The negative mood around England’s World Cup campaign feels like it did before the 1966 tournament

The negative mood around England’s World Cup campaign feels like it did before the 1966 tournament

Ten minutes before kick-off on the sultry Saturday afternoon of 11 July 1966, England supporters were still paying at the turnstiles for admission to watch the boys play against Uruguay in the opening game of the World Cup Final.

Others had bought tickets at their local newsstand when picking up the morning paper. Maximum ten per person!

The late walk along Wembley Way brought in a respectable crowd of 87,148, but that was still over ten thousand under the old Empire Stadium’s capacity at the time of 98,600.

As in 1966, when England won the World Cup, there is only a lukewarm sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament.

As in 1966, when England won the World Cup, there is only a lukewarm sense of anticipation ahead of the tournament.

There is also a sense that Gareth Southgate's squad is not as good as it used to be

There is also a sense that Gareth Southgate’s squad is not as good as it used to be

The shortfall somewhat reflected lukewarm expectation in this country where football was born, but where the FA’s pompous refusal to compete in the first three World Cups was followed by just as many unfortunate failures when they finally deigned to take part.

To be honest, the enthusiasm doesn’t feel much animated as England approach their first game in Qatar. At the time of writing, I have yet to see a black London cab flying with the red and white cross of St. George on the streets of London.

No doubt the pubs will be busy at kick-off, but the location – who really wants to travel to a desert that is both culturally oppressive and climatically oppressive? – and the obscure first opponents – would you recognize one Iranian footballer on the street? – seem to have taken the sharp edges off.

Perhaps also a feeling that this new England no longer cuts the mustard. The same negative mood was just as pervasive all those 56 years ago. But that’s where the similarities end.

When the then manager, Alf Ramsey, was asked about his prediction on the eve of the Final, he said: ‘England are going to win the World Cup.’

No shilly sallying. No excuses. None of today’s yawn waffles about how “we really hope we can go deep in this tournament.” Or how ‘it would be a greater achievement to reach this semi-final than when we reached the final of the European Championship’. Or how about ‘let’s not tempt fate’.

Definitely don’t bow to public opinion. No concession to the kind of media pressure that drove Gareth Southgate to make his choice to fill the last seat on the plane to Qatar. If Ramsey hadn’t had an eye for the James Maddison of his day, that young man would have stayed home in Leicester.

Sir Alf Ramsey said before the 1966 tournament that England would win the World Cup

Sir Alf Ramsey said before the 1966 tournament that England would win the World Cup

Our 1960s generation was clamoring for Jimmy Greaves, England’s best goalscorer, to play in the World Cup final, even though he hadn’t fully recovered from an injury sustained earlier in the tournament.

To which Ramsey replied thus: ‘Mister Greaves is not suitable.’ Step forward Geoff Hurst to score the one and only final hat-trick of the World Cup. And with that winning England’s lone World Cup.

As for the political correctness Gareth Southgate wears even more flashy than his vest, Ramsey was about as awake as Donald Trump.

If he were alive Sir Alf, as he became, would have asked the current England squad what the hell they think they are up to in Doha.

Ramsey wouldn’t have had a truck with captains in rainbow armbands, his squad accompanying underpaid stadium builders traumatized by the industrial deaths of their colleagues, his players protesting human rights abuses for hours or wrestling with whether to continue kneeling. reverence for an American who, though subjected to a gruesome illegal death, was nevertheless a convicted criminal.

All good causes, sure.

But just as certainly nothing to do with the work at hand. Nor is that crazy posing for pictures that makes them look like crazy. No wonder our great white hope Harry Kane is exhausted.

As for the ban on alcohol in the stadiums, who would seriously object to that after the booze-inflamed hooliganism at the last Euros Final?

Southgate had complained that the mid-season timing of this first winter World Cup had left him with little or no time to turn his mind back to Qatar 2022. thinking about the first game?

Apparently not, as the England manager’s response to FIFA’s request for all teams to focus exclusively on sport was: “We’re not here just for football.”

He, of course, spoke through that late-flaring Che Guevara beard that is for intellectual activists. So may I venture to let the spirit of the one who became Sir Alf Ramsey speak through me: ‘We are here to win football games.’

And that’s what most of us say. If not so much the footballers who are so busy with their self-righteous credentials. Perhaps in an attempt to assuage guilt, because if they feel so strongly about the tyrannical repression in the Middle East, the only explanation of real impact would have been not to go.

Proof of this was South Africa’s sports boycotts that helped bring about the fall of apartheid. In it, the handful of English cricketers who put cash above their conscience became pariahs. A thought that might propel Messrs. Beckham, Lineker, and Neville as they steal the sheikh shilling.

Not that Sir Alf would have cared about the political finesse. Ramsey’s take on diplomacy was clear when asked his opinion of the Argentines after England narrowly won a bruising ’66 quarter-final that saw captain Antonio Rattin sent off: ‘They’re animals.’

The New Argentina – as it was proclaimed by Eva Peron long before Lionel Messi was born – are virtually joint favorites with Neymar Junior’s Brazil in Qatar.

No wonder, with Saint Gareth’s mind so preoccupied with the controversies, fewer than 5,000 England fans are expected to pay the price of going to Doha. The last Spartan hotel rooms there are up for grabs for over £4,000, for just until the end of the group stage.

The cost to World Cup followers has changed beyond all economic proportions since England’s single glory. Permanent admission to the opening game of ’66 cost seven shillings and six pence in old money.

That would have been 38 pence in decimal conversation then, £8.36 today. That went up to ten shillings for the final against West Germany, which now equates to the £11 a Budweiser will cost punters in Qatar… if they can get their hands on one.

Ramsey resisted calls from supporters to allow Jimmy Greaves to start in the 1966 World Cup final

Ramsey resisted calls from supporters to allow Jimmy Greaves to start in the 1966 World Cup final

Tickets for England’s first three games of 2022 run into the hundreds of pounds. For the final, they rise to between £1,300 and £16,000. Yes, say it slowly, sixteen thousand pounds.

Not many England supporters seem convinced they will face that dilemma. Me neither.

But if Southgate’s bleeding-hearts brigade is held to a draw by Iran in stifling temperatures, there may be one last straw of similarity to be grasped from all the pessimism.

The clammy heat of July 11, 1966, made for a goalless game of such labored boredom that when Ramsey was questioned about the post-game mood in the dressing room, he fell into one of his famous malapropisms: “It’s so hot in there that the compensation is running along the walls.’

Come to the finale of extra-time drama and unbridled jubilation, all cabs were decked out in full patriotic livery. It’s a gamble, but dare we hope that history repeats itself?

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