Norbert Stiles, AE Housman and the chaps of '66

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
THIRTY-TWO years ago. It's hard to believe, is it not? Thirty- two years, yet it seems like only yesterday! Robert Moore. Norbert Stiles. Robert Charlton. Martin Peters. Great players, great pals - but, above all, great gentlemen, both on and off the pitch.

Thirty-two years on, we are facing another World Cup, but, mercy me, how times have changed! Have you noticed? These days, the players are not called John or Henry or Martin but "Ruud Gullit". They wear their hair in plaits, as though auditioning for the role of Heidi. They embrace each other with a single-minded avidity that in the outside world would assure them a custodial sentence for date rape. Their hideously shiny shirts and shorts are now festooned at the advertisers' whim with slogans for international lagers, cheese spreads and moisturising creams (dread lotions!).

And at one hint of a grazed knee they lie on the ground moaning and wailing like sheep in labour until their physiotherapist has run on to the pitch and comforted them with a face-flannel and - no doubt! - a quick once- over with the mascara. Ah, diddums! It was all so different, so very, very different, back in 1966.

To offer but a single instance: in those days there were strict rules concerning dress. Each player's contract stated clearly that it was his business to report for the day's training wearing a crisp white shirt, dinner-jacket, black bow-tie, pastel-shaded cummerbund, well-ironed shorts and, of course, a decent pair of freshly polished football boots. Needless to say, during international and league matches these rules were relaxed to incorporate looser, open-collar shirts without jackets, but I should add that the World Cup-winning English Football squad were all wearing regulation, clean, white Y-fronts beneath their soccer shorts on the day of their victory against West Germany. I should know. I checked them.

These strict dress-rules may seem a touch draconian to the present generation, but they imbued the lads with a sense of duty, a sense of honour, a sense of the way things always were and should continue to be. And what gentlemen they were! I will long cherish the memory of dear old Norbert Stiles arriving for a training session clad in his traditional tweedy plus-fours, calling for silence from the rest of the squad before reading a couple of verses from A E Housman in order to boost their morale.

And there was none of the present day's blinkered insistence on football, football, football to the exclusion of all else: for instance, Geoffrey Hurst ran a highly successful bridge club of which all the English squad were keen members. This helped to occupy those spare moments in the changing rooms when they would have been hanging around, kicking their heels before the starting whistle blew. I think I am at liberty to reveal that the lads occupied themselves during half-time at the 1966 World Cup Final with a quick hand at bridge.

If you study closely those famous photographs of Robert Moore on the shoulders of his team-mates brandishing the Jules Rimet Cup you will notice the distinctive figure of Raymond Wilson in the background, proudly holding aloft his England Squad Bridge Trophy, captured from stiff competition in the closing moments of half-time.

The vulgar excesses of emotion, so thoroughly off-putting in the present day, were mercifully absent from the pitch in 1966. When Hurst scored his winning goal, the crowd applauded him appreciatively while his team- mates strode over at a reasonable pace and shook him by the hand, perhaps rounding it off with a murmured "well played!" These days, he would be lucky to emerge from the throng with his virtue unblemished and his shorts intact.

There was little or no hooliganism in those days, and what little graffiti there was would be written largely in Latin, with here and there the odd smattering of Greek. Supporters would stand quietly to attention, raising their hats briefly in the air if ever a goal was scored by either their side or their opponents'. Whistling was very much frowned upon, and yelling and catcalling were entirely unknown. Many of the keenest supporters would bring their wives and their steam-irons along with them to tighten up their trouser- creases at half-time, ready to appear ship-shape for the final whistle.

Thirty-two years on, and what a shambles it all is! If only Stiles were back, lending a little magic to the game. Instead, as Lord Stiles of Nobbyville, he heads many a leading government think-tank, and the game is the poorer for it. 0 Tempora, 0 Mores!