Fifty years ago today, on Monday 11 July, the 1966 World Cup finals began. The opening fixture saw England, as hosts, take on Uruguay in their Group One fixture.
The British press, while generally supportive of England’s campaign, did not expect to win the trophy. The Times, for example, on the morning of the match predicted that the four semi-finalists would be England, West Germany, Brazil and Italy (in fact the four seeded teams), with Italy defeating Brazil in the final. The Daily Mail, too, reflected this mixture of hope and reality with Brian James playing the role of ‘the hopeful supporter’ and JL Manning ‘the realist’.
The match was televised in full by both main channels, BBC 1 and ITV, although viewers of STV in Scotland had to wait until 8.55 for live coverage. BBC1 carried an episode of their football-related soap opera United! from 6.30 then switched to Wembley for 6.50 in plenty of time for the opening ceremony, which began at 7.00. ITV chose to run with Coronation Street, switching to the football at 7.25, five minutes before kick-off.
The 90 minutes of play produced very little excitement for the fans and there were few goalmouth incidents of note as the match finished without a hint of a goal. The Uruguayans played a deep defensive game which frustrated an England team that dominated the play but created little. The match statistics tell the story: England won 16 corners and conceded just one; they had 15 goal attempts, but 13 were from outside the penalty box and the Uruguayan ‘keeper was required to make just four saves. The Daily Mail headline summed it up: “Angry, baffled, goal-less England,” while The Times was equally disappointed: “England frustrated by contracting defence, Negative pattern set for days ahead.” The Times even suggested that “the man on the terrace” would have found the game “soporific and boring”.
The ‘official’ attendances for matches appear to show the number of tickets sold. However, as most tickets were bought in packs for multiple fixtures, it was often the case that many fans stayed away from the early games, hence the difference between the actual and official figures. Another interesting feature was that one of the linesmen was Tofik Bakhramov of the USSR, who of course went on to play a significant role in the final. Finally, this was the first occasion when ‘doping’ tests were introduced at a major football tournament, with the first England players to be tested being Bobby Moore and Jack Charlton. There were no positive tests from any player during the tournament.
England 0, Uruguay 0
Wembley Stadium, London
Attendance: 87,148 (actual around 75,000)
England: G Banks; G Cohen, R Wilson; N Stiles, J Charlton, R Moore; A Ball, J Greaves, R Charlton, R Hunt, J Connelly
Uruguay: L Mazurkiewicz; H Troche, J Manicera, L Ubina, N Goncalves, O Caetano, J Cortes, M Viera, H Silva, P Rocha, D Perez