I was lucky to be at Wembley in 1966 – but after 55 years I think this final means more

I was 15 when I saw the World Cup final – and took it all in my stride. I didn’t think we would have to wait so long for another big occasion

Blake Morrison
Saturday 10 July 2021 13:27
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How England reached the Euro 2020 final

I was obsessed with football when I was young. I attended a grammar school that only did rugby, but I used to go and watch Burnley – and play as much as I could on a Saturday or Sunday.

We managed to get tickets for the 1966 final thanks to my dad – who was not interested in football, he played golf. He was a GP on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire and one of his patients had been to some of the World Cup qualifying games, which entitled him to tickets to the final – but he didn’t want to go all the way to London. My dad was happy to take them.

It definitely dates me! I was 15 at the time and we ended up heading down to London and stopping a couple of nights before the game, with my mum and sister coming down too.

On the day of the game, I was very impatient to make sure that we were there in good time. We made it an hour before kick-off. We stood on the terraces, as did much of the rest of the crowd.

As for the atmosphere, it was obviously excitable but also good-natured. I don’t remember much segregation between opposition fans either. I can't recall a huge amount of singing – certainly not compared to today, but the atmosphere was definitely there. There was also no obvious anti-German hostility or bomber taunts, unlike some of the meetings of the teams in the decades afterwards.

Pre-game, there was little warming up by the players – and no substitutes for the match either – but we did get to hear a Royal Marines band before kick-off.

Over the years, I’d convinced myself that we were sitting behind where the linesman signalled for the third England goal. He became known as the “Russian linesman” but that wasn’t right [Tofiq Bahramov was from Azerbaijan]. However, when I looked at my ticket – which I still have, along with the match programmes – we were actually on the opposite side! I guess that is due to seeing the footage too many times on television over the years.

I remember the desperation I felt as we approached 90 minutes with England leading 2-1, and the heart-sinking disappointment of the late German equalising goal. When we scored in extra time, there was joy – but as a teenager with a strong sense of justice, I didn't want to win with a dubious goal.

I clearly grew out of that though, as I didn't mind when England had the benefit of the dubious penalty against Denmark the other night – and it was dubious! I can live with it – especially as it was clear we were the better team for a lot of the game.

When Bobby Moore booted it up to Geoff Hurst to score the final goal, I saw the scoreboard tick over to 4-2 – but we didn't kick off again. I was a lad who had read his rulebook, so I knew you had to do that. I believed it had ended 3-2 and the ref had blown his whistle before Hurst hit it.

I don’t remember much of the celebrations on the pitch, but I remember the joy of the celebrations in the stands. I'd definitely celebrate more now than I did then! When you are 15, you take it in your stride – probably for granted. I think I was maybe inhibited being next to my dad too.

I also remember getting back to the centre of London, picking up an evening paper – which were printed by then – and seeing that the last goal had stood! We were staying right by Piccadilly Circus and you could hear the cars going around all night beeping their horns – my family wasn’t into football, so I didn't really join the crowds or celebrate as much I wanted to – and there was no going into the pub. But I could feel it, this release of emotion.

The idea now that 55 years would have gone by without another final seems extraordinary – given our success in other sports. It would be a great moment if we won Euro 2020 – not quite equivalent, but as close as you get.

Pretty soon after we got back home, I got chickenpox. Between that and it being the summer holidays I couldn't even show off to my friends or schoolmates. I wanted to say: “I was there, I was there!”

I think this final means more. This might be the last chance in my lifetime, so it does mean a lot. There are also some parallels between the teams of then and now. Starting slowly for one, which isn’t the worst thing. There was also talk about the striking situation and playing Jimmy Greaves in 1966, which was somewhat similar to the discussion over Harry Kane now.

We have been on the right side of the draw this time – but the players seem to be enjoying themselves and gaining confidence, so I am cautiously optimistic. I'll be watching at home, but I’ve got a friend or two who might join me – the BBC has traditionally been luckier for me, so I will probably be tuning in there.

As for celebrating if we win, probably not long into the night, but I could hear singing going on close to where we live after the semi-final and I like the idea of that communal celebration.

As told to Chris Stevenson

Blake Morrison is a writer and poet

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