "It was great, England hadn't necessarily been expected to get into the final but there was a huge impetus behind the team. The spectators helped to carry them through.

"After the match I went to the hotel where the team came out with the trophy, I think it was in Kensington, and I celebrated well into the night. The whole country was behind the team and Alf Ramsay and we were all hoping that they would win, which they did."


An avid sports fan, Mr Booth is a former director of AFC Telford and has worked as chairman of the trustees of the Rotary Clubs of Telford & Wrekin Trust Fund for a number of years, regularly involved with the borough's Tree of Light campaign. The trust handles donations made to the Rotary and puts it towards good use by charities.

Mike Swales, 81, Bridgnorth Walk's oldest member 2016, Ludlow Road, Bridgnorth:

"I sat there with my two boys watching it, they were three and just a newborn. We had a black and white telly in those days and I used to watch games at the Molineux regularly as I was a keen football fan. The players I had watched at Molineux were actually playing in the match. It was a brilliant brilliant show."

Miles Kenny, 65, former Mayor of Shrewsbury:

"I was 15-years-old boarding at a school of 500 boys in Repton, Derbyshire. We weren't allowed televisions so we were all huddled around the transistor radio. We were very excited about the game; to be listening to the Cup Final on the radio was a really big deal. There had been a big build up to the match but there hadn't been the expectation we have nowadays. The team thought they ought to win and went out to win but there was a different ethos around the game. We had to turn our transistor off halfway through the match as they weren't allowed on past a certain time so missed the winning goal. We only learned about it the next day. You had to have a great deal of imagination to follow the game on the transistor radio. So when we found out England had won we couldn't believe it and all the other boys in the school were really excited. "

Sam Evans, 75, retired newspaper editor, Green End, Oswestry:

"We were watching at home, myself and my wife and the two eldest children. It was in extra time and in the final few minutes when the phone started to ring.

"I left it ring and ring and ring – I couldnt believe there was someone not watching the match – but eventually I had to answer it. It was my boss telling my that in all the excitement of the game he had forgotten that he was going on holiday and that I would be in charge for the week.

"In all the excitement of the match he had forgotten about his holiday and the family he was doing a house swap with were sitting on the drive waiting to get into his house.

"When England scored the final goal we were all jumping about, it was a sporting moment that will never be rivalled."

Charles Roberts, 79, retired businessman and restauranteur from Knockin:

"I was in the main stand at Wembley in an atmosphere I had never experienced before – and never will again. It was out-of-this-world. I was a director of Altringham Football Club and I was given two tickets for the final. I took my friend Eric with me. The game was hectic, end-to-end stuff and I really thought at one time we had thrown it away. But the English players were heroic and when that final goal went in Eric and I just looked at each other and hugged. You would have thought we were lovers. Everyone hugged, it went around the whole row.

"No-one wanted to leave Wembley, everyone stayed savouring the atmosphere. I have been to some big games since, and nothing has come close.

"I often think of the surviving players from that cup final and wonder what they think of the players today."

Peter Taunton, 70, Newport Town Crier:

"It was much the same as you get today when a big match is going to take place. But in 1966, everybody seemed to have a feeling that this was our year. When we won, it was euphoria. Everybody went absolutely mad – they were all up in the air.

"It was an amazing atmosphere. I can't understand, looking back, how winning a football match could cause the whole country to be like it was. Even people who weren't football fans were up in the air. People who'd never seen a match in their life were celebrating. They were caught up in it all.

"I think it could have been the characters of the players. They were all big characters. They were all so well known. Today everything is instant and you can see it all online, but then you didn't have any of that and they were still really well known."

George Bratton, of the Market Drayton branch of the Royal British Legion:

"It was the year my son was born and also the England football team went and won the World Cup. It must have been a sign as Simon went on to be very good at football and was very successful at the Market Drayton Tigers football club. Everyone watched the World Cup Final – it was a great day. It was a brilliant game and I watched it in one of the pub's in Market Drayton. The atmosphere was great."

But Dil Porter, emeritus professor of sports history at De Montford University in Leicester, says there was also a feeling that Britain was falling out of love with football. Two World Wars had played havoc with the professional game, and many young men had grown up in an environment where football was not a major priority.

While Madeley-born Billy Wright had injected a bit of glamour into both the Wolves and England sides of the 1950s, football seemed to be a game that was in decline. Attendances began to dwindle, and there was nothing like the media attention which the sport generates today.

"I don't think there was a lot of flag waving until the quarter-final and semi-final stage," says Porter.

Of course, the fact that the World Cup was being held in England for the first time was still a big deal, and the Star did its bit to drum up support with an eight-page colour supplement to mark the occasion. On the front was an aerial view of Villa Park, which hosted the Group 2 games, encircled by the 16 flags of the nations taking part, with the tournament mascot – a cartoon lion called World Cup Willie – apparently leaping out of the ground. The pun-masters worked over time, with headlines profiling the "The 'Beefy' men from Argentina", and Brazil's "tough nuts to crack". The Chile team were described as "Cool customers" (think about it).

There was also some bemusement at how seriously the North Koreans had taken their preparations.

"All their players are unmarried, they have been banned from smoking and drinking, and for the past 18 months have all been in bed by 10pm and up again for training at 6am," it was reported. There was also a picture of 31-year-old winger Han Bong Jin, who looked more like a provincial Communist Party official than a creative playmaker. For all the mirth about the North Koreans – who announced their arrival by singing nationalistic songs with gusto on the train to Middlesbrough, they proved to be the surprise package of the tournament. The highlight of their campaign was a shock 1-0 win over Italy, which took them into the quarter finals, which was the equivalent of, say, England losing to Iceland.

While a cartoon lion was the official mascot for the tournament, it should really have been a dog. Four months before the tournament began, the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen from a public exhibition at Westminster Central Hall during a church service. A panicked FA secretly produced a copy of the trophy, but in the end it was Pickles who saved the day. Seven days after it went missing, the border collie found the trophy at the bottom of a suburban garden hedge in Upper Norwood, South London.

BBC1 screened the half-hour opening ceremony ahead of the first game, while ITV moved Coronation Street forward by 35 minutes – as depicted by an angry-looking Ena Sharples on the Star's TV page – to allow the first match to be shown.

There was none of the clamouring for tickets that proceeds today's World Cup competitions.

This was the era before cut-price flights, and hoards of overseas fans colonising the host nations. There were no telephone hotlines or websites allocating tickets months in advance, and there were not many touts selling tickets on the black market for extortionate prices – not until the latter stages, anyway. You wanted to watch England's opening game at Uruguay? You just turned up on the day.

Many probably wished they hadn't bothered, though. What was supposed to have been a clash of the Titans turned out to be something of a damp squib. Three years earlier, England manager Alf Ramsey had nonchalantly declared "We will win the World Cup", but few people who turned out for the dour goalless draw at Wembley would have been convinced.

Ramsey tried to paint a positive picture.

"I am disappointed with the result, but not the performance," he said after the game. "I still believe England are able to win the World Cup."

Injuries picked up by Alan Ball and Bobby Charlton in the opening match also dampened the mood, but England picked up, beating both Mexico and France 2-0 to finish top of Group 1 and set up a mouthwatering quarter-final meeting with Argentina.

And it was then that home advantage began to tell.

First, Argentina's bus got lost en route to a training session at Lilleshall and then the team were denied a mandatory practice at Wembley, conveniently bumped off by a night of greyhound racing.

Ramsey caused a stir when he dropped star striker Jimmy Greaves, who had struggled for form in the group stages, and picked up a knock against France.

Without hesitation, he replaced him with the lesser-known Geoff Hurst, and the move paid off when Hurst scored the winning goal, a flicked header across the goalkeeper in the 78th minute.

The semi-final win over Portugal was a calmer affair, Bobby Charlton's double putting the hosts out of sight.

England now felt unstoppable, and the nation was well and truly gripped by World Cup fever. On July 30, 96,924 people attended the final against West Germany which drew a British television audience of 32.3 million.

"There are lots of things that stick in my mind,'' England's George Cohen said of the match. "The amount of people that came out and supported us before we got into the stadium was tremendous – you couldn't actually get to the gate to go through on the coach. It rather surprised me. I remember there was one banner saying 'Nobby Stiles for Prime Minister' and he stood a chance didn't he?!''

Ball, who had come back from his opening-game injury, was named man of the match in the final as goals from Hurst and Martin Peters meant England led 2-1 until the 89th minute, when Wolfgang Weber snatched a last-gasp equaliser.

The Shropshire Star's colour souvenir supplement. The use of colour in newspapers was rare in the 1960s.

Going into extra time, one might have expected Germany to have the upper hand, but 11 minutes in Hurst put England back in front, despite German protests that the ball had not crossed the line.

England's most famous moment, however, was yet to come as Hurst tore away on the counter-attack, with impatient fans running onto the pitch in expectation of the final whistle.

Hurst carried on, blasting a shot high into the net for his third and England's fourth to secure victory, as BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme bellowed, 'they think it's all is now!'

"People ask what it is like to win a World Cup and the first emotion is relief," said Hurst.

"People still talk to us all, they tell you they were there and tell you their stories, so you never stop enjoying it.

"The enjoyment is phenomenal. In your own profession it puts you in a different stratosphere if you are one of 11 people who have won it."

Across the land, England fans partied, with some jumping into the fountain in Trafalgar Square to celebrate the win. The World Cup had come of age. The Beautiful Game was back in vogue.

Football really had come home.

Here’s what was on the TV back in '66

England's win over West Germany may have been the greatest sporting achievement this country had ever seen, but there were some who felt the wall-to-wall football coverage had taken its toll on the general standard of television.

"With the exception perhaps of two, maybe three, of the matches in the World Cup competition, there have been some pretty barren nights on television these past three weeks," observed the Shropshire Star's respected television critic Bill Smith.

The following Monday he said he was pleased to see "Both BBC and ITV return, with a vengeance it would seem, to the business of entertainment."

Around the time of the tournament, weekday staples were the top-rated soap operas Crossroads and Coronation Street. where Julie Goodyear made her debut as Bet Lynch, and Ken Barlow was involved in an extramarital affair – some things never change.

'Till Death Us Do Part, a controversial new BBC sitcom starring Warren Mitchell as foul-mouthed bigot Alf Garnett, had Claverley schoolteacher Mary Whitehouse choking on her tea.

Much more to Mrs Whitehouse's taste would have been Cooperama, ITV's prime-time show which on the evening after the final, saw Tommy Cooper, pictured right, talking about his hilarious visit to the US.

The same evening, BBC1 had Juke Box Jury and the Dick Van Dyke show in its line-up, while BBC2 – which had been launched just two years earlier – was showing Whicker's World as its Saturday-night centrepiece.

The World Cup Final itself was screened by both BBC and ITV, as was the norm at the time, and unsurprisingly, it dominated most of the day's coverage, although ITV did manage to slip in a five-minute interview with Muhammad Ali, as well as a bit of professional wrestling.

BBC1's Grandstand coverage included a half-time marching-band display by the Band of the Royal Marines.

The Beatles and The Stones battled it out

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? That was the question dividing Britain's youth as the two bands battled for supremacy in the UK pop charts half a century ago.

Both groups were at the height of their popularity during the summer of 1966, but neither of them topped the charts during Bobby Moore's finest hour. That accolade went to one-hit wonder Chris Farlowe with a cover version of the Stones' Out Of Time. Farlowe actually covered five Stones hits, but Out of Time was the only one to achieve any notable success.

Farlowe had reached No. 1 by knocking Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames off the top spot. Fame's second chart-topping single, Get Away, had slipped to No. 4.

Also on the way down was Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks, which had topped the charts for two weeks, but had now slipped to No. 5, while The Hollies also put in an appearance with Bus Stop.

For The Beatles, 1966 was something of a landmark year. A few months before the final, the lads from Liverpool had been at No. 1 with Paperback Writer, a pretty conventional pop song which typified the style of that period. But in August the group released Revolver, an album unlike anything else that had been heard at the time, with a new emphasis on psychedelic themes. The double A-side single Yellow Submarine/Eleanor Rigby spent four weeks at top spot, and won the Ivor Novello award for the biggest-selling single of the year.

However, Revolver's success across the Atlantic was marred by a backlash over John Lennon's comments that The Beatles "were bigger than Jesus", forcing the songwriter to make a grudging apology.

The Stones had also enjoyed 10 weeks in the charts with the single Paint It Black, although this too had been marred by controversy. It was originally released by Decca as Paint It, Black – the comma being a typographical error on the record company's part – but some took offence, believing there was a racial subtext.

Pay freeze dominated the headlines

It might have been the height of summer, but the Big Freeze was the big subject on everybody's lips as Deputy Prime Minister George Brown stunned MPs with a draconian package of austerity measures.

Mr Brown – whose Labour government had been re-elected just four months earlier – announced there would be a six-month ban on pay rises, price increases or increased share dividends. The measures were described by the Shropshire Star as "one of the toughest clampdowns within living memory."

Mr Brown added that the six months which followed the mandatory pay freeze, which applied to both the private and public sectors – would need to be followed by another six months of "the severest restraint".

His statement, on the eve of the World Cup Final, was all the more surprising given that it also included provision to reverse any "unjustifiable" increases made since Wednesday the previous week.

It came as a particular blow to six million public sector workers – including doctors, busmen and railwaymen – who had been promised pay rises or reductions in hours.

If Mr Brown did not have enough on his plate, matters got worse that evening when he forgot to turn up for a live television debate with trade union leaders over the measures. When Mr Brown arrived, two hours late, he told viewers: "It has not been my week. That is the understatement of the week."

Locally, police were hunting two robbers who beat up a Shrewsbury garage owner and his wife during a late-night raid. Edward Davenport, 65, and his wife Ida, 66, were in bed at their house behind the garage at Battlefield when the attackers burst into their bedroom and attacked them with a cosh.

By this time, work on Dawley New Town – which would later become Telford – was gathering pace, with hundreds of new homes and business premises being built at Sutton Hill.

Meanwhile, Stoke City and Blackpool football legend Sir Stanley Matthews was hurt when his car crashed with a coal lorry in Leek, Staffordshire. He was taken to hospital with head injuries and three broken ribs.


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