To get the juices flowing during England’s adventure in Russia each week in Football FanCast we’re going to be looking back at a unforgettable moment from the Three Lions’ World Cup canon.
This time out we revisit an arrowed beauty that had us believing in the impossible.
The 1966 World Cup final is a cultural artefact forever enshrined in our history. It is the moon landing, but exclusively ours and so over-familiar are the best bits they seem like pastiches when footage of them is shown. There’s Geoff Hurst scampering down the pitch with barely a German defender in sight. There’s the commentary. No more words are necessary now because the image floods your brain; as clear and definitive as the memory of what you ate for breakfast this morning.
Yet a fortnight earlier there was another famous victory for England and another famous goal that lit up Wembley Stadium, only this one took place in the group stage and with history having to prioritise. the game, the goal, and the moment has been relegated through the decades to an after-thought. An ‘oh yeah, that happened too’. It doesn’t make it any less special though – not in its own right at least – and indeed it could be said that on July 15th 1966 it was the most important 90 minutes the Three Lions had ever faced.
The match was England v Mexico, the second visit to Wembley for the hosts and following a disappointing draw in their opener it was one that desperately needed to be won. The goal, stripped of all description, was scored by Bobby Charlton.
The truly great players always reserve a peerless, perfect example of what makes them so special for the World Cup. Diego Maradona’s slaloming slice of genius that floored half of the England team in 1986 was twelve seconds that summed up the little man more than a thousand books ever could. Pele’s defining moment was actually a miss but his extravagant dummy on the Uruguayan goalkeeper in 1970 that ultimately rolled inches past the post encapsulated the Brazilian’s ingenuity.
By the mid-Sixties Bobby Charlton was known throughout the world for his powerful long-range shooting. There was infinitely more to his game than that of course but in an era when the planet was unconnected beyond transistor radios simplicity was necessary and so it was that thirty yard screamers were the Manchester United midfielder’s calling card. With over half an hour played against the Mexicans, on arguably the biggest stage he had yet set foot on, the 29 year old pulled out one of his very best yet.
Until he did; until he drew back his right leg and unleashed a trademark thunderbolt, the crowd were getting restless. England had yet to score in this feverishly anticipated tournament that had the whole country spellbound for months beforehand. More so, nerves were setting in. But then Roger Hunt laid off the ball to Charlton inside the centre circle and the Mexican defence – bafflingly given the player’s reputation and stature for galloping forward and cracking one from distance – all dropped deep.
Hunt charged down the inside-right channel to put doubts in the opposition minds while Terry Paine did likewise on the other flank. Charlton now had options and his movement suggests he was exploring all three: first adjusting his stride to open up the possibility of a slide-rule pass in one direction then the other.
Meanwhile the Mexican back-line continued to drop off, affording one of England’s finest ever talents all the room he wanted and more. Frankly, at this stage, with Hunt now dove-tailing inside to create further space, it would have been rude not to have a punt. And the future knight of the realm had impeccable manners.
The ball was knocked forward at one o’clock. A further step was taken. Then wallop, the strike as clean and hard and true as is possible when leathers collide.
It was an arrow, sent at such speed that it actually leaves a vapour trail of white as the ball travels across the grainy pictures of yesteryear. The shot was straight and only ever destined for the far corner of the net.
That didn’t stop Calderon, the Mexican keeper, from flinging himself full-length at it and as he landed on the turf realisation hit him immediately that his lunge had been in vain. The instant eruption of the Wembley crowd told him that while beyond the twin towers a nation was roused. England believed from this moment on. The 1966 World Cup and the immortalisation of a squad of players was well and truly underway.
A second goal by Hunt was followed by a tight victory over France to ensure that England finished top of Group 1. The ‘animals’ of Argentina awaited in the quarter finals. The rest is history.