Bobby Moore and Johnny Byrne signing in the rain ()Bobby Moore and Johnny Byrne signing in the rain () © Copyright

How the boys of 66 won the world

Fifty years ago, England’s finest men won the World Cup at Wembley. Here’s what they got up to in their spare time

John Rowlinson’s new book Boys Of 66: The Unseen Story Behind England’s World Cup Glory tells the tale of how manager Sir Alf Ramsey assembled a team of world-beaters, whittling down a list of 50 hopefuls to a final squad of 22 and finally his best 11. It’s full of previously unpublished, unposed and informal photographs.

Bobby Charlton cricket scoreboard ()


Before the tournament began, Brazil were favourites (they failed to get past the group stage after losing to Hungary and Portugal), but England had the home advantage. Sir Alf introduced a new narrow 4-3-3 formation, and his team were nicknamed the “wingless wonders” in an era when tricky wide man was king.

Boys Of 66 also shows just how much has changed in 50 years. The £20-a-week salary cap for footballers was only lifted in 1961 thanks to the efforts of PFA chairman Jimmy Hill. Top-level footballers could now expect better pay than the average working man, but they were still mowing their own lawn.

Johnny Byrne swimming pool

The day after England won the World Cup, The Times only gave the story second billing on its front page after leading with a big-money order for Rolls Royce engines. The four quarter-finals all kicked off at 3pm on a Saturday, and only England’s match against Argentina was shown live, with the others restricted to highlights.

Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst is still the only man to score three goals in a World Cup final, and he was only in the team because Jimmy Greaves got injured in the group stages. Hurst’s second may be the most contentious goal ever, but four years later he scored a perfectly good goal at 2-2 in extra-time of the 1970 World Cup quarter-final. It was disallowed, and West Germany went on to win 3-2. The scoundrels.

Bobby More on a bed with Tina ()


In the three years before the tournament, Sir Alf picked 50 players and experimented with a variety of formations. By 1966, the back five – goalkeeper Gordon Banks and the back four of Bobby Moore, Jack Charlton, George Cohen and Ray Wilson – were set, and it paid off. England didn’t concede a single goal until the semi-final against Portugal. The final marked Bobby Moore’s 73rd match of the season for club and country.

England 1966 squad training at Bellfield Liverpool ()


Ramsey, Hurst and star player Bobby Charlton were all knighted for their achievements. Charlton, an attacking midfielder who wore number nine, also won the Ballon d’Or that year. “A shot from Charlton, especially if hit from outside the penalty area, is one of the great events in sport,” sports journalist Arthur Hopcraft wrote at the time.

George Cohen mows his lawn ()


West Ham’s Martin Peters didn’t have a cap to his name until a month before the tournament. He made his debut in a pre-tournament friendly, made the squad and went on to score in the World Cup final. The way he was talked about, as a versatile and complete midfielder, is similar to a certain Spurs midfielder who has only just made his way into Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad. Alli to score in a 4-2 final win over Germany?

Boys of 66 by John Rowlinson, published by Virgin Books, is out now, £20

Images: Mirrorpix


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