It all started, of course, with Pickles.
The black and white collie that sniffed out the world’s most coveted piece of silverware, stolen by a mystery thief, at the bottom of a garden hedge.
Three months later Pickles would be slurping out of a bowl at Kensington’s plush Royal Garden Hotel, as nearby England’s players toasted the country’s greatest sporting success – unprecedented and, 50 years on, unmatched.
Back then the 16-team tournament was greeted with giddy fanfare but in stark contrast to the modern era, tickets were relatively easy to come by, particularly in the early stages when fans could still grab seats on the day.
Alf Ramsey’s men also started slowly, grinding out a grim 0-0 draw against Uruguay which left supporters jeering at Wembley and journalists sceptical, with one newspaper headline sneering: ‘Ramsey still thinks his side can win’.
England picked up, beating both Mexico and France 2-0 to finish top of Group One and set up a mouth-watering quarter-final meeting with Argentina.
And it was then that home advantage began to tell.
First, Argentina’s bus got lost en route to a training session at Lilleshall and then the team were denied a mandatory practice at Wembley, conveniently bumped off by a night of greyhound racing.
Another to lose his place was England striker Jimmy Greaves, their most highly-regarded goalscorer, who had struggled for form in the group stages.
When Greaves suffered a knock against the French, Ramsey showed no hesitation in replacing him with the lesser-known Geoff Hurst.
Hurst scored the winner as Argentina captain Antonio Rattin was controversially sent off and Ramsey ended the match blocking his players from swapping shirts with the opposition, whom he later derided as acting “like animals”.
The semi-final win over Portugal was more straightforward, Bobby Charlton’s double putting the hosts out of sight before tournament top scorer Eusebio added a late consolation with the last of his nine goals in the tournament.
England now felt unstoppable and it was no surprise when on July 30, 96,924 people attended the final against West Germany which drew a British television audience of 32.3 million.
“There are lots of things that stick in my mind,” England full-back George Cohen said of the match.
“The people that came out and supported us before we got into the stadium was tremendous – you couldn’t actually get to the gate to go through on the coach.”
England were also one of the fittest teams in the tournament.
While other sides maintained a more lacklustre approach to preparation, Ramsey had banned his squad from drinking alcohol two months prior to the competition’s start.
“When Alan Ball got picked after a few games, he said, ‘if you want the shirt back, you will have to tear it off my back’,” Hurst said.
“He was one of the most passionate players and you need that. As well as the individual ability, that team spirit and togetherness is as important an ingredient to any country winning the World Cup.”
Ball was named man of the match in the final as goals from Hurst and Martin Peters meant England led 2-1 until Wolfgang Weber snatched an 89th-minute equaliser, forcing the match to extra-time.
Hurst restored England’s lead, his swivel followed by a shot which cannoned down off the underside of the crossbar and, according to an Azerbaijani linesman, crossed the line for one of the game’s most hotly-disputed goals.
England’s most famous, however, was yet to come as Hurst tore away on the counter-attack, with impatient fans running onto the pitch in expectation of the final whistle.
Hurst carried on, blasting a shot high into the net for his third and England’s fourth to secure victory.
“People ask what it is like to win a World Cup and the first emotion is relief,” Hurst, who received a knighthood in 1998, said.
“People still talk to us all, they tell you they were there and tell you their stories, so you never stop enjoying it.
“In your own profession it puts you in a different stratosphere if you are one of 11 people who have won it.
“You wait for that moment when the final whistle goes and it’s just, ‘we’ve done it, we’ve got through’.”
Fifty years on, England’s wait continues.
1966 World Cup final in numbers...
England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time to win the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley. Here, 50 years on, Press Association Sport takes a look back at some of the numbers behind the match.
96,924 – the official attendance at Wembley.
2,575 – it would have cost 25 pounds and 75 shillings for a Grade 1 ‘10-match ticket’ to watch all the 1966 World Cup games in a group, the knockout stages and then guaranteed admission to the final at Wembley, for which there were no individual seat tickets put on sale. According to monetary website www.measuringworth.com, that is an equivalent purchase of around £483 today.
120 – the minutes on the clock, with extra-time all but up, when Geoff Hurst broke down the left before crashing home England’s fourth goal to complete his hat-trick as renowned BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme declared “some people are on the pitch... they think it’s all over... it is now, it’s four!”
101 – the minute when Hurst ‘scored’ England’s third goal, which West Germany claimed did not cross the line after hitting the crossbar.
78 – minutes into the game when a goal from West Ham’s Martin Peters put England 2-1 ahead.
65 – the Grade 4 (standing) 10-match ticket would have cost fans three pounds 17 shillings and six pence, which works out at just over £65 today.
2/6 – the official 1966 Jules Rimet Cup Final programme could be bought for two shillings and six pence, about £2.10 in current prices.
21 – the age of Alan Ball, the youngest of England’s World Cup-winning team.
18 – minutes played when Hurst equalised with what would be the first of his three goals, heading in a free-kick from captain Bobby Moore.
12 – the number of minutes gone when Helmut Haller gave West Germany an early lead.
10 – a standing ticket for the Wembley final would have cost 10 shillings (around £8) – and match-day stubs can now fetch up to £200 at auction.
6 – the iconic shirt number worn by England captain Bobby Moore.
3 – Hurst’s hat-trick remains the only treble in a World Cup final.
1 – England lifted the World Cup for the first, and so far, only time.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.Support Us