Was the 1966 World Cup England's poisoned chalice?

It is hard to believe that it is 50 years since England overcame West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final to win their one and only major honour.


Bobby Moore and his England team celebrate their World Cup triumph Source: Getty Images

When Bobby Moore's team won the blue riband event of the world game with a controversial 4-2 victory over a Franz Beckenbauer-inspired XI, the game in England was nicely poised to rule the football universe.

Playing at home certainly was a factor and so was the contentious Geoff Hurst goal that gave England the lead in extra-time in the final. However, there is no doubt that the better team won on the day, although the Germans might have something to say about that.


Football in Britain received a massive and much-needed psychological boost.

Indeed, less than a year later Celtic became the first British team to win the European Cup when they beat Inter Milan 2-1 in Lisbon.

A year after that Manchester United made it an English 'first' with a 4-1 victory over Benfica at the same Wembley Stadium where the 'Three Lions' recorded their finest hour.

Subsequent events would suggest, however, that the 1966 triumph may have caused more harm than good to the game in England.

This is because the pessimism that had governed the English game at national team level since the 1950 World Cup disaster and the double thrashing by Hungary in the mid-1950s suddenly became superseded by an air of superiority that bred a level of unreasonable, widespread expectation.

The 1-0 loss to the United States part-timers in Belo Horizonte was dismissed as a fluke but when Ferenc Puskas's 'Magical Magyars' beat England 6-3 in London and 7-1 in Budapest a few months later there could be no excuses any more: English football was lagging behind the cream of the continent.

It all changed on 30 July 1966, however.

There's nothing wrong with being positive or even ebullient yet this unrealistic view that the English team had a right - even a duty - to win every tournament they took part in placed incredible pressure on the men 'lucky' enough to play for England. Many times they just could not handle it.

It does not take much for the English, same as us Australians after all, to get carried away so you can imagine the level of euphoria and optimism that greeted the famous victory over the Germans.

Surely, nobody would touch us now, it would have been argued.

Well, it did not pan out that way.

England's history in major tournaments is one of narrow losses, humiliating debacles, controversial defeats, penalty shootout heartbreaks and even failing to qualify for a few World Cups and European Championships.

Many reasons have been put forward for England's consistent failure to leave their mark on the world stage since that rare triumph half a century ago.

The Premier League season is too long, the competition needs a Christmas break, the best players are too rich and spoilt and do not have the right temperament, the English playing style is inadequate and a fear of failure permeates in the national environment.

There is an element of truth in all these reasons for England's failure to do what comes naturally to Germany, Italy, Argentina and Brazil.

How better off would England be without the great expectations placed on the national team by the fans and the media?

We will never know if the public's and media's expectancy would have been lower or less unrealistic if England had not won that World Cup all those years ago.

But there is little doubt that what transpired on that sunny Saturday afternoon in London set the scene and the standard for future England generations.

Especially when you consider that England have had better and more refined teams than the one that prevailed in 1966. The players that defended their title in Mexico in 1970 were better individually and collectively and played a more polished game.

They were the only team to fully extend Pele's Brazil in a group match classic in Guadalajara, which the eventual winners won 1-0, before they lost 3-2 to West Germany in the quarter-finals.

The 1966 World Cup final certainly was a memorable day for English football.

But it may have come at a cost.

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4 min read
Published 30 July 2016 at 9:28am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS