Alf Ramsey had predicted well in advance that England would win the Jules Rimet trophy. He imagined that this was because he had the best system for playing football, but we knew differently. There was more to it than that. We knew that Bobby Moore would lift the World Cup not merely because he led a team of jolly good footballers but because every boy around the world (even Bob Dylan) wanted to be a Beatle or a Rolling Stone, because every girl around the world (even Francoise Hardy) wanted to look like Jean Shrimpton.
It's hard to remember, now, that only 10 days before the Wembley final, Harold Wilson, the prime minister, imposed a six-month pay freeze on a nation heedlessly hurtling towards bankruptcy. That the Krays, the Moors murders, the bombing of Haiphong harbour and the shooting of civil rights activist James Meredith were high on the agenda. Whatever the facts, whatever the evils that posterity may lay at the door of the hedonistic Sixties, the memory says that this was a time full of fun and possibilities.
Bobby Moore's afternoon of glory seemed merely the natural culmination of Britain's new standing as the fount of means to achieve the post-war urge to chuck away the ration books and the school books. In the summer of 1966, Moore and the England team took their place in the pantheon of a new pop culture that included musicians, poets, painters, photographers and clothes designers.
There could have been no better symbol for this brave new classless society than Moore, a young East End footballer who took his place gracefully, without strain or undue deference, in the company of princes and prime ministers. By 1966, after all, going to football was no longer exclusively a working-class pastime: it had become as much a part of a smart Saturday as buying a new Ben Sherman button-down or checking out the latest Otis Redding single. The cloth cap and the wooden rattle had gone for good.
Yet to be a young English football supporter at that time was to labour under the burden of three successive traumas. First, too young for the baby boom generation to have seen at first hand, was the legend of Ferenc Puskas's Hungarians, and the 6-3 humiliation of Billy Wright's team at their hands in 1953 - England's first defeat at Wembley. Second, five years
later, came the Manchester United air crash, a tragedy whose implications may have been only dimly understood but whose emotional devastation could not be missed. And third, in 1960, was the match often called the greatest ever played, the European Cup final in which Real Madrid beat Eintracht of Frankfurt by 7-3, and in which Puskas, di Stefano, Gento and the rest presented a generation with a vision of what football could be, given free expression in the hands of genius. Watched by more than 100,000 enthralled spectators at Hampden Park and millions sitting in front of flickering black and white televisions, that single game redefined the possibilities of football. But it seemed a vain hope that English clubs could ever play that way; and, in consequence, that English football could expect ever again to achieve international pre-eminence.
Alf Ramsey and Bobby Moore, his vicar on the pitch, changed all that. The pragmatism of one and the technical gifts of the other combined, after a faltering start, to create the momentum that produced the tumultuous victory on 30 July. Ramsey did away with the wingers who had been, in the shapes of Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, among the few English glories of the preceding generation; he steeled himself, too, to omit the unpredictable gifts of Greaves and George Eastham, preferring the unselfishness and high work-rate of Geoff Hurst and Alan Ball. He created a machine that, for all its efficiency, could still function as a platform for the originality of Bobby Charlton and Martin Peters.
If English industry could have harnessed the same characteristics, if it could have bred a generation of partnerships like Ramsey and Moore's, the country might still have a manufacturing base. But no one saw the point: intoxicated by the spirit of the age, we applauded Moore's style and forgot that, without Ramsey's pitiless planning, it would have achieved nothing.
That Saturday turned into a mixed blessing for English football. It was given an imperishable achievement, but one that cast a long and lasting shadow. It was Moore's luck to come along just in time to enjoy the game's last rays of innocence, and England's fortune to come across a leader who so perfectly combined the qualities of serenity, tactical acumen and charisma.
Moore's death is a reminder of a time when pessimism seemed to have been un-invented. As it happened, exactly two weeks after the World Cup final, on 13 August 1966, Mao Tse-Tung inaugurated the Cultural Revolution. Its text came from the Little Red Book: 'A revolution is not a dinner party,' Mao wrote, 'or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery . . .' He was right, of course, but half a world away, in the land of 'Eleanor Rigby', the Biba catalogue and Bobby Moore's triumphant ascent of the Wembley steps, that was not how it felt at all.Reuse content