They never got over it

4-2 by David Thomson Bloomsbury pounds 16.99

Like a compressed and bloodless Battle of Alamein, England's World Cup Final, whose scoreline is the evocative title of this book, was a transcendent moment, an emotional peak in the national psyche. That at least is David Thomson's thesis. He has accordingly composed a literal, kick-by-kick transcript of the whole event.

Perhaps 20 per cent of the book goes along like this: "Stiles takes the free kick and sends it across field to Banks, who throws out to Wilson. His pass finds Hurst playing deep and he tucks inside to Ball..." Personally I don't mind this stuff. It achieves something like the rhythm of the game itself - flowing for a while, stopping, stuttering, then flowing again. It is also linguistically austere and unfussy, without recourse to mixed metaphors or Colemanballs.

Yet on their own these pages have little more long-term significance than a trainspotter's notebook. It is in taking advantage of natural breaks in play that Thomson seeks to boost his theme up to the level of epic. The 1966 Final took place amid the pullulations of "swinging" London, the city of Blow Up and Jimi Hendrix, in which the whole fashionable world hung out and was hip - an unimaginable thing in the stuffy 1950s. This is the Sixties myth, but Thomson "was there" and, for him, Eng-a-land really did swing. Yet he moves swiftly to deny the relevance of all this to the subject at hand. Our ecstatic reaction to the Wembley result may have had much to do with the spirit of the age; the reason for the victory is unrelated.

Thomson critically traces the path of English football since the war, its complacency and squandered resources (especially in the case of Stanley Matthews who, Thomson believes, had somehow "learned to be ashamed" of his creative fire). This is a sorry tale of pride leading to a fall - at Wembley in 1953: Hungary 6, England 3. Then, Thomson movingly reminds us how sports writers, always so glib with the word "tragedy", had to deal with something of almost Sophoclean dimensions after the Busby Babes' plane crashed in the snow at Munich in 1958, leaving eight famous young players (as well as eight journalists) dead. It was a day, says Thomson, on which "English football found its heart".

But another five years were to pass before it found an effective national manager in Alf Ramsay. After the vapid amateurishness of Walter "Officer- Material" Winterbottom, Ramsay embodied NCO professionalism. As it happened, it was 1963 when his new broom first began to sweep through the FA and this, as readers of Philip Larkin will recall, was the year of the Beatles' first LP along with other innovations. But that was just a coincidence. Ramsay's ethic was gritty, puritanical, and utterly out of step with the march of the Mods.

Ramsay had available for his Final team one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of the game, and, as if to symbolise his rejection of Sixties' individualism, he left Chelsea's Jimmy Greaves out. Chelsea-fan Thomson's anger and hurt at the decision lingers to this day, and it is hard to escape the sense that it is Ramsay (not the Bobbies, Charlton and Moore) who is at the emotional centre of this book. Real pathos enters into the portrait of that repressed, lonely, long-suffering father-figure.

Moving up to another level, 4-2 presents us with a second example of a cold and enigmatic father. The book subscribes to the fashionable doctrine that sport correlates with life and so must give, in parallel with the football history, a detailed memoir of Thomson's own childhood, and it tells of the buttoned-up, unknowable, part-time parent with whom young Thomson had nothing in common except sport. I initially thought these autobiographical passages had been spliced in to comply with the Fever Pitch imperative that has seized all sports-writers. But I was won over by the unusual interest of Thomson Senior's double menage - his wife and son David in South London at the weekend, "another woman" in St Albans from Monday to Friday, the two centres of his life never spoken of and never speaking to each other. The author doesn't shrink from analysing his complex feelings about this unusual arrangement.

Retrospective resentment - even bitterness - is the prevailing tone, but it is touchingly displaced by the parallel portrait of Alf Ramsay. Thomson realises he could never see the world through his father's eyes, but he believes he knows Ramsay. Unable to sympathise with, let alone share, the youthful insubordination of his pill-popping, boozing, disco- dancing players, he was "a haunted father, yet his sons owed him so much". In memory, then, Ramsay evolves into an emblem not merely of Thomson's own ungiving and unsatisfactory father, but of victory won cussedly in the teeth of an entire zeitgeist.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice