England 1970 – better than ’66?
Posted on April 6, 2020
WINNING TWO consecutive World Cups has only been achieved once, by the brilliant Brazil team that lifted the trophy in 1958 and 1962. But when England travelled to Mexico for the 1970 World Cup, there were genuine hopes that Sir Alf Ramsey’s side could retain the trophy won in 1966. Indeed, the more patriotic contingent in Fleet Street felt the 1970 squad was actually a stronger unit.
The prospect of playing in a Latin American country, with all the challenges that came with it, may have made the task daunting, but there was enough confidence to suggest the holders could be real contenders. Even so, Ramsey admitted it would be tough for England to retain their title, but equally, it would be hard to take it away from them.
Nobody in England really knew how good the current batch of Latin Americans were. There was little, if any, coverage of the international game other than the European Cup final, and people only got to be aware of South American football through rumour and heresay, unless a national team went on a European tour or a club side caused a stir in the World Club Championship.
Mexico had hosted the 1968 Olympic Games and there had been a lot of concerns about the altitude and high temperatures. The European nations would have problems in acclimatising, the scientists and medics said, and the South American teams and the hosts would have a distinct advantage. Brazil, in 1958, were the only country to have won the World Cup on another continent. That said, in the Mexico Olympics, Hungary won gold, Bulgaria silver and Spain and France went as far as the last eight.
England expected their players would lose between eight and 10 pounds in weight during a 90-minute game. In order to combat the draining effect of playing in searing heat, they experimented with slow sodium capsules, which were supposed to replace the lost salts in their bodies. They also donned new Umbro aertex shirts that would be cooler than traditional football kits.
England, since 1966, had largely maintained the core of their World Cup winning line-up. George Cohen and Ray Wilson, the full backs, had succumbed to injury and age, while Nobby Stiles had endured a disappointing post-66 career, partly due to the decline of his club Manchester United. Roger Hunt had retired from international duty in 1969. Jack Charlton, despite retaining his position in the England squad, was now a veteran and no longer first choice at centre half. Jimmy Greaves, the crestfallen striker who lost his place in England’s final XI, was last capped in 1967 at the age of 27.
Ramsey’s ‘66 side had very much been a team to fit a system, but the players that had emerged since were working for strong managerial and coaching figures such as Don Revie, Malcolm Allison and Bill Nicholson. The game had changed since 1966 and the ongoing debate over club versus country meant Ramsey’s men also belonged to employers with firm views on how the game should be played. Some were in very successful club teams that had played 60-odd games in a season.
English clubs became more European-savvy in the years after 1966. Leeds United, for example, had won the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup in 1968, just over 12 months after losing in the final of the same competition. This triggered off a three-year stretch of English success that included victories for Newcastle United (1969) and Arsenal (1970). Manchester United had won the European Cup in 1968 and neighbours City had secured the European Cup-Winners’ Cup (1970). The club game was looking very healthy, but people were generally unexcited by the national team, which was seen as efficient and lacking in charisma.
In fact, Ramsey was often accused of picking steady, solid players instead of character actors like Chelsea’s Peter Osgood and indeed, media favourite Jimmy Greaves. Some felt he was too loyal to the men who had won in 1966. Nevertheless, the players who were coming through, such as Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Terry Cooper, to name but three, were considered to be every bit as good as those that had helped England to glory. Those that remained from 1966 were getting older and 1970 would be their swansong in the World Cup. That group would have included Gordon Banks, Bobby and Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst.
England’s performance in the 1968 European Championship (then the Nations Cup) ended disappointingly in Florence with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Yugoslavia, a team they were expected to beat comfortably. They finished third in that tournament, beating the USSR 2-0 in the third/fourth play-off. From 1968-69, England were preparing for Mexico with friendly matches and the Home Internationals. They were held to frustrating draws with Romania and Bulgaria and then beat a poor French side 5-1 at Wembley. Some performances fell below expectations and not everyone was behind Ramsey and his mean.
The press never really gave them full credit for their achievements and often Ramsey’s tight-lipped response to questions and motionless poker face, would move reporters to be very critical. Nobody really saw the Ramsey way – “the wingless wonders” – as being attractive or acting as a standard bearer for the future of the game and hence, it took many years for full recognition to come the way of Ramsey and his team.
The Home Internationals saw England field the team that would take shape for Mexico and they won all three games, most impressively with a 4-1 demolition of a decent Scotland side at Wembley, with Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters scoring two apiece. The line-up, Gordon Banks in goal, Keith Newton and Terry Cooper at full back, Brian Labone and Bobby Moore in the centre of defence, a midfield of Alan Mullery, Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Francis Lee and Geoff Hurst up front was soon seen as England’s optimal XI.
It was an ideal send-off for England on their diplomatic and fact-finding mission to Mexico, Uruguay and Brazil in the summer of 1969. England did well, drawing 0-0 in the magnificent Azteca Stadium, beating Uruguay in Montevideo and narrowly losing to a Brazil team that included six of the players who would become world champions in 1970. But England didn’t quite make as many friends and influence as many people as they had hoped and the Mexican public failed to warm to Ramsey and his team.
Little did England know at that point, but they would be drawn in the same group as Brazil as well as two difficult Eastern Europeans in Czechoslavakia and Romania. England came through the 1969-70 season but they had rarely shown their best form and one or two players had been off-song. Peters had moved from West Ham to Tottenham, largely because he was concerned about his own performances, the Leeds contingent (Cooper, Charlton, Norman Hunter and Allan Clarke) had endured a season of heartbreak, losing in the FA Cup final, finishing league runners-up and going all the way to the semi-finals of the European Cup.
On the other hand, there were some players who had enjoyed very successful seasons – Jeff Astle of West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea’s Peter Osgood had scored 48 league goals between them. Brian Labone, Alan Ball, Keith Newton and Tommy Wright had all been part of Everton’s league championship side. Of the 22 players who would form the final squad in Mexico, only Gordon Banks and Emlyn Hughes had not tasted success with their clubs. Compared to 1966, this squad had more experience of what it took to win medals.
Sir Alf Ramsey had been on a number of fact-finding missions ahead of the competition. Bobby Charlton, writing in Goal magazine, commented: “Sir Alf has spent so much time in Mexico these past three years that he knows it almost as well as his own garden in Ipswich.” A light-hearted take from England’s veteran midfielder, but the build-up suggested Ramsey was concerned about taking his champions to what he saw as a hostile environment.
England travelled to South America early and played a series of warm-up games, beating Colombia in Bogota (4-0) and Ecuador in Quito (2-0). The tour was soured by the accusations in Bogota that Bobby Moore had stolen a bracelet when visiting a store. Moore was arrested and eventually released but there was an underlying feeling this had all been designed to disrupt England’s preparations for the World Cup finals.
England remained one of the favourites to win the competition. Helmut Schön, West Germany’s manager, tipped them to retain their crown, while Mario Zagalo of Brazil felt his team, the Germans and England would be the main contenders.
Pele, Banks and Müller
While the group game statistics will show that England won two of their three games, they had to grind-out both victories. Their opener was against a tough and determined Romania side who seemed content to foul the holders at every opportunity. England won 1-0 thanks a Geoff Hurst goal which was good enough to start the campaign, but this was quickly overshadowed by the way Brazil dismantled Czechoslavakia the following day.
On June 7, 1970, England met Brazil in a game that would, in many ways, see the baton passed from the 1966 winners to the 1970 champions. There have been many superlatives used to describe this fine example of modern football and there were some outstanding moments, not least the spectacular, impossible save by Gordon Banks from Pele’s header. England lost by a single goal, scored by Jairzinho, but played their best football of the tournament with Bobby Moore showing that Bogota had not affected his game and Terry Cooper outstanding at left back.
The same could not be said of their third group game against the Czechs. Ramsey made a number of changes, fielding Keith Newton, Jack Charlton, Colin Bell, Allan Clarke and Jeff Astle. In an unfamiliar sky blue kit, England put in their worst display for some time but won with a penalty from Clarke. It was enough to send them through to the quarter-finals, although the woodwork had to come to England’s rescue.
Had England really been convincing in the group matches? They rose to the occasion against Brazil, but one goal scored in open play in three games suggested they lacked the firepower and flair to win the competition. Brazil, of course, had captured the hearts of the football world with their exciting style and West Germany, with Gerd Müller scoring no less than seven goals in three games, had been tipped to go all the way. England had to face the Germans in the last eight and their form made them favourites to win in León.
England thought they would be at full strength, but another twist, one full of conspiracy theories, saw Gordon Banks, arguably the top goalkeeper in the world, confined to bed with food poisoning. Ramsey thought Banks would pull through, but he was weakened by the ailment and Peter Bonetti replaced him. Bonetti had just had an outstanding season for Chelsea and in his previous six games for England had conceded just one goal, but he had played only 90 minutes since the FA Cup final replay.
England were outstanding for an hour and were 2-0 ahead thanks to goals from Alan Mullery (31 mins) and Martin Peters (49 mins). Sadly, Bonetti was considered at fault for England’s capitulation, starting with a 68thminute strike from Franz Beckenbauer. Of the three goals that West Germany scored, the first was, realistically, the one that Bonetti should have stopped. Uwe Seeler’s back header that equalised in the 81stminute had a certain freakish quality about it, but it sent the game to extra time. England, who went into the following half hour without Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters, without looked ragged and it was almost inevitable that Gerd Müller, who had been largely anonymous for most of the game, should score the winner after 107 minutes.
England had been under terrible pressure in the second half as the Germans hit back. The media were clear about where the problem laid – England allowed their opponents in every game more chances as they created themselves. Nobody wanted to blame Bonetti, underlining the professionalism of the squad.
There was sense of shock afterwards, England had lost their crown to the country they had beaten in 1966. It was the beginning of the end of an era, especially for Ramsey. For four players, Bobby Charlton, Peter Bonetti, Keith Newton and Brian Labone, it proved to be their last international. Of the 1966 brigade, Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton were also at the end of their England careers.
Geoff Hurst and Gordon Banks were gone within two years, Bobby Moore and Martin Peters lasted a little longer and finally, Alan Ball of the World Cup winners finished on the international stage in 1974-75 aged 30. The 1970 lads from Ramsey’s ideal eleven, Francis Lee and Terry Cooper were no longer required after 1972 and 1974 respectively. For every member of the 1970 squad, the World Cup would never come their way again, for England didn’t qualify again until 1982.
Journalist Alan Hughes, clearly no advocate of Ramsey, tried to extract some consolation from England’s elimination: “Perhaps defeat will benefit English football in the long run. There is every chance that had we kept the World Cup, most of our league teams would have been playing the functional but unentertaining 4-4-2 and bored the fans to death.”
Making comparisons is hard, but the popular view that the 1970 team was better than 1966 is even more difficult to assess. It might be easier to say that the 1970 side had experience and was perhaps “better liked” by the media and therefore the narrative was the team was better because we say it is. But England failed to beat the two strong teams they met in Mexico ’70, unlike their predecessors who had disposed of three good teams – Argentina, Portugal and West Germany. There is a theory that there were more proficient teams in 1970 than there were in 1966.
Taking one man at a time, you could argue players such as Terry Cooper, Alan Mullery, Brian Labone and Francis Lee were just as good as those they replaced. You could also make a case that Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Alan Ball were more accomplished players in 1970. But as a unit, the 1966 team proved it could take on and beat the better opponents. Since 1966, the ability to dispose of really strong teams has somewhat eluded England and it may well have started with that World Cup. England’s two best games were both defeats in Mexico and for that reason, it is hard to agree with those that believe the 1970 team was a superior product. Bobby Charlton, who played in both teams, was asked some years later if the 1970 squad was better that 1966 and he opted for the side that won.
Certainly, by 1972, the 1970 team, if it had been better than 1966, should have been peaking in the Euros. It received another body blow, once more when coming up against the Germans, which really demonstrates that 1970 was really the end of something, rather than the start of something more promising.