This week, the BBC screened “live” the 1966 World Cup final in the style of its regular matchday coverage, with text commentary and through-the-game interaction with the audience. The timing was superb. Notwithstanding that the World Cup is just days away, England 2014 were about to play Peru at Wembley in their last game before flying to the other side of the world. So, after watching England win the Jules Rimet trophy, you could go along and see how we’re progressed since that July afternoon in 1966.
England’s 1966 success was played down for many years. “Ramsey’s wingless wonders”, was one oft-used term to describe a “team for a tournament”. It was not until 1986, and the 20th anniversary, that people started to realise the enormity of the achievement.
Many also pointed to the fact England were the host country, yet so were Uruguay (1930), Italy (1934), West Germany (1974) and Argentina (1978). But 13 years earlier, England’s invincibility on their own turf had been severely tested when Hungary beat them 6-3 at Wembley.
Were England really the best team in the world when they beat West Germany 4-2 in the final in 1966? Actually, they pretty much were not far off it. Over a four-year period between 1963 and the end of 1966, England’s record was almost the best in the world.
Not convinced? The last eight in the 1966 World Cup were: England, West Germany, Soviet Union. Portugal, Argentina, Hungary, North Korea and Uruguay. Discount the Koreas as they were one-offs, but then add Brazil to that group along with France, Scotland, Yugoslavia, Czechoslavakia, Spain and Italy and you pretty much have the best sides in the world in that period.
Taking results between all of these countries during the 1963-1966 period and England fare very well indeed, winning 13 of their 23 games. Only Portugal’s record was better, both from a win percentage and points (* 2 for a win, 1 for a draw). England’s five defeats were against France (2-5 ), Scotland (1-2 and 0-1), Brazil (1-5) and Argentina (0-1). But among the victories, aside from the five in the 1966 finals, were further wins against West Germany and a 2-0 success in Spain.
West Germany, by the way, had a relatively poor record over the four years against the best sides. They lost six of their 13 games and won only four.
England’s crown was justified, even if they may have been a more workmanlike team than, say Portugal or even the Germans. They were World Champions!