Friday, July 30, 2004

History Friday Part One: 1966: Football glory for England

I could not resist this story, despite the various more important things in the world:
ON THIS DAY, July 30 1966: World Cup Football glory for England

This happened 38 years ago (and 7 years before I was born) but it is still the most important athletic event that has ever involved an England team. I can even name all the members of that bloody team who became world champions almost a decade before I took my first breath.

All sporting (and often political and military) achievement in England is measured against the 1966 World Cup win in the now defunct Wembley Stadium. The game produced many iconic images, from defender Nobby Stiles' menacing grin (Nobby looked like a cross between Austin Powers and one of those scary fish with jagged teeth that live in the abbyssopelagic layer of the ocean); mad English fans with old fashioned faces and rosettes on their lapels and rattles in their hands; the infant-like Martin Peters flicking his Beatle haircut out of his eyes as he steadied himself to fire one on goal; the suggestion of a whiff of sulphur and sub-audible Wagner whenever a German touched the ball; Geoff Hurst leaping like a salmon to head home the winning goal; and the great Bobby Moore, England captain, hoisting the Jules Rimet to the sky while sitting on his team-mates shoulders, the sun back lighting his head to turn his hair the same colour as the trophy.

My father's generation was extremely lucky in that they got to experience the 1966 win in ultimately the only sport that matters. I play rugby and love the game, but the world cup victory in Australia last year was (I say under my breath) not the same emotionally as the lowliest of England football tournament wins. I'm a huge fan of cricket and since I've been living in the States I've become fixated on baseball, American football, and NASCAR, but nothing would come close to the anticpated floodtide of pride, joy, and inane grinning that would accompany an England World Cup win.

Of course England teams have been living with the expectation that comes from being the inventors of the game and from having won in 1966 ever since July 31st, 1966 the day after they won the World Cup. The truth is that the nautre of the game as played in the home islands is that any given generation of England players will consist of a few woefully misued or over-burdened "flair" players and a phalanx of big hearted, shin-chopping donkeys who excel at clenching their fists, gnashing their teeth, and bleeding from head wounds for England. All of these players and the coaching staff invariably exist under a blanket of insane expectation from the press and the fans that makes the slightest stumble fatal and anything less than total victory a hanging offence.

And the truth is we love it that way. Its a soap opera for boys, and once every couple of years it feels like it really matters. Two years to go to the next one, and by then the inquest into our failure at the Europeans in Portugal will be over. Roll on Germany 2006...

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