Germany lost the game by a score of 2-4 against England who won their first World Cup title. Photo: PA

How the world reacted to England's 1966 win

How did the world—and Denis Law—respond to England's historic World Cup victory?
June 21, 2018

The film critic David Thompson recalls the closing seconds of the final match between England and Germany:

“Geoff Hurst has never been an unequivocally great player. Never will be what we call great—meaning the greatness of Di Stefano, Cruyff, Pelé, Law, Best, Puskás, Matthews and maybe a few others. But Geoff Hurst is a very good player, very well coached by everyone from his Dad to Ron Greenwood, and very good players by the luck of the numbers are going to have moments of ineffable splendour. Some are luckier than others in when these moments come.

“Hurst carries the ball on, over a field that now looks like a meadow at the end of a day when a shoot has been held… Tikowski is on the goal line. But as some keepers try to make themselves large, Tikowski seems ready to shrink. Hurst is headlong, hurtling, and he has put the ball on his left. He is going to shoot. You feel it. This is the kind of shot which, in weariness, nine out of 10 very good players… would put in the stands to the cheery derision of the crowd. But Geoff Hurst now is touched, cherry red in the golden light. He is for an instant Roy of the fucking Rovers. He… shoots an insanely accurate, unstoppable, rising shot that goes past Tikowski like an aircraft taking off and explodes against the roof of the net…

“… This is one of those moments you know all your life, by the light, the air, the feel, the force—like making love or seeing a baby squirm from the mother’s body. This is the goal that allows us to forget the third goal that bounced on the line. This is 4-2. I roar in the living-room in Isleworth in front of the black-and-white television. My son Mathew cannot quite yet know the grace that has touched Geoff Hurst. So he cries in alarm. But I am crying first… We have won.”

The blackest day

Denis Law, the Scottish Manchester United striker, refused to watch the match and played a round of golf instead. But as he walked off the 18th green, he heard a roar from the clubhouse. He knew what it meant:

“England had won the World Cup. It was the blackest day of my life.”

Real guts

In the general election of March 1966 the Labour government under Harold Wilson had improved its majority in parliament to 97. However the country’s economic weakness continued. Richard Crossman, Minister for Housing and Local Government, observed in his diary:

“I must record a big change in Harold’s personal position. It has been a tremendous help for him that we won the World Cup… That may well mean that his luck which deserted him after he had dealt with the seamen’s strike, has really turned now.”

“When I told Anne [Crossman’s wife] over lunch today that the World Cup could be a decisive factor in strengthening sterling she couldn’t believe it. But I am sure it is. Our men showed real guts and the bankers, I suspect, will be influenced by this, and the position of the government correspondingly strengthened.”

The following year market pressures obliged the government to devalue sterling.

"Unsportsmanlike conduct"

Brazil suffered their worst performance in a World Cup, being eliminated in the first round. Pelé, the team’s captain, had been the object of brutal tackling, especially in the match against Portugal when he had to leave the pitch. He later observed:

“When I first came back to Brazil after the World Cup games of 1966, my heart wasn’t in playing football. The games had been a revelation to me in their unsportsmanlike conduct and weak refereeing.”

“England won the games that year but in my opinion she did not have the best team in the field.”

Outrage in South America

Following the bitter and violent match against Argentina in the quarter-finals, Alf Ramsey, England’s manager addressed the television cameras:

“We have still to produce our best football and this best is not possible until we meet the right kind of opposition, and that is a team that comes out to play football, and not to act like animals.”

This caused long-lasting outrage throughout South America. After the final, Bolivia’s biggest-selling newspaper, Presencia, opined:

“There are things that cannot be sold. Not at any price. I don’t understand either politics or sport but I can understand, as millions of people around the world understand, that England has sold its… reputation for chivalry, for fair play and for correctness, for a football trophy…”

“They hatched a football conspiracy against Latin America. We may be animals and savages but we would never consider what the cultured and civilised English have done. England may now be the world champions but it is no longer the country of culture, of education, of gentlemen.”

And finally, from Rome...

Patrick Fairweather, 2nd Secretary at the British Embassy in Rome, sent a despatch to the Foreign Office about Italian reaction to the competition. He observed:

“The World Cup in England has provided further proof, if proof were needed, that a very good way to damage international relations is to have a really big sporting competition.”