The memory of 1966 is flagged up every time the World Cup approaches. Images of Bobby Moore in Wembley Stadium are dredged up, the story of Geoff Hurst’s hat trick is mentioned and it is often said that that team was the finest England has ever fielded. This is undoubtedly true but it is interesting and enlightening to learn what happened to these footballers who were supposedly deified by their country.
It is not a story one would expect. It is a well known complaint of those who lived through the golden age of football that the players in that era received such little pay. The sums received were paltry, just a little more than one would expect to receive from fairly menial labour. As a prize for winning the world cup each player received a £1000 bonus, which, after taxes, was reduced to £600. After playing their last games in the 1970s, the 1966 England team could not expect to retire comfortably. They had to continue working. Many became managers, experiencing some notable success.
While none of them complained about this, it was to be expected, there is a certain pathos in the fact that so many of the former World Cup winners were forced to sell their unique collections of sporting memorabilia. Nobby Stiles announced in 2010 that his World Cup shirt, medals and other items of memorabilia accrued over a highly successful sporting career were to be auctioned so that the former footballer could ‘leave something’ to his three sons. He still lives near the Old Trafford Stadium and accrued almost £300,000 from the sale of these items. Alan Ball had to do the same. His World Cup medal and tournament cap were auctioned to raise money for his family. Since their retirement from football these players have largely been ignored and neglected by a country, which professes to love them. Only two players received a knighthood: Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton. They received their KBEs almost thirty years after the final. By contrast Bradley Wiggins was granted one almost immediately in the aftermath of his successes in the 2012 Olympics.
Bobby Moore died with an OBE, the same accolade granted to Gary Barlow, and the other players, were granted MBEs in the late 1990s. The honours that are flung at current sporting successes are notably lacking for these figures. Certainly none of them have vanished entirely from the public eye. Most of the surviving players can be met at Sporting Conventions where they sign memorabilia for devoted fans. However their birthdays pass by without note, their achievements remain criminally unrecognised and it is only as another World Cup draws close that rightful attention is momentarily directed towards them.
It is a curious fact that Pele is probably more famous in England than the names of Roger Hunt, Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Alan Ball, George Cohen, Martin Peters or Gordon Banks. It is therefore strange that the sun washed image of a triumphant Bobby Moore on his teammates’ shoulders is so reproduced in the run up to the World Cup. When commentators recall the ‘spirit’ of 1966 they neglect the fantastic talents, which made victory on such a spectacular scale possible.
The 1966 World Cup final has been so idealised that it seems to have lost it’s meaning and, along with that, the lessons it could teach today’s footballers. They deserve a great deal more from their country than they have received. No more of them should have to sell their medals and it should be recognised that an almost forty year wait for an MBE is an insult. They are England’s greatest players, humble yet supremely talented, and if we take as much pride in the 1966 victory as we profess to then we should offer them a great deal more appreciation than they have received since their retirement. Gary Lineker, I would say, deserves to be forgotten. These men do not. Either the players who earned England its sole, lonely star should be properly recognised, appreciated and congratulated or pundits should stop mentioning them.