The year 1966 – etched in the memory of every sporting fan in this country and for one little 12-year-old from Wath-upon-Dearne in South Yorkshire, a quite remarkable, unsurpassed summer of sporting firsts, culminating not on July 30th, but a week before on July 23rd.
Let me explain.
1966 seems an age away from the trials and tribulations of modern life. The Beatles, the Swinging Sixties, mods and rockers, long hair, a freedom of life, and a wonderful time to grow up.
Of course, this is a rose-tinted fantasy, but let`s go with it.
My sporting summer of 1966 was simply extraordinary. A school trip to watch my first Test Match at Trent Bridge to see the mighty West Indies with Sobers, Hall, Hunte et al demolish England, followed by my first trip to Wembley – another school outing to watch England Schoolboys beat West Germany in front of a crowd of 100,000. Quite staggering and a portent of bigger things to follow.
On a personal level, I scored my first ever 50 playing for the school under 14s as a 12-year-old and received a Senior Counties bat from the school to mark the achievement – a bat that I treasured.
Now on each of these events, I could write reams, but the first genre has been brilliantly covered so far by my wonderful colleagues, Messrs Gowers, Dennis, Sainty, and Penney in this marvellous series. So I am going to describe a day that I remember as if it was yesterday and involves Mr Boycott and Mr Beckenbauer!
Saturday, July 23rd, 1966: The World Cup, staged in England of course, had reached the quarter-final stage. England were playing Argentina at Wembley and my dad had tickets for the quarter-final at Hillsborough between West Germany and Uruguay.
It was a glorious summer`s day and the icing on the cake was not only was I going to see a World Cup game, but also the morning session of the County Championship game at Bramall Lane between Yorkshire and Middlesex.
For a sporting mad 12-year-old, this was absolute dreamland.
Now, I must explain Bramall Lane.
In the 1960s, it was a three-sided football ground because it was also one of the venues Yorkshire used for their matches. A strange phenomenon nowadays but totally accepted in those halcyon days.
My excitement was palpable as we took our seats in a football stand to watch County Championship cricket.
In those days Yorkshire was the sport’s pinnacle. Hard, ruthless, professional to a man and led by the hardest man to play any sport, Brian Close. A man who wrote an autobiography entitled I Don`t Bruise Easily, who fielded so close at short leg, it looked like he was doing a piggyback on the batsman`s shoulders.
This was a team of all the talents: Boycott, Taylor, Padgett, Hampshire, Close, Illingworth, and in my opinion, the greatest fast bowler of all time, F.S Trueman.
Middlesex were no slouches of course but there was no love lost. They were the aristocrats from down south, playing at cricket’s HQ, so it was all set up.
Yorkshire batted first and I settled down to watch the bespectacled master batsman who John Arlott had brilliantly described as being like a cat settling down in comfort on his favourite sofa as he became the established opener for Yorkshire and England.
Alas, Boycott was dismissed early by another fine England bowler, John Price, but Hampshire – a batsman criminally underrated – steadied the ship and saw Yorkshire through to lunch. I was in awe of the standard of play, the skill of the batsmen, and the banter of the crowd.
No singing, no chanting, just a buzz of approval and disapproval in equal measures. A poor Middlesex player dropped a simple catch at mid-off and was regaled with,” Hey you southern Softie. Tha` couldn’t catch a cold!”
I absolutely loved it and cemented a love affair with THE greatest game, which will last to my dying day. At 1:30 pm it was lunch for the players but for us it was a trip across Sheffield to Hillsborough for part two!
Our seat was in the Leppings Lane Stand upper tier – a stand that will be forever remembered for the most tragic and harrowing of reasons but in 1966 was a new stand, purpose-built for the staging of the World Cup.
Hillsborough was where I saw my first professional game in 1961, so I was familiar with the ground. What immediately struck me on this day of days was the noise and the colour and the fervour shown outside the ground by the fans of West Germany and Uruguay – the relentless cacophony of the German chants. Uwe, Uwe, Uwe in homage to their talisman and captain Uwe Seeler.
This was mind-blowing to me and it is still an earworm even after all these years!
The view was extraordinary, right behind the goal and the teams emerged led by the best referee in England at the time, Jim Finney. What a part he was going to play over the next 90 minutes!
Uruguay, I remember, started the game brilliantly, nothing like the mass defence that had so frustrated England in the opening game of the tournament but, of course, Germany being Germany they scored first through the blond diva, sorry diver, Haller.
Meanwhile, the electronic scoreboard, yes, the electronic scoreboard in 1966 (!) was reporting on extraordinary events at Goodison Park: Portugal 0 North Korea 3!
Uruguay continued to press and then it began to unravel.
First of all, right in front of us, Tilkowski, the German goalkeeper, upended a Uruguay forward, and inexplicably, Finney waved play on. Then, from a corner, a goalward-bound header was brilliantly tipped over the bar, not by Tilkowski, but by Schnellinger, the left back.
No penalty again!
That was it. The fuse was lit. At this point, the scoreboard stated that play had stopped at Wembley. Now, nobody had a clue pre-social media of course, what was going on until it updated that Rattin, the Argentinian captain had been sent off and play had resumed. The genteel bat on ball at Bramall Lane seemed a lifetime away.
I am not one for hyperbole but the second half was arguably the most extraordinary half of football I have ever seen.
I have no idea what the Uruguay coach said at half time but it must have been on the lines of ‘right lads maim as many Germans as possible and, by the way, the ref too’.
As early as the 49th minute, Troche was sent off for what can only be described as an assault on Emmerich. The hounding and jostling of Finney made the infamous Keane-led tirade against Andy D’urso look like a polite request for a cucumber sandwich at a garden party.
I remember saying to my dad, ‘Why are the police going to come on the pitch?‘ To protect the referee was the answer.
Somehow order was restored, well for five minutes, until the captain decided to give Haller something to dive about with a kung fu tackle that even Kevin Muscat would have been ashamed of. Haller`s rolling from the halfway line to the Leppings Lane stand was impressive but Silva totally lost the plot.
He refused to go, aimed a kick at Finney at which point the police came on and for all the world look liked they had arrested Silva as he was frogmarched down the tunnel to shame and oblivion.
Now enter Franz Beckenbauer, Der Kaiser, who against tiring, dejected, beaten opponents strolled onto the world stage. A midfielder in those days, he was peerless. Totally in command of the game, a master at work. His goal, in front of me, was a thing of beauty – a mesmerising series of one-twos before sliding past a very good goalkeeper.
It is my privilege to be able to say I saw a complete player firsthand. Seeler and, yes, pantomime villain Haller scored to complete the rout 4 – 0 to West Germany.
There was more mayhem at full time with Finney being escorted off by police and the electronic scoreboard confirming that England had beaten Argentina, and that Eusebio, with four goals, had seen off the gallant North Koreans.
Of course, there was a pit stop on the way home and I had a glass of orange with a packet of Smiths crisps, you know the white packet with the salt in a blue sachet which you spread over the crisps. Those were the days Gary Lineker!
I genuinely didn’t think life could get any better than that and maybe it didn`t. (Don’t be silly Wardy, get those rose-tinted glasses off).
So that was my breathless, incredible 23rd July 1966.
The nearest I have got to providing my son Andy with the same kind of experience was in 2006 when we saw Norwich City beat Hull away 2 -1 with a headed goal from Hucks, yes honestly, and then popping over to watch Scunthorpe United beat Yeovil 1- 0 in an evening kick-off – a season that would see them promoted to the Championship.
Sorry, Andy, not quite the same!
As a postscript, I have obviously looked into the games I watched. Yorkshire beat Middlesex in another Championship-winning season, and the South Americans still feel hard done regarding July 23rd.
I came across some research at a university in Uruguay where students were asked to analyse conspiracy questions about the quarter-finals where a West German referee sent off Rattin and an English referee sent off two Uruguay players thereby setting up the immortal date with destiny on July 30th, 1966.
All that is for another day, but no day will ever surpass my July 23rd, 1966.