In the Shadow of ’66

Ashley Calver from the @AshAndAlPodcast asks; would there be less expectations of England, had we not won the World Cup fifty years ago? [Originally featured in Liquid Football Magazine Issue Five]

In 2016, the 50th anniversary of English football’s greatest hour was celebrated. It is, without doubt, the biggest achievement in the game, and something that every player dreams of doing. Led by the straight talking Alf Ramsey, who did indeed say before the ’66 tournament began that his side would win it.

Not many believed it, and England were by no means favourites for the Cup, the players and manager pulled off a defining win. The World Cup win was so defining that the question and debate should be started, that would we have been better off not winning the Jules Rimet Trophy 50 years ago?

I grew up with stories still fresh in the previous generation’s minds about when England ruled the footballing World. Stories that stuck with me during my early football supporting days. To an extent, maybe it was a form of being brainwashed. But I, along with many others, truly believed that my country were the best side on the planet.

My earliest memory of watching England was in Italia ’90 which, anyone who lived through, will agree that it was one of the greatest tournaments. It was this competition that reaffirmed in my mind that we were World beaters; coming back in that game with Cameroon, Gazza bossing the beautiful game and my country’s heart breaking loss on penalties in the semis after, arguably, playing West Germany off the park. Such a cruel way to lose and exit the biggest show on earth.

But even in my young years I could appreciate how good we were and take ride from it. It was soon after this that I started to realise what being an England fan is all about.

I was a Liverpool fan from the age of four to around six or seven. Not because I knew football, but because I saw them on Match of the Day, they won so I picked them – not a great basis for picking a side to support. However, when I was seven I went to Portman Road and saw Ipswich Town play. I think they lost that night but the feeling I had watching them and cheering them on got to me somewhere deep down, and I knew that this was my team. Nearly thirty years have gone and they lose most nights, but that’s my team and I regret nothing.

With my club, I could choose who to support, but with my country there was no choice. Through all of the tournaments, the quarter finals, the second round exits, the penalty shootouts, the group exits, the failed qualifying campaigns; I have cheered them on every minute of every game.

The Golden generation came and went, with the echoes of mine, and the vast majority, of fans support in their ears. My encouragement would not have been any less or more had we not won that World Cup, but always in the back of my mind comes the thought that we were the best in the world. A tiny after thought is all it is, but it makes those disappointing losses and exits a hundred times worse.

Had the Queen handed the trophy to the West Germany captain Uwe Seeler, instead of Bobby Moore, could we as a nation enjoy the experience of just qualifying for major tournaments, let alone getting to quarter finals and semi-finals? Would the players that followed feel less pressure, and be free to express themselves on the pitch for their nation. Would the media be more realistic and not lambaste everyone that they can, rather than praise a team that sometimes punches above its weight.

We are not a major force in competitive international football. But because of that day over half a century ago, some still believe that we are. Being a football fan is comparable with poker players, even in the face of certain defeat, most still have the attitude of ‘all I need is a chip and a chair’. With football fans similarly just needing a side to support. And hope.