PARIS: This Saturday marks 50 years since English football’s finest hour, when Alf Ramsey’s side beat West Germany 4-2 in an incident-packed 1966 World Cup finals at Wembley.
It was England’s first and only World Cup triumph and, not surprisingly, is still recalled with passion and fondness.
The late Bobby Moore lifted the trophy, while Geoff Hurst became the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup finals which was full of incident and controversy, some of which still burns to this day.
When England started the 1966 tournament, the prospect of winning the title appeared a long way off.
An opening goalless draw with Uruguay saw the team widely criticised, and their matches did not start to be sold out until the knockout stages.
Comfortable victories over Mexico and France saw England safely through to the quarter-finals, where Hurst’s late header saw off 10-man Argentina in a bruising encounter at Wembley.
The South Americans’ skipper Antonio Rattin was sent off for “violence of the tongue”. Ramsey described Argentina as “animals”.
Bobby Charlton’s stunning brace then helped the hosts past a Eusebio-inspired Portugal 2-1 in the semis, before the thrilling final at Wembley on July 30, 1966.
In front of 96,000 fans, Hurst was imperious in the air once more against West Germany to cancel out Helmut Haller’s early opener, and Martin Peters’ 78th-minute volley appeared to have won it for England.
And even though Wolfgang Weber stabbed in at the back post to force extra-time, Hurst grabbed what proved to be the winner.
The West Ham United striker’s shot hit the underside of the crossbar and didn’t appear to cross the line, but the Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst consulted with the linesman Tofiq Bahramov and awarded one of the most hotly-contested goals in history.
In Hurst’s mind though, he still has no doubt that it was the right decision.
“I turned away to celebrate but it wasn’t kidology. It was 2-2, in the World Cup final,” he wrote in the Mail on Sunday last week.
“For me the clinching piece of evidence is Roger Hunt, wheeling away, instinctively, to celebrate. If you’re not sure, you try to put it in and Roger didn’t. It might have saved all this debate if he had, but I’m glad he didn’t.”
Hurst added his third in the dying moments, and the game, watched by an estimated 32 million television viewers, went down in English sporting folklore.
Despite controversies both in the final and throughout the competition helping them on their way to glory, England have not had as good a team since.
The best chance they had of repeating the feat was probably four years later in Mexico with largely the same side, but they blew a 2-0 half-time lead to lose to West Germany in the quarterfinals.
There were the 1990 World Cup and Euro 96 heartbreaks to German teams in semi-final penalty shoot-outs.
1966 remains the only time England have played in a major final.
Earlier this month Sam Allardyce became the 12th manager since Ramsey was sacked in 1974 to be tasked with leading England to international triumph, after Roy Hodgson was the latest to come unstuck in an embarrassing Euro 2016 exit to minnows Iceland.
Perhaps all the failures in the last half a century have helped keep the 1966 final so vividly recalled.
Few are more poignant than those of Tina Moore, the wife of the England captain who died from cancer in 1993 at the age of 51.
“I can still see Bobby climbing the steps, wiping his hands so as not to soil the Queen’s white gloved hand. I recall laughing and thinking only Bobby would do such a thing, forever the gentleman,” she recalled.