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Football and the First World War

I am currently writing a book on Football and the First World War based on the article of the same name on this website.

I am very keen to contact any football fans who have information about players who joined the army during the First World War.

Please contact me at


See reviews of Rob Cavallini's The Wanderers FC, and Around The World In 95 Games.

England's Finest Hour

When Alf Ramsey took over as manager of the England team on 1 May 1963, he told a local reporter in Ipswich that England would win the World Cup in 1966.  When the finals began on 11 July 1966, he was convinced that his England side were good enough to left the trophy. It was the holders Brazil, however, that were firm favourites to win the trophy for the third consecutive time.

After an inauspicious start to his England managerial career nearly four years earlier, when the team lost 5–2 to France, Ramsey's England team had a solid look with Nobby Stiles the defensive anchor in front of a solid back four consisting of George Cohen, Jack Charlton, Ray Wilson and Gordon Banks. 

The opening group matches were not encouraging: performances were mediocre, star goal-scorer Jimmy Greaves was injured, and Ramsey was under pressure from the English football authorities to drop Nobby Stiles from the team because of his rough play. His decision to dispense with wide players added to the defensive solidity of the team.  The question was were they formidable enough up front to score goals against the top teams?

In the event performances improved, and the team reached the final after victories over Argentina and Portugal; Geoff Hurst proved to be a more than successful replacement for Greaves, and Ramsey's loyalty to Stiles further strengthened team spirit. Ramsey's strength of mind enabled him to ignore criticism of his ‘wingless wonders’ and to reject calls for Greaves to be reinstated to the team after he had recovered from his injury.

England's opponents in the final were West Germany.  Helmut Haller opened the scoring in the final, capitalising on a week clearance from Ray Wilson after 13 minutes.  Within minutes England were level when Bobby Moore flighted a free-kick onto the head of Geoff Hurst, who powered the ball past German keeper Tilkowski.  Martin Peters gave England the lead with less than 15 minutes to go. A West German free-kick in the last minute somehow found its way through a crowded box and Wolfgang Weber squeezed the ball in at the far post.

It meant extra time.  The 20-year-old Alan Ball was still full of running, and it was his right-wing cross 10 minutes into extra time that led to the most controversial moment in World Cup history.  Hurst controlled the ball, turned and let fly, only to see his shot hit the underside of the post.  It bounced down and was cleared, but the referee, having consulted the Russian linesman, gave the goal.  The goal is still argued today, and film evidence, while inconclusive, tends to support the German view that the ball did not cross the line.

Hurst sealed victory by hammering in a fourth for England in the last minutes as fans invaded the pitch.  The 30th of July 1996 would go down in English folklore, as Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy.  Ramsey's prophecy had been fulfilled, and the country that gave football to the world had finally won the World Cup.

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