Football: England at the World Cup: 1966 England - The day Alf Ramsey stood by his hard man

Nobby Stiles, one of the heroes of 32 years ago, tells Ken Jones how he turned the other cheek
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WATCHING Alf Ramsey walk towards him on the morning of 22 July 1966 Nobby Stiles feared the worst. ''That's it, I'm out,'' Stiles thought. Dropped for the following day's World Cup quarter-final against Argentina at Wembley.

It was no secret that Fifa, angered by a bad foul on the French midfielder Jacques Simon two days earlier, wanted Stiles out of the England team and were bringing pressure to bear on the Football Association. "There was plenty of talk about it in the newspapers and television,'' Stiles said, "rumours of a row between Alf and the FA but he hadn't mentioned the tackle or hinted that he was having a battle to keep me in the team.''

Ramsey, his late arrival on the training ground puzzling the England players, asked Stiles a question. "I want to know whether you intended to kick the Frenchman,'' he said. Stiles, a devout catholic, answered in the negative. "I swear I didn't mean it,'' he replied. "My timing was bloody awful. It must have looked bad but it was just bad timing. I didn't purposely kick the lad.''

Good enough for England's manager. "I believe you,'' he said. "I take your word as an Englishman,'' then going off to tell waiting members of the FA's Senior International Committee that they could have his resignation unless Stiles was permitted to play.

Later that day, in the company of a Danish friend, I came across Ramsey at England's headquarters in north London. "What's the verdict on Stiles,'' I asked. "I think you know me well enough to have the answer,'' he replied.

As we drove away my friend grew agitated. "But we don't yet know about Stiles,'' he grumbled. "We do,'' I said, "we do. Nobby plays.''

There is no doubt in Stiles' mind that Argentina were the biggest threat to England's aspirations. "They had some terrific players, some of the best we came up against, and if they'd concentrated on playing football might have been too good for us.''

Instead, believing - with some justification - that the dice was loaded in favour of European teams they resorted to cynical fouling whenever anything displeased them.

Nobody was more shocked by their attitude than Ramsey's predecessor Walter Winterbottom. "I knew from 1962 that they were liable to turn nasty at the slightest provocation but I'd never before come across a team so determined to win by any means possible,'' he said.

If Fifa's ill-advised appointment of a German referee Rudolf Kreitlein added to Argentina's suspicion of European bias, their behaviour against England was outrageous enough to put them in danger of being banned from future World Cups.

Before the match Stiles was taken aside, independently, by Ramsey's two assistants Harold Shepherdson and Les Cocker. "It was funny in a way,' he said, "because both of them said, very seriously, that Alf had put his reputation on the line for me and that I should do my utmost not to let him down. I was always inclined to be a bit excitable on the field, getting upset over bad decisions, that sort of thing, so I understood exactly what Harold and Les were on about. If I did just one stupid thing it would embarrass Alf and weaken his position.''

Ramsey had easily identified Argentina's tall, grenadier-backed captain Antonio Rattin as the player most likely to cause an upset in prediction. "We'd watched him on television,'' Stiles recalled, "impressed by how much time he appeared to have, everything flowing through him. Trouble was that whenever he lost the ball he put the boot in.''

Unable to mind his own business when Rattin refused to leave the field after being sent off, Stiles was spat at - "six or seven times in the match.'' Seeing this from the trainer's bench Ramsey buried his head in his hands. When he looked up Stiles was walking away. "It's difficult to describe how I felt,'' Ramsey said. "Of course I was relieved, who wouldn't be. But there was more to it than that. Regardless of Nobby's will to win and the great job he did for England those people (his dismissive term for the majority of FA officials) would have left him out to please the authorities.''

Stiles' importance to the team became evident again when Argentina re- organised so well that Ramsey grew nervous. "They could play and even with 10 men made life very difficult for us,'' he said.

So difficult that Stiles twice had to intervene on the edge of England's penalty area and George Cohen, one of team's fastest players, was outpaced by Oscar Mas who only just failed to make an angle for a shot. "There is no doubt at all that they were the best team we played,'' Stiles said, "that match held the key.''

After further alarms England finally broke Argentina's resistance when Geoff Hurst (in for the injured Jimmy Greaves) timed both his run and his jump perfectly to score with a near-post header.

Would Ramsey have carried out his threat to re-sign? "He was on pretty safe ground because most of the officials were nervous of him,'' Stiles said. "From things that were said afterwards I'm convinced that I would have lost my place under most other managers. But not Alf. He always stuck by what he believed in.''

Years later many players from the 1966 World Cup finals, including Rattin, took part in a five-a-side tournament at Wembley Arena. The itinerary included a boat trip on the Thames. Looking across the deck Stiles saw Simon. "I'd never had the chance to apologise so I went over to him. "Look" I said, "I didn't mean it you know. It really was an accident." Simon smiled but then Greavsie, who'd sussed what I was up to, spoiled it all. Creeping past, he whispered, "Don't listen to the dirty little bastard!''

GROUP 1

England 0 Uruguay 0

England 2 Mexico 0

England 2 France 0

QUARTER-FINALS

England 1 Argentina 0

Portugal 5 North Korea 3

USSR 2 Hungary 1

W Germany 4 Uruguay 0

SEMI-FINALS

England 2 Portugal 1

W Germany 2 USSR 1

FINAL

England 4 W Germany 2

Comments