The 1966 World Cup took place against the backdrop of Swinging London and the British Invasion. Therefore, it was only fitting that England were selected as hosts for the first time ever.
Brazil held a firm stranglehold on the Jules Rimet trophy after successive wins in 1958 and 1962. With superstars like Pele and Garrincha anchoring the squad, the only threat to the Selecao was the cold English weather.
Portugal also looked formidable as they boasted the best striker in Europe in Eusebio. Hosts England had a strong squad, but questions were raised over their poor World Cup record in previous tournaments.
How did the 1966 World Cup unfold? Let’s find out.
The Trophy Goes Missing
The first World Cup held in the English-speaking world couldn’t have started under more embarrassing circumstances. A press event in March 1966 saw the Jules Rimet trophy on display at Westminster Central Hall, where it was kept in a display case guarded by officials.
Being the pre-CCTV era, it was impossible to guard the trophy at all times, and the primitive display case the trophy was kept in was no match for a skilled and experienced thief. On 20 March 1966, the Jules Rimet cup was stolen, and the assailants later mailed a major London newspaper demanding ransom.
News of the theft spread around the world and proved to be deeply humiliating for the FA. However, the trophy was recovered a few days later after Pickles, a collie dog, found it underneath a hedge.
The trophy was strictly guarded from then on, however it would again be stolen in 1983 and, to this day, its whereabouts is unknown.
Sixteen teams entered the 1966 World Cup group stage and the four winners from each group were England, West Germany, Portugal, and the Soviet Union.
North Korea were the surprise package of the tournament as the nation, who had only been founded 21 years before, finished 2nd in their group and reached the quarter-finals.
Argentina, West Germany, and Portgual were their usual impressive selves, whilst defending champions Brazil crashed out of the group stage as Pele suffered an injury. The superstar vowed he would never play in the World Cup again, though he would soon reverse his decision.
The most controversial knockout encounter of the ‘66 World Cup occurred between England and Argentina.
A defensive encounter soon turned newsworthy as Argentine player Luis Artime was sent-off for seemingly no reason. After receiving a warning from the referee, Artime asked for an interpreter to be brought on the pitch to explain what the official was saying to him. However, the referee misread the player’s demands for backchat, and he was subsequently sent off.
England would go on to win the match 1-0, before defeating Portugal in the semis - setting up a showdown in the final against old foes West Germany.
The crown jewel of England’s sporting achievements was won on 30 July 1966 at Wembley Stadium. In front of 96,924 fans, the Three Lions defeated West Germany 4-2. A Geoff Hurst hat trick and a Martin Peters strike canceled out West Germany’s opener and late equalizer, causing commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme to exclaim ‘’they think it’s all over - it is now!’’.
England captain Bobby Moore received the recovered Jules Rimet trophy from Queen Elizabeth II and Alf Ramsey’s men entered the annals of sporting history.
Though it seemed like England could have gone on to win several more World Cups, the 1966 edition remains the only time football truly came home.
1966 World Cup Fun Facts
- England were the only team from the British Isles to qualify for this tournament
- The African nations boycotted the tournament due to the controversy surrounding their qualification process
- England became the third host nation to win the World Cup, repairing the successes of Uruguay in 1930 and Italy in 1934
- Had the final on 30 July ended in a draw, then the World Cup final would have been replayed a few days later. If the replay ended in a draw, then the game would have been decided…by a lottery
- The 1966 final was the last to be shown in black-and-white