After 1966 we ignored foreign football. Didn’t do us no harm. Except it did

After England’s Wembley victory on Saturday 30 July 1966, I was convinced that was it.


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I am looking forward this summer to all the celebrations, supplements, street parties and World Cup Willie memories marking 50 years since England won. Gives me a chance to boast once again. I was there.

I was also there, sitting in Abbey Road, while the Beatles were creating Sgt Pepper. Another thing I’m always boasting about. Two events in the Sixties when our lads done good, topped the world.

I remember at the time, in the stadium and in the studio, wondering what it would mean – would the effects of each be everlasting?

Although I loved the Beatles dearly, I didn’t see them surviving another ten years. It was freakish, in a way, that John, Paul and George should have grown up together in one small corner of England and turned out world beaters. Yet surely it would happen again. Other groups would be bound to emerge, create better songs, sell more records, have more influence. In 1966, clever clogses were saying that the Beatles would soon fade. They thought that themselves.

It never happened. Michael Jackson now and again sold more records. Bob Marley was a brilliantly creative songwriter, but his output was nothing like that of the Beatles. The further away we seem to get from the Beatles, the bigger they become. They have left more than 100 songs that will be remembered as long as we have the breath to hum the tunes.

After England’s Wembley victory on Saturday 30 July 1966, I was convinced that was it. I still have my programme as well as my ticket for the South Stand – Entrance 36, Row 9, Seat 37, price £5, one of the best in the house. I got it through my friend James Bredin, now dead, the boss of Border Television, a thriving little regional ITV station, now also deceased.

Oh, it was so exciting, even though it went by in a flash and I was never aware of the Soviet linesman allowing Geoff Hurst’s second goal, nor the Germans going mad; but it didn’t matter anyway, as Geoff then got a third. Did we call him Geoff in 1966? Seems overly familiar. Perhaps we all shouted: “Come on, Mr Hurst,” or: “Please hit the ball, sir.”

We weren’t thinking normally that day, or that year, or the next decade. There was pride, of course, but allied with smugness and superiority. Had we not invented the game? Had we not taught these foreign Johnnies all they knew? It was only our right, our entitlement.

No need to worry about these funny foreign ways any more, or their strange formations, silly defences and strange tactics. When I first heard of catenaccio, I really did think it was some sort of Italian frothy coffee.

For the next few decades we ignored all the new ideas, new playing systems that were being introduced on the Continent, and continued our own sweet ways, which generally meant hoofing it upfield. We scoffed at the notion of footballers watching their diets. Steak and chips before the game had been good enough for Dixie Dean. Ten pints after the game was normal. Didn’t do us no harm.

Then there were the strange boots, more like slippers or ballet shoes, as worn by Johnny Foreigner. How could you play in them? Lightweight boots had been around for a long time, and they were shunned by us. They were always described as “Continental boots”. It was if we were still trying to distance ourselves from this poncey notion.

We became convinced that Continentals and South Americans had nothing to teach us, that black players were slow and lazy, couldn’t stand the cold, didn’t like it up ’em, so we lumbered on in our lumpen ways. No need to try new things, reorganise, renew. Bugger that lot. English football is best. And always will be.

As I went home that summer Saturday in 1966, glowing with pride, I was sure it was just the beginning. We’d go on to win loads of World Cups, dominate world football, show them how to do it. I now can’t see it happening again. Not in my lifetime. What’s left of it . . . 

Hunter Davies’s new memoir, The Co-Op’s Got Bananas!, is published by Simon & Schuster

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 21 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Shakespeare 400 years Iater