Wordpretzels, you may be aware that the World Cup Football finals are taking place in Brazil at the moment. If you’re not, let me explain.
To my American readers, when I say ‘football’ I don’t mean large men in armour and crash helmets full of testosterone and cocaine fighting over an undersized rugby ball for 10 seconds at a time before having a break. I’m talking about ‘soccer’. When I say ‘world’, I actually mean all the participating teams come from different countries rather than different states.
Now, lots of English people get very sniffy about our football being called ‘soccer’ by the people of the USA. However, they are quite mistaken, because the correct description of association football is the shortened term ‘soccer.’ So, the Americans are right and we are wrong to be so snobby about it.
Anyway, the World Cup finals take place every four years, like the Olympics. Similarly, the location of said finals is decided years in advance. Also similarly, this appears to involve lots of backroom deals, bribes, fancy gifts, sex workers and recreational drugs. Allegedly.
However, it hasn’t always been so. In 1966, the World Cup finals took place in England, with the final being played in a suburb of London known as Wembley, in the iconic Empire Stadium, with its twin towers.
It just so happened that my dad, a heating engineer and plumber by trade, worked as a site foreman for the company who were awarded the contract to refurbish the changing rooms ahead of the final. My dad, a keen football fan and a regular at Arsenal’s ground in Highbury, was delighted. Years after, he would tell us about how he met England centre forward Jimmy Greaves in the lift (elevator). Greaves stared at my dad for a moment before asking:
“Do I know you?”
My dad, the character that he was, stared back.
“No. But I know you,” was my dad’s rather menacing reply.
I was nearly 6 years old at the time and just getting interested in football. The World Cup mascot for 1966 was called World Cup Willy, one of the best names ever for young schoolboys.
“Do you like Willy?” we used to scream at each other, laughing uncontrollably. It’s still funny now.
Anyway, the changing rooms were completed just before the competition started. England made a slow start, drawing their first match with Uruguay, but got better, seeing off Mexico and France in the group stages. I can vaguely remember the quarter final against Argentina, when the commentator became very agitated with the ‘animals’ of Argentina as they tried their best to knock seven kinds of colour out of our ‘brave boys.’ (English football seems to like to draw all analogies from war situations. Make of that what you will).
I cannot remember the semi-final, just a vague memory of my dad coming home from the pub one Sunday lunch time and saying that Geoff Hurst wasn’t fit to clean Jimmy Greaves’s boots (a mighty compliment from an Arsenal fan towards a Spurs player) and that Eusebio ‘was a fucking genius’. As a 6 year old I was able to repeat an edited version to my interested teachers.
England won 2-1, but Eusebio did score late on to give England a bit of a worry. Bobby Charlton got a brace, but as my dad always maintained:
“They always show the 30 yard screamers that go in the top corner of the net. Not the other 10 shots that hit the bloke sitting in row Z behind the corner flag.”
England were in the final. It was a couple of days later that the letter arrived.
“27th July 1966
Dear Mr Randall,
Thank you for all your hard work in preparing the changing rooms at The Empire Stadium ahead of the World Cup football finals. As a gesture of gratitude, please find enclosed two tickets in the Olympic stand for the final match on 30th July.”
My dad put the envelope on the mantelpiece and left for work. The next part of the story is from my dad’s perspective and repeated to me over the years. Try and read it in a cockney accent.
“So, I goes into work and sees Reg (my dad’s workmate and friend for many years).
“Ere, Reg, I says, I’ve only got two tickets for the fucking World Cup final! D’yer fancy it?”
Reg, sucking hard on a cigarette, thinks for a moment. Reg isn’t a big football fan. He prefers jazz.
“Ain’t we gotta job on Saturday, Albie?”
“Well yeah, but…”
“Nah, mate. Let’s earn a few bob. The krauts are gonna wallop ‘em anyway. Fuckin’ waste a time.”
And that was that. Reg and dad, who used to do ‘cash in hand jobs’ at the weekend to supplement their income, decided not to go to the World Cup Final, but to do one of those instead.
For anybody (specifically American) who is unaware of the enormity of this sporting event, let me put it this way. Imagine your team reaching a Superbowl final. One that is held every four years and involves every talented country in the world. An event that is very unlikely to happen in a lifetime at least.
England won 4-2 in extra time. The match had everything. Controversy, pain, stress, triumph and jubilation.
As I grew older, my dad would occasionally remind me of these facts and how he could have told Reg that he was going to the match with me.
“I could have taken you son,” he’d say.
“Yes, dad, you could have,” I used to reply in a measured tone.
About 15 years ago, I was listening to a radio programme. Its subject was sporting memorabilia. Somebody phoned in, saying they had a 1966 World Cup Final ticket stub, was it worth anything?
The expert said no, not a great deal.
“However,” he continued, “a 1966 World Cup Final ticket, unused, would fetch upwards of a thousand pounds. If it came with an authorised letter, you’re looking at £2000.”
I phoned my dad. I had a feeling that he’d kept the letter in the inside pocket of his Crombie overcoat. I wanted to give him the good news.
“Hello dad. I was just wondering about those World Cup tickets…”
“I know. Reg said let’s do a job. I should have taken you…”
“Yes, yes, I know dad, never mind. It’s just weird that you kept hold of the tickets, because…”
“Yeah, I know, but yer muvva fancied a clear out. I ‘ad a look in me pockets and fort why am I keeping these…”