Bloodied by the summer debacles of the Ashes, Wimbledon and the Lions tour, British sport was reduced once more yesterday to finding triumph in nostalgia for a game of football played more than three decades ago.
Members of England's 1966 World Cup team gathered to mark the 35th anniversary of their 4-2 victory over West Germany by again lifting up into the air the trophy they had won at Wembley.
Seven players from the side met at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington, west London, where they marked their victory on 30 July 1966, to receive a replica of the victory statuette held up by Bobby Moore.
The gilded Jules Rimet trophy, ordered by the Football Association in 1966 after the original was stolen three months before the finals, will be put on permanent display at the National Football Museum in Preston, Lancashire.
But just as the trophy is a copy – the real one was found but stolen again in Brazil 18 years ago – the 1966 industry itself appears to be ringing hollow, judging by the feeling among the victors.
The message from the red-shirted players – Sir Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Jack Charlton, Martin Peters, George Cohen, Alan Ball and Roger Hunt – was that they wished there had been a triumph in the intervening 35 years.
Charlton, the former manager of the Irish Republic team, said: "The whole 1966 thing only happened three or four World Cups afterwards when people realised we might never win again. We have certainly never produced a national team with the same number of genuinely world-beating players. That's why we're in front of the cameras all the time rather than anyone else."
Alan Ball, who was just 21 when he played in the final in which Geoff Hurst scored the third goal of his hat-trick with the last kick of the match, said: "I wish England had won since. For a start it would stop you wheeling us lot out and we could live in peace. I don't think players these days have the same hunger we did."
The replica Jules Rimet trophy, which in 1966 was exhibited around the country rather than original to avoid another theft, will go on a tour of four football grounds used in the tournament.
The trophy was bought by Fifa, the world football governing body, for £254,000 in 1997, but will go on display at the National Football Museum using funds from Camelot, the National Lottery operator.
Among bystanders watching yesteryear's footballers board an open-top bus, there was a similar feeling. Dave Barnes, 57, a taxi driver from Sidcup, south-east London, said: "Don't get me wrong – the '66 players are a fine bunch of men, but it's a crying shame we have to rely on them to make ourselves feel good."Reuse content