“I like your little Willie” – 1966 remembered

Merseypete is a regular on the forum on Joys and Sorrows. He has sent us this article looking back at 1966, very topical with Sunday’s clash fast approaching! Enjoy!

It was bound to happen – England versus Germany. It brings back many of the same memories for most of us, especially losing on penalties (only twice, apparently, though it seems like more). But for those of us old enough to remember, 1966 stands above it all. But as a football crazy 18 year old I managed to be one of about half a dozen people in the whole country to miss the match. Here’s how it happened – you can share my pain.

As you might imagine, there was tremendous excitement that the World Cup was here. I even wore a ‘World Cup Willie’ badge – he was the cute lion who served as the mascot for the tournament. I wore it one day when I was collecting for a charity in the Bull Ring when a pretty nurse (well, she might have been pretty – all girls looked pretty to me back then) bought a flag off me and said ‘Oh, I do like your little Willie!’ Well there was no answer to that, though as my brother pointed out I should have said ‘would you like to stroke his mane?’. However, I was a shy lad and it was just red faces and nervous giggles all round.

One thing you need to realise about 1966 is that nobody, apart from Alf Ramsey, really thought that England could win the World Cup. We didn’t win world cups – Brazil won them. Just like Real Madrid always won the European Cup and Blues always got to the final of the Fairs Cup, though nobody outside Small Heath seemed to care about that.

So when my school (I was in my last year) arranged an activity week in the Lake District I didn’t think twice about signing up. I’d never been there before let alone done any mountaineering, sailing or canoeing; these things were completely alien to a working class boy from Hall Green and I liked the sound of it. I didn’t look at the dates.

The World Cup got under way; England made a slow start, but Bobby Charlton’s great goal against Mexico kick started the campaign. I got a ticket to see Spain play Argentina at Villa Park so got the chance to see Real Madrid stars such as Gento, and the infamous Argentinians, led by Rattin. For some reason I especially remember a bow legged winger called Oscar Mas. There weren’t as many teams in the finals then but I followed it avidly, and especially remember the tiny North Koreans and the last great Hungarian side, starring the fantastic Florian Albert and Farkas. They were based in Liverpool and local legend has it that one Kopite said ‘If I came home and found that Albert in bed with me missus I’d bring him an extra blanket and a cup of tea!’.

It began to seem possible – just – that maybe England really could win the thing. Pele was disgracefully kicked out of the cup, and Bobby Charlton, my favourite non Blues player of all time, was emerging as one of the stars of the tournament. Then I looked at the date of my week away. It ended on the day of the final.

There was no backing out of the trip. My parents had coughed up money they could ill afford for it. Anyway, if we did reach the final we could be back in time for kick off. No problem. Surely.

In Coniston we went to a pub to see the semi final, one of the most memorable (non Blues) matches of my life. We had no real hope of winning; Portugal had Eusebio, the Black Pearl, one of the greatest players of all time, the equal of Pele. But win we did, we just had to leave early enough to watch the game on Saturday.

I can’t really explain what happened that Saturday morning. The people in charge were PE teachers, sports fanatics, though not big football fans, we played rugby at Moseley grammar school. But despite our pleading they showed no urgency at all. The tents had to be taken down (slowly), folded (carefully), packed away (painstakingly). By the time we left it was obvious we would miss a lot of the match. The roads were deserted but they wouldn’t stop to watch the game somewhere, the van had to be back on time and could only do about 40 miles an hour. So we plodded along back to Brum, no radio (a car radio was a luxury then), just the odd snippet of news from people we passed or when we stopped for petrol. In Digbeth we stopped at yet another garage and found that Germany had just equalised – it looked like extra time.

They didn’t even drop me at our house. I had to walk the last 400 yards from the Robin Hood Island. I walked into our front room which was packed with relatives, crouched round the tiny black and white screen. My cousin said ‘You’re just in time to see England lose the World Cup’. What! We were losing?

My mum butted in to say no, we were winning but my cousin fully expected Germany to score again.

As I put my rucksack down Geoff Hurst burst through the middle, I heard Kenneth Wolstenholme’s voice; ‘Some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over………………..’

Well, you know the rests so I didn’t experience the highs and lows with the rest of the country. Haller’s early goal, England’s fight back, the late equaliser, the “Russian” (well, Soviet Azerbaijani) linesman.

I’ve never seen the game in full and I never want to, it would just remind me of my humiliation and the unreasonable behaviour of two teachers. To make matters worse I later found that my dad had been given two tickets for the third place play off earlier that week. He would have taken me but my rugby fan brother went instead. So I was even denied the chance to visit Wembley for the first time. That would have to wait a few decades until Blues were – unthinkably – in the third division and we reached the Leyland DAF cup final, and believe me, I certainly DIDN’T miss that one!


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1 Comment on “I like your little Willie” – 1966 remembered

  1. Nice one Pete, I will never forget Nobby Stiles posing with the world cup with no front teeth. He had taken his false teeth out before the game.

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