The great thing about tonight's World Cup final is that there's going to be a new name on the trophy – just as there was when we won it for England.
That day in 1966 will always be with me. Not just the 4-2 win over West Germany, Geoff Hurst's hat-trick and Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy, but the little things. At 8.30 on the morning of the game, half a dozen of us left our hotel for a stroll down Hendon High Street in north London to stretch our legs. There was no security, just Ray Wilson, Alan Ball, Big Jack Charlton, George Eastham, Roger Hunt and me. I remember popping into a newsagent's to buy a paper. I can't imagine the Spanish or Dutch lads doing the same today!
People were coming up and wishing us well. We weren't exactly mobbed, though we were advised to nip out the back because even then there were a few hundred people waiting to give us a send-off. When we left for Wembley there were 2,000 outside, waving union flags and cheering. That made us realise, if we didn't already, how big the stakes were, which got the nerves going. Normally for an international we'd have a couple of card schools at the two tables on the coach. This time everyone sat in deathly silence with their faces at the windows.
In the dressing-room I remember trying to keep to my normal pre-match rituals – making sure, for instance, that my boot-laces were tied in a way that wouldn't interfere with my kicking. I got my cap, gloves and spare tie-ups for the other lads organised. Nobby Stiles made endless trips to the toilet, George Cohen read the programme and Martin Peters drank tea.
Alf Ramsey came round, reminding us of particular things he wanted us to do. And the lads who didn't play shook our hands, which was fantastic. Nobby had asked Ian Callaghan to look after his dentures and give them back if we won so he'd look good in photos. The pictures of him dancing around with a toothless grin tell their own story. It was a lovely day.
Obviously I'd hoped England would be playing for the trophy in Johannesburg. It wasn't to be, but it's great that there will be a South Yorkshireman in the final for the first time since yours truly 44 years ago. Howard Webb has stood out among the referees in South Africa and deserves his chance. I understand he was once a sergeant with the Sheffield constabulary in Attercliffe, right next to where I grew up in Tinsley. I hope he also has a day to treasure forever.
Looking back on the finals, I have to say I was expecting more. I was looking to the big names – Rooney, Ronaldo, Torres, Messi, Ribéry and the rest – to deliver something people would be talking about for decades. It hasn't really happened. People tell me "that's the way the game is played today; teams want to defend and try to nick a goal". Unfortunately it does not make for great entertainment.
I kept waiting for somebody to set the tournament alight, for a young player to come through and get us excited. Again it hasn't happened. However, I liked Germany. If they had played the semi-final as they did the two previous games, they could have been in the final. I can understand Joachim Löw telling them not to go too gung-ho early on and leave space for Spain to exploit but they didn't go for the jugular until they went behind, which cost them dearly.
Two players caught my eye. Diego Forlan produced classy passes and ferocious shots when more vaunted players seemed unable to master the ill-conceived Jabulani ball, while Bastian Schweinsteiger, with those bulging eyes, had that perpetual motion thing Alan Ball used to have. Yet there hasn't been one epic match. The BBC talked up Spain v Germany as a classic but it was too cagey for that.
Spain and Holland are passing sides but I'm afraid the final will turn into a cat-and-mouse stalemate. Holland have shown typical European workrate and organisation, and they've match-winners in Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Wesley Sneijder has had a particularly good tournament. I'm not surprised Manchester United are interested because he has a touch of the Paul Scholes about him.
But Spain have a bit more flair, with the passing of Xavi and Andres Iniesta plus the finishing of David Villa, and are perhaps stronger defensively. Iker Casillas has enhanced his reputation as a solid, agile keeper and he's protected by two big centre-backs, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, which reminds me of playing behind Denis Smith and Alan Bloor at Stoke! I expect them to snatch it.Reuse content