1966 World Cup (Background and Preparations)
In August 1960, only ten years since first entering the FIFA World Cup – a competition initially dismissed by the FA, which refused invitations to enter the first three tournaments in the 1930s – England was chosen to host the 1966 World Cup Finals, ahead of Spain and West Germany.
A then-record 70 nations entered the 1966 qualifying competition, although that number was significantly reduced by an African boycott, in protest at the continent not having an automatic qualification place. There were 14 places available in qualifying, assigned as follows: nine from Europe, three from South America, one from Asia and one from North and Central America. Hosts England and holders Brazil entered directly. The final stages were divided into four groups of four teams each, with the top two nations from each group advancing to the quarter-finals. The knock-out stages were to be decided by the drawing of lots if teams were level after 90 minutes and a further 30 minutes of extra-time, but fortunately this was not necessary.
The 1966 World Cup draw, the first ever to be televised, took place on January 6th at the Royal Garden Hotel in London. Seeded teams England, West Germany, Italy and holders Brazil were alongside debutants North Korea and Portugal, both of whom had a significant impact on the finals. Another innovation was the introduction of the first tournament mascot – the competition was promoted by World Cup Willie, a lion sporting a Union Jack shirt. Venues were spread across the UK, from London to the North-East: the grounds used were Wembley, White City, Old Trafford, Villa Park, Hillsborough, Goodison Park, Ayresome Park and Roker Park. England were drawn in Group One, based at Wembley, together with France, Mexico and Uruguay.
Alf Ramsey, England manager since 1963, had been shaping his side and playing system ahead of the tournament; he developed a hard-working and pragmatic style, ignoring criticism that his team lacked flair and insisting they would win the World Cup. A 3-2 defeat at home to Austria in an October 1965 friendly was followed by ten games undefeated, only one of which was drawn. A notable victory came in February 1966, a win against West Germany at home, when the starting line-up included nine of the players who would lift the World Cup. After beating Yugoslavia 2-0 at Wembley in early May, at the end of June the team embarked on a three-match tour of Scandinavia before a 1-0 win in Poland on 5 July completed England’s warm-up fixtures. Ramsey then prepared his side for the tournament’s opening game.
There was drama before a ball was kicked, when the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen in March from Westminster’s Methodist Central Hall, where it was on display as part of a stamp exhibition. Though the police followed up a ransom demand, and even made an arrest, the trophy was missing for a week before it was discovered by Pickles, a mixed Collie dog, while out walking in Upper Norwood, South London. His owner David Corbett collected a reward of nearly £5,000, while Pickles was named ‘Dog of the Year’, appeared on various TV programmes, and was invited to the England team’s celebratory banquet. Before then, the 1966 World Cup kicked off on Monday 11 July with the opening game between the hosts and Uruguay – a dour goalless draw which gave no hint of what was to come.