Friday, 2 July 2010
England Lose World Cup...Again
When I was at junior school a lifetime ago, I was already a convert to our national sport, football, or soccer as the Yanks insist on calling it (correctly, I might add) and played it every spare minute of every day, but nothing had prepared me for the sort of playground politics that come with being a fan.
‘So what team do you support then?’ was the question that threw me, as giving the wrong answer could be fatal and the truth was, I didn’t support anyone. Luckily, the following Saturday saw the staging of the 1963 FA Cup Final when Manchester United stuffed Leicester City 3-1. I’d actually heard of Man U and as they were clearly winners, they would do for me. Thus it came to pass that a home counties boy who’d never travelled north past Luton let alone to the far north-west of the country became a Man U supporter for no other reason that they were there and I’ve followed them ever since.
So by 1966 when I would sit goggle eyed in front of our flickering black & white TV watching the World Cup games, it was United’s Bobby Charlton and Nobby Styles that I cheered on (in lieu of my true hero at United, Dennis Law, but he was Scottish). One of my fondest memories is Bobby’s thunderbolt goal against Mexico in the Group stage, a goal that still looks amazing today. Just have a look at that mazy run and catapult shot that bulges the net before the goalkeeper has time to reach it.
There was much comment at the time about Alf Ramsey’s assertion that Martin Peters was a player ten years ahead of his time. Actually if he had truly been ten years ahead of his time, he would’ve sported long greasy hair and wide lapels, but we’ll let that pass. In truth, Alf had picked the wrong man. Hindsight shows that it was Nobby Styles that was genuinely ahead of his time by his relentless harassing of the opposition and his willingness to stick the boot in. Watching those games from the 1960s, it is obvious that players had slightly more time and space to play. These days, the opposition close you down relentlessly, but not so then – except for Nobby who gained a reputation for doing just that with terrier-like tenacity.
Alf’s theory about Peters was that he had the ability to ‘ghost’ into shooting positions so late that he was never picked up – a trait that few possessed. But actually Geoff Hurst could do that as well, as his goal against Argentina in the bad-tempered quarter-final shows. This is actually my goal of the ’66 tournament and a memory that will never fade. It made me gasp at the time and still looks good today. The skill with which, Hurst glides in at the near post, unmarked, and just lets the ball skim over his head with enough purchase to guide it into the far corner of the goal is just awe-inspiring. Such delicacy in what was an ugly and spiteful game.