Lamenting this week of the passing of Harry Gregg, I found myself thinking about Sir Bobby Charlton and, in turn, the 1966 World Cup final.
Charlton is now the only survivor of the 1958 Munich disaster still with us. As such, we have more reason than ever to cherish him as enthusiastically as they do at Manchester United. A greater ambassador for his club and his sport there has never been.
In terms of the 1966 final, it is worth watching again, not only to witness Charlton’s supreme part in it but also for a little of what it tells us about football then and football now.
There is no greater ambassador for the sport and Manchester United than Sir Bobby Charlton
It is actually quite hard to get hold of a copy of the whole game. It is not on the internet. The best I could do when we celebrated its 50th anniversary four summers ago was to buy a BBC DVD featuring the very extended highlights.
It contains the vast majority of the game and is worth the effort. To watch England’s most glorious sporting afternoon from a distance of half a century is illuminating.
Charlton is certainly magnificent on the footage — especially over the first hour. On a poor, heavy pitch, he is the best passer, in terms of vision and execution, by a country mile.
Franz Beckenbauer, at 20 the rising star of German football, is utterly anonymous by comparison. Both English full backs, George Cohen and Ray Wilson, are poor.
Veterans of that game have always said Alan Ball was the man of the match, and over the course of the 120 minutes that stacks up today. As others tire around him, Ball keeps going, metronomically. It’s a Herculean effort from one of the most selfless players we have known.
It is worth watching the 1966 World Cup final again to enjoy Sir Bobby’s supreme showing
But a slightly more uncomfortable truth is that in terms technical proficiency, speed and athleticism, the final is a markedly different spectacle when compared with much of what we see today. Despite the drama, much of the actual football is unimpressive.
Certainly, both teams appear hindered by the failure of the surface to cope with the 24 hours of rain that preceded the game.
More than 50 years ago, the standard of the players’ boots and of the ball itself were in nobody’s favour.
Even so, it is hard to ignore the number of rather hopeful, long balls played by both sides, the consistent inability to pass accurately over longer distances, and the way corner kicks are just lumped aimlessly in to the penalty area. If this sounds a little sacrilegious, buy a copy of the DVD and have a look for yourself.
But the final is a markedly different spectacle when compared with much of what we see today
Comparing eras is very difficult and some may say it’s pointless. Who is to say that — blessed with the facilities, conditioning and medicine now available — the great players of yesterday would not have been the great players of today? The likes of Charlton and Ball would have…