Now it really is all over, we're off to the Med

Norman Fox hears the old boys of'66 sign off before their great escape
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The Independent Online

For the "Boys of '66", now mostly going on 60, the whole week building up to yesterday's match had been full of requests for interviews, memories, anecdotes... anything to do with that day on which Bobby Moore raised the World Cup, Nobby Stiles danced on rubber legs, Geoff Hurst got a hat-trick, and the Germans blamed their defeat on a Russian linesman.

For the "Boys of '66", now mostly going on 60, the whole week building up to yesterday's match had been full of requests for interviews, memories, anecdotes... anything to do with that day on which Bobby Moore raised the World Cup, Nobby Stiles danced on rubber legs, Geoff Hurst got a hat-trick, and the Germans blamed their defeat on a Russian linesman.

For decades the never-forgotten but under-rewarded England players of 34 years ago had gladly sustained a non-profit-making cottage industry of nostalgia. The only hints of bitterness came when they talked of how little they had gained financially (bonuses of only £1,000 each for winning) and how badly their boss, Sir Alf Ramsey, to whom they held lifelong loyalty, had been treated. At last, they have been persuaded to put a value on their past and present.

An agent now promotes them. And yesterday some of them sold their opinions and reminiscences to the highest bidder. And whereas few would sympathise with, say, David Beckham for extracting everything possible out of his fame, everyone would say good luck to them. As with most things in football these days, Sky won the deal and paraded Alan Ball and Jack Charlton before they and several other members of the '66 team went off on a working (talking) cruise to the Mediterranean arranged a long time before any of them knew that England would be drawn against Germany in the World Cup on Wembley's curtain-fall.

The expressions of Ball and Charlton, especially when the sound link-up with Sky's Richard Keys faltered, suggested that they would have preferred to have been back at the old stage. Keys admitted that the line from the cruise ship and Wembley was about as efficient as a 1923 Tannoy. Would it be too cruel to say that it may not have been the first time that one of the old England players had struggled with ahearing aid?

But Sky had to be grateful for small blessings since over at BBC, who had started the afternoon not for the first time second-best in the armchair spectator attractions, lost both their golf and the horse racing due to downpours and a bomb threat respectively.

Before leading England on to the rain-soaked pitch yesterday, Bobby Charlton, walking alongside Franz Beckenbauer, said that while it was an emotional moment (it has never taken more than the first note of the National Anthem to bring a tear to his eye), he was "sad in a way because you remember all the good days, but when you come here as often as I do, you're not really proud of it like you should be. It's old and it's creaky and it leaks, and it's time that we got a new stadium".

Reminiscing is obviously beginning to become hard work for brother Jack, who said that were it not for the fact that television kept repeating film of 1966, he might well have forgotten a lot of the match. Ball, out of work now but as enthusiastic about football as he was when he ran his socks threadbare on that long afternoon long ago, recalled that it had been a game which drained all of the players dry, not only physically. "The result was wonderful, but there were so many highs and lows. If it had finished 2-1 it wouldn't have been right because there was so much more to come."

Bobby Charlton appreciated the irony of walking out with Beckenbauer. Often asked whether he had been disappointed not to score one of his net-bulging goals in the final, he has never admitted that it troubled him. And even on his last visit to Wembley he was not going to change his mind. "Alf asked me to do a job, and that was to follow Beckenbauer. I did the job and that was enough for me." The job that Kevin Keegan asked Gareth Southgate to do in midfield yesterday worried a lot of people, but not Jack Charlton, who before the start said that he felt the Villa man could do the anchor job as well as anyone. And that was about all that Keys got out of him.

It was less hard work getting Alan Shearer to talk, but if he thinks he has a future in the television media he should think again. That monotone delivery is a terrible turn-off. Thankfully, though, Sky had the impeccable commentating partnership of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray: a far more efficient team than England. Tyler, like everyone else, had his rehearsed lines about Wembley's demise, yet he resisted until the 79th minute the one everyone must have expected as the rain beat down: "And the Gods are weeping for Wembley". But as Bobby Charlton said, the old stadium had been a crying shame for all too long.

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