Anorak | In 1966 England Won The World Cup In The Face Of Injury, Prison And Death

In 1966 England Won The World Cup In The Face Of Injury, Prison And Death

by | 10th, June 2010

ED Barrett look out for his blog on Anorak soon looks back to the World Cup team of 1966 and how four of the best players in the country were unable to play because of prison, injury and death:

PUBLIC opinion is fickle at the best of times, and never more so that where the national football team is concerned. So now that the “golden generation” has been recast as a bunch of no-hopers, it’s worth reconsidering the golden past what little there is of it.

The class of 1990 written off after their dreadful first game against Ireland, lest we forget are usually cited as the best of recent times. They even paraded in an open top bus when they arrived home. Since then, history has been rewritten to the extent that their spirited but slightly fortunate stumble to a semi-final is now portrayed as an imperious march to football Valhalla. For evidence, look no further than the recent feature film, One Night in Turin). At Italia 90, losing became the new winning.

Connoisseurs will point to the 1970 World Cup. While most England squads are lucky to have any truly world-class players, this one had no fewer than three: Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore and Bobby Charlton. Some might add Alan Ball, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters to that list. The 1970 side contained key players from the 1966 triumph (Banks, Moore, Charlton, Hurst, Peters) with the addition of classy defenders like Terry Cooper and Brian Labone. They lost narrowly to the great Brazil of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino and the rest, and then imploded against West Germany in the quarter-finals. In mitigation, they should have won both games. But they didn’t. And in 1970, when reigning world champions lost, they lost. No bus parade for them.

The truth is that there was only one golden year: 1966. And the irony is that although we harp on about it endlessly, that team’s achievement is nevertheless associated with home advantage, pragmatic tactics, and the mother of all lucky refereeing decisions. All of which is slightly unfair on the boys of ’66.

Alf Ramsey’s “wingless wonders” weren’t pretty, and they have been blamed for introducing a negative philosophy and an obsession with “work rate” that dogged English football for decades. But whatever their faults, they were the only England team in history to win a major tournament. What’s more, they won it with two of their best players suited and booted on the touchline.

Today we bemoan injuries to Beckham and Ferdinand, and fret about keeping Rooney fit and card-free. Yet the boys of ’66 overcame obstacles every bit as serious. And when people bang on about “destiny”, it’s worth remembering the players who seemed destined for international immortality only to be denied their historic opportunity.

The fact is that on 30 July 1966, four of the best English players of their generation were rendered unavailable for selection by a combination of injury, prison and death.

Peter Swan is remembered for the betting scandal that earned him a small amount of cash and a four-month jail sentence. Before his downfall, however, he played 19 consecutive games in central defence for England and was told by Ramsay that he was “top of the list”. By 1966 he was out of prison, but out of football too thanks to a lifetime ban that wasn’t lifted until 1972. (Had Swan been crocked, Brian Labone could have stepped in if he hadn’t already withdrawn from the squad in order to get married.)

Jimmy Armfield is familiar today as an eloquent broadcaster and journalist. But in 1962, he was declared to be the best right-back in the world, and then voted the best in Europe for three consecutive seasons until injury struck. Armfield was included in the

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Posted: 10th, June 2010 | In: Sports Comments (7) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink