Since the 1966 FIFA World Cup, England have never reached the final of any major tournament. It’s been a painful 52 years since the Three Lion last touched the illustrious World Cup trophy, but the heroics of Geoff Hurst and Bobby Moore – as well as the iconic words of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s famous commentary – are still remembered across every home in England.
Saturday, July 30th. Wembley Stadium. England versus West Germany. The script had been written, Pickles had found the Jules Rimet trophy, and all that was left was for England’s famous XI to do was to perform on the day.
The England squad had come a long way throughout the tournament, but while this was a land of hope, there was little expectation of glory. Before the tournament had even started, the Observer was already slating England’s chances, “All the indications are, as a national prestige booster, the World Cup is going to be a resounding flop”.
The starting XI was out. England would line up with Banks in net; Cohen at the back alongside Leeds’ Jack Charlton, West Ham’s Bobby Moore and Everton’s Ray Wilson. Just sitting in front of the defence was Man United’s battling midfielder Nobby Stiles, and in front of him was the inspiring trio of Alan Ball, Martin Peters and Bobby Charlton.
Finally, England’s front two was made up by Liverpool’s Roger Hunt alongside West Ham’s Geoff Hurst. The players had made their way to the pitch, and Queen Elizabeth herself was watching nervously. Not only did they have the added pressure of the Queen watching their every movement, a vociferous 96,000 people had made their way to Wembley to watch England’s biggest game ever.
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The game had started, and only ten minutes in, the unthinkable had happened. England had conceded. England’s seemingly staunch defence was lauded for terrific performances throughout the tournament, but Helmut Haller had put the Germans ahead before Moore and co. had chance to find their feet.
A botched clearance from Wilson put England under pressure, and Haller was there to exploit the defender’s mistake. Haller cushioned the ball down, took a touch with his right before nestling it into the bottom corner past an unsighted Gordon Banks.
But then, only eight minutes after opener, Geoff Hurst came to England’s rescue as he bagged a vital equaliser that changed the game in the hosts’ favour. England had not offered anything in the game so far, and the goal came out of nothing.
Bobby Charlton evaded Beckenbauer in the centre, and then slipped the ball out left to Moore. Moore was then clattered by Overath, and a free kick was awarded. Quickly dusting himself off, the England captain then put in a delightful ball to fellow Iron Geoff Hurst, who made no mistake and buried the ball past Tilkowski. England were back in it.
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Hurst’s equaliser opened the game up, and frenzied attacks from both sides were met with impeccable defending and goalkeeping from both Banks and Tilkowski. When the sides went in level at half time, it was miraculous that the game was 1-1 and was not been three apiece.
When the sides came back out, torrential rain had greeted Wembley, and the second half started scrappily. The fans had quietened down, the match was now a lot more even. One goal could change everything.
And it did.
In the 78th minute, Peters put England ahead after a woeful clearance from German defender Höttges. The ball dropped into the German box, eight yards out, and Peters was there to lash the ball home. England, having waited 103 years since inventing the game, were now 12 minutes from becoming the champions of the world. All England had to do was hold out. Wembley was waiting. The Queen was waiting. England was waiting.
Of course, they conceded.
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A German goal in the 89th minute spelt heartbreak for England. A needless panic by Jack Charlton gifted Germany a free kick 30 yards out, just to the left of the goal. Emmerich blasted the free kick straight through to wall, where the ball would fall to his teammate Held, who struck the ball goalwards.
The shot was hit towards Banks, but it hit the back of Schnellinger and deflects to the right, drifting slowly through an anarchic melee. The ball somehow evaded both Wilson and Seeler, but Weber slid in at the right hand post and lifted the ball over the despairing arms of Banks.
Four minutes after the game had restarted, England thought they had found a winner through their follically challenged number nine, Bobby Charlton, who struck the post with a low shot. The ball even rebounded back into the ‘keeper’s face, and rolled away from danger. England were pressing for the all important goal, and the sun was now beaming on the 22 players gracing the Wembley turf.
The fans were roaring the Three Lions on when, in the 101st minute, Geoff Hurst had surely won it for England. The goal of goals, Geoff Hurst had seemingly scored a World Cup winner. Hurst unleashed a powerful rising shot towards Tilkowski. The ball rocketed up over the ‘keeper’s head and off the underside of the crossbar, before bouncing down on the line and back into the centre.
Hunt, who really should have been following it in, turned instead to celebrate, both arms aloft. Weber steps in to head over the bar for what he imagined will be a corner. For a couple of seconds, it appeared a corner would be the result of Hurst’s effort.
The pseudo-goalscorer’s shoulders slumped, his hands resting on his knees. But they were soon in the air in celebration: the referee quickly consulted his linesman and pointed to the centre circle. The home crowd erupted. Hurst had done it.
The whistle then blew for half time. England knew what they had to do: hold out for fifteen minutes, and the Jules Rimet trophy was theirs. They’d thrown away their lead in the 89th minute, and Alf Ramsey assured them they weren’t about to repeat such heartbreak.
After the restart, England were on the back foot and defending for their lives. They had lasted fifteen minutes and the referee was seconds away from blowing his whistle, when Geoff Hurst became England’s hat-trick hero, and sealed the World Cup for England. 4-2.
England had won the World Cup.