The (almost) forgotten men of ‘66


WE COULD almost reel them off as easily as the Lord’s Prayer: Banks, Cohen, Wilson, Stiles, Charlton (Jack), Moore, Ball, Hunt, Charlton (Bobby), Hurst and Peters. These 11 men became legends in their own extra time. Not necessarily the best XI ever fielded by England, but certainly the most successful, and unquestionably, the most loved.

But the World Cup is a squad game and there were 11 others who, while not exactly forgotten, would struggle to be named in a pub discussion on, “who else was in that squad?”. Well, here they are:

8 – Jimmy Greaves (Tottenham) – aged 26 and 51 caps; 11 – John Connelly (Manchester United) –  27/19 12; – Ron Springett (Sheffield Wednesday) – 30/33; 13 – Peter Bonetti (Chelsea) – 24/1; 14 – Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool) –  30/43; 15 – Gerry Byrne (Liverpool) –  27/2; 17 – Ron Flowers (Wolves) – 31/49; 18 –  Norman Hunter (Leeds United) –  22/4; 19 – Terry Paine (Southampton) – 27/18; 20 – Ian Callaghan (Liverpool) –  24/1; 22 – George Eastham (Arsenal)  – 29/19

World Cups can often be the end or beginning of a glittering international career. For the men that lined-up on that glorious afternoon for English football, the World Cup final of 1966 meant they could benefit from the loyalty of Sir Alf Ramsey for some time – critics might say too much time. For the other 11, their international careers barely lasted beyond the celebrations.

Greaves’ aching heart

Before the World Cup, Jimmy Greaves was still English football’s leading goalscorer. In 1965-66, he missed the first three months of the season due to hepatitis. Some argue that he was never quite the same player after recovering from this ailment, but he still managed to scored 16 goals in 31 games for Spurs when he returned. Brian Glanville, in his script for the 1966 FIFA World Cup film, said Greaves was “allergic to World Cups”. He had a point – Greaves had failed to impress in 1962 – but at 26, he should still have been at his peak. He played in three lack lustre group games in 1966, but was injured in the last of those against France. Geoff Hurst came in for Hurst in the quarter-final and the rest is history. One of the most poignant scenes from the final is the bench celebrating and two figures seemingly unmoved by Hurst’s breakaway goal – Ramsey is calmness personified, Greaves looks as though he’s watching a disaster unfold.

Despite missing out on what should have been the pinnacle of his career, Greaves continued to score goals better than most, but Sir Alf was not convinced, despite numerous “Greaves for England” campaigns. By the end of 1967, his England career was over after he “retired” because he did not want to be seen as an occasional call-up. With all that has followed, with Greaves’ alcoholism, you wonder if the heartbreak of 1966 was a major influence on his decline. By the time he was let go to West Ham, as bait for Spurs to sign another ’66 hero, Martin Peters, Greaves was almost washed up. Glad to say he is now recovering from his recent illness.

Discarded wingers

Ramsey’s World Cup winners were tagged as “wingless wonders”, often attracting criticism in the media in the years after 1966. But Ramsey toyed with wingers for some time, without being over-impressed by what he saw. In the three group games, John Connelly, Ian Callaghan and Terry Paine had all been tried out, but despite being unbeaten, England did not set the competition alight in those early work-outs.

Connelly’s England career ended in 1966, but so too did his time with Manchester United. At the start of 1966-67, he was sold to Blackburn Rovers for £ 40,000. This was a player who had enjoyed an excellent club career, winning the league with Burnley in 1960 and United in 1965. He died in 2012.

Callaghan continued to have a glittering career with Liverpool, and had a second wind in the 1970s as he settled into midfield. Callaghan even won a recall to the England squad at the age of 35. Unlike many members of the 1966 squad, the most successful years lay ahead for the Toxteth-born Scouser. In total, he won four caps – two coming more than 11 years after the World Cup.

Terry Paine never got another England call and spent his best years with Southampton, where he notched up 808 appearances. Paine was a highly respected player, the model clubman. He successfully transitioned from the flanks, where his  pinpoint crosses helped make the careers of Ron Davies and Martin Chivers, to midfield, where his dexterous passing helped launch Mick Channon, among others.

Like Paine and Connelly, George Eastham was also discarded after 1966. But the player who featured in a “restraint of trade” case when he was with Newcastle did have an Indian Summer with Stoke City in 1971-72. Eastham was one of those players that always looked like he’d been around for years and by the time he scored Stoke’s winning goal in the Football League Cup final in March 1972, he was one of the old men of football. In 1966 he was at Arsenal, but when 1966-67 got underway, he had been bought for £ 35,000 by Stoke.

The older guard

Eastham was 29 when he moved to unfashionable Stoke, so it is understandable that his international shelf life had expired. As a fringe player, he was not going to be reintroduced at the expense of younger talent. The World Cup represented the end, rather than the beginning, of something.

The same could be said of Jimmy Armfield and Ron Flowers, who were both in their 30s. Armfield was another one-club man, playing 569 league games for Blackpool. Armfield may have been at the veteran stage of his career – his last England cap was just before the World Cup – but he was named as best full back in the world in 1962. and the best in Europe in the subsequent years. Blackpool were very fortunate that he stayed with them for his entire playing career. He later led Leeds United to the 1975 European Cup final as manager, and he still pops up occasionally on TV and Radio.

Flowers also won his last cap in the pre-tournament tour of Scandinavia, but if nature had been on his side, may have lined-up in the final. Jack Charlton had caught a cold on the eve of the big day and Flowers was the stand-in should the Leeds centre-half not recover. Flowers had been an England international for over a decade and, at 31, he was never going to get another chance. As a member of Stan Cullis’s fine Wolves team of the late 1950s, Flowers had won three league titles and had the distinction of scoring his country’s first ever goal in the European Championship.

Both Armfield and Flowers played in that game, at Hillsborough against France, along with Greaves and goalkeeper Ron Springett. The Sheffield Wednesday keeper also ended his England career in the Nordic region, amassing 33 caps over seven years. He was also England’s goalkeeper in the 1962 World Cup. Always a reliable and highly regarded player, he retired in 1969 after a second spell with Queens Park Rangers. Springett died in September 2015.

Another member of the shadow ’66 squad died in 2015 – Gerry Byrne. He was part of Liverpool’s title winning teams in 1964 and 1966. He will always be remembered for his brave display in the 1965 FA Cup final. The story of Byrne’s broken collarbone, the result of a fierce challenge by Leeds United’s Bobby Collins, has passed into Wembley folklore – he played on with a debilitating injury and played his part in Liverpool’s first FA Cup triumph. He won only two caps, the last on tour before the tournament began.

Born at the wrong time

There were two players in the squad who, in any other era, would have won dozens of caps for England: Norman Hunter and Peter Bonetti. They were deprived of lengthy international careers by two legendary figures: Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks.

Hunter won only 28 caps over a nine year period, Bonetti just seven. Both players, unfortunately, will be remembered for the wrong reasons by many people. Both made their World Cup debuts in the same game – England v West Germany, June 14, 1970. Until then, they had both been understudies.

Bonetti started the Quarter-Final tie in Leon because Banks had food poisoning. Hunter was a substitute in that game, coming on for Martin Peters nine minutes from time. England led 2-0 and Bonetti, as stand-in goalkeeper, was blamed for allowing the game to drift away from the world champions. England lost 3-2 and Bonetti was lambasted for his display, perhaps unfairly. He apologised to Ramsey, who said “don’t let it bother you”, but he was never picked again for international duty.

Hunter continued to be involved when Moore was unavailable, but his moment of regret would come in October 1973, mistiming a tackle that led to Poland’s goal on a disastrous night for England. The goal gave the unfancied visitors the lead in a game that England had to win – it ended 1-1 and it was the Poles that qualified. Hunter was disconsolate at the end as Brian Clough called for the head of Ramsey. He got his wish a few months later.

Shape of things to come

The shadow XI deserve mention for being part of the 1966 squad, but if you look at their contribution after 1966, it does seem there was very little strength in depth. Of the 22, Bonetti, Greaves and Hunter went on to continue their England careers. Callaghan had a brief flirtation late in the day. By the time 1970 came along, 10 members of the 1966 squad remained, but only six were first choice: Banks, Moore, Ball, Bobby Charlton, Hurst and Peters. Stiles and Jack Charlton were really retained for old times’ sake, Cohen and Wilson had succumbed to injury, Hunt had retired. The other players that flew to Mexico to defend the Jules Rimet trophy suggested there was more options. Certainly, England went to South America claiming they had a stronger team  than four years’ earlier. But in the heat of Mexico, four years older became something of an issue, despite the airtex shirts.

There is no doubt that 1966 and 1970 represented the best England could offer on the World stage. It’s noticeable, however, that neither squad was forward looking at all – perhaps they were not meant to be, because even back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, managers were still only planning as far as the next match. Nevertheless, we should remember the 11 players that were part of the England squad in 1966. Even though they may not have played in that final, they were a damned sight closer to glory than any player who has worn the shirt since…


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