History of the World Cup: 1966 – Soccer comes home

The July 30, 1966 file photo shows England's controversial third goal scored by Geoff Hurst (not in photo) past German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski in the World Cup final at London's Wembley Stadium. (AP)

England vanquished the Germans at Wembley in 1966 to win their only World Cup to date, but not without a bit of controversy. Oh, and Eusebio ran riot for Portugal, scoring a bunch of goals.


The World Cup finally made its way to England in 1966. As inventors of the game, England seldom suffered from a lack of confidence, and yet it no doubt perturbed the country that taught the rest of the world how to play soccer that it had failed miserably in its first four attempts to win the World Cup.

After losing to Brazil in the quarterfinals in 1962, manager Alf Ramsey took over the national team and predicted before a ball was even kicked that England would win the 1966 World Cup on home soil. It was a bold prediction, especially because the selection of nations that qualified was so strong. Brazil’s 1962 World Cup team was largely intact, Eusebio featured in Portugal’s greatest side ever, the talented Italians were there and both West Germany and the Soviet Union fielded their best teams since the 1950s.

In the end, though, England prevailed and Ramsey’s prophecy was fulfilled, thanks in no small part to the linesman. More on that later.

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Again, the 16 teams were divided into four groups with the top two advancing to the quarterfinals.


On July 30, an entire nation stood still as England and West Germany clashed before a crowd of 97,000 spectators crammed into Wembley Stadium in what turned out to be the most dramatic World Cup final ever. With the open wounds of World War II still fresh, it was the Germans who struck first in the knife-edged affair. Ray Wilson’s headed clearance dropped to the feet of Helmut Haller who drove a shot past English goalkeeper Gordon Banks in the 12th minute.

Six minutes later England captain Bobby Moore made an immaculate long pass into the penalty area to Geoff Hurst who headed the ball in. The teams traded scoring chances for the rest of the half but it wasn’t until the 78th minute that the next goal arrived. Alan Ball, who ran the German defence ragged with his probing runs, delivered a corner kick into the box. Hurst’s shot was blocked but Martin Peters collected the ball and fired home.

England should have sealed it with four minutes left in regulation but Roger Hunt made his pass to Charlton too quickly, allowing the German defender to get in proper position and England squandered a glorious 3-on-1 scoring chance. England paid for that mistake, the Germans equalizing in the 89th minute when Wolfgang Weber stabbed the ball past Banks following a goalmouth scramble off a free kick.

Both teams were exhausted and players were sprawled out on the perfectly manicured grass field before extra time. Ramsey, that master motivator, famously told his charges that the Germans were “finished.” Alan Ball took charge and sped down the right wing in the 98th minute and centered a pass for Hurst in the penalty area. What followed was one of the most famous — and controversial — moments in sports history.

Hurst belted a furious right-footed shot that blazed past German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski, hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced down on the goal-line. The trailing Roger Hunt immediately raised his hands in celebration, so confident it was a goal. The man whose opinion mattered most, Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst, was not. A flock of protesting German players surrounded Dienst, who then marched to the sidelines towards linesman Tofik Bakhramov of Azerbaijan (history erroneously remembers him simply as “the Russian linesman”) to confer whether or not the entire ball crossed the goal-line.

As 400 million television viewers worldwide waited for the decision, Bakhramov, without hesitation, pointed his flag towards the centre circle on the field, signalling a goal. It was 3-2 for England as the tense Wembley crowd erupted into cathartic, delirious rapture.

Now down 3-2, the Germans threw players forward in numbers, desperately searching for an equalizer, but were left exposed at the back. Moore played another long pass for Hurst who completed his hat trick in the final minute of extra time as fans began to pour onto the field. Finally, England, inventors of the game, were world champions.


Number of participating teams: 16
Top scorer: Portugal’s Eusebio (9 goals)
Number of games: 32
Total goals scored: 89
Average goals per game: 2.78
Highest scoring game: Portugal’s 5-3 victory over North Korea on July 23
Total attendance: 1,614,677
Average attendance: 50,459


Eusebio. A superstar with Benfica, Eusebio was the engine room of the talented and dangerous Portugal team. Born in Mozambique, Eusebio, dubbed “The Black Pearl,” used his dazzling combination of speed, skill and power to score a tournament-high nine goals and lead his country to the semifinals in their World Cup debut. Sadly, he never played in another World Cup.


Portugal’s 5-3 victory over North Korea in the quarterfinals. After stunning the Italians in the opening round, North Korea looked set to post another incredible upset went it took a 3-0 lead against Portugal after only 22 minutes. There would be no second miracle for the North Koreans, however, as Eusebio took over and scored four times to guide Portugal to victory.


Tofik Bakhramov’s ruling stands as one of the seminal and defining moments in World Cup history. Even to this day, spirited debate continues (particularly in Germany) as to whether the goal — which, upon further review over the years via replays showed that the entire ball, in fact, did not cross the line — should have been allowed. No goal in the history of sports has been more disputed than Hurst’s.


BBC television commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme’s description of the final moments of the England-West Germany final is the British equivalent of Foster Hewitt’s famous “Henderson has scored for Canada!” call at the 1972 Summit Series.

Here’s how Wolstenholme described Hurst’s final goal: “Some people are on the pitch (the crowd starts to spill onto the field)… they think it’s all over (Geoff Hurst scores to put England two goals ahead)… IT IS NOW!”


Wolstenholme’s call is not only soccer’s most famous piece of commentary but also a touchstone moment in British culture and among the most famous phrases in modern English. Such was the power of Wolstenholme’s words that it spawned a quiz show named, “They Think It’s All Over” on BBC1 and was part of the lyrics in the New Order song, “World in Motion.”


After the climactic final, Wolstenholme aptly described the scene as Bobby Moore led the English to the royal box to receive the Jules Rimet trophy from Queen Elizabeth II. “It’s only eight inches high, solid gold, and it means that England are the world champions,” said Wolstenholme as Moore held the trophy aloft while the Wembley crowd looked on.


Geoff Hurst wasn’t the only hero for England at the 1966 World Cup — it was a distinction he shared with a dog named Pickles. Months before the tournament kicked off, the Jules Rimet trophy was stolen while being displayed at a public exhibition in London. Panic quickly set in as FIFA prepared to stage the World Cup without the trophy while a nationwide hunt for the statuette was launched. Seven days after the theft, Pickles was out for a walk with his owner in south London when he walked up to some bushes to — ahem — ‘take care of business’. Incredibly, wrapped in some newspapers in the bottom of the bushes was the trophy!


Pele scored in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win over Bulgaria in Liverpool, but the 25-year-old superstar was carried off the field after being hacked mercilessly by the Bulgarians and sat out the next game, a shocking 3-1 loss to Hungary. Pele returned for Brazil’s final game, but he received similar rough treatment from Portugal and the great Eusebio scored twice to lead the Portuguese to a 3-1 win. With the win, Portugal won the group and the landscape of the tournament dramatically changed as Brazil, the two-time reigning world champions, were eliminated in the opening round. A disillusioned Pele, still distraught over the brutal punishment dished out to him, vowed he would never to play in a World Cup again.


Brazil’s premature exit was hardly the most shocking development of the first round. Italy needed only to draw lowly North Korea in its last game to qualify for the quarterfinals. Little was known about the Asian team before the tournament, but few expected them to provide much opposition to an Italian side featuring AC Milan star Gianni Rivera (a future European player of the year), Sandro Mazzola (son of Valentino Mazzola, the former Italian team captain) and Giacinto Facchetti (the Inter Milan icon). And yet, it was North Korea who prevailed, Pak Doo Ik’s name still a painful reminder to a generation of Italians to this very day, more than five decades after he scored the winning goal just before halftime.


The bitter feud that raged for decades between England and Argentina can be directly traced back to their 1966 quarterfinal. Argentina used its physical style of play to choke England’s attack, its defenders committing niggling fouls on the English forwards whenever the chance presented itself. Nine minutes before halftime, German referee Rudolf Kreitlein, a constant target of abuse from Antonio Rattin, had enough of the Argentine captain’s persistent protesting and expelled him from the game.

Rattin, however, would have none of it and refused to leave. It took ten minutes, and the presence of a Spanish-speaking official, to usher the combatable Rattin off the field and for play to resume. Geoff Hurst settled the tumultuous affair in the 78th minute with a goal for England. After the game, Alf Ramsey hurried onto the field to prevent his players from swapping shirts, as per the custom in soccer, with the Argentines. “We don’t swap shirts with animals,” came the infamous response from Ramsey when asked by the press about the shirt snub.


• The 1966 World Cup was the first to be won by the host nation since Italy triumphed on home soil in 1934. Only four other countries have won the World Cup at home: Uruguay (1930), West Germany (1974), Argentina (1978) and France (1998).

• Geoff Hurst was a bit of surprise selection for the England team. Although a talented centre-forward, most journalists and fans at the time thought Ramsey should have picked Peter Osgood instead of Hurst for the team. All’s well that ends well.

• Brazil’s 3-1 defeat to Hungary in the first round was its first loss at the World Cup since 1954. Brazil went undefeated in a World Cup record 13 consecutive games (11 wins, 2 draws) from 1958-66.

• Brazil became the first reigning World champion not to advance beyond the first round. France, champions in 1998, joined Brazil when the same fate befell them at the 2002 World Cup. Spain also failed to get out of the first round in 2014 after lifting the World Cup four years earlier in South Africa.

• West Germany’s Helmut Schon coached his nation in a World Cup record 25 games from 1966-78.

• When Italy returned home from its shocking defeat at the hands of North Korea, its transport bus at the airport was pelted with fruit and rotten tomatoes by angry Italian fans.

• The 1966 World Cup established a new overall attendance mark of 1,614,677 spectators. The old mark of 1,337,000 was set at the 1950 tournament in Brazil.

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