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What life in Kent looked like for the World Cup victory of England in 1966


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As we in Kent prepare ourselves for Sunday's Euro 2020 final, the pundits remind us constantly that this is the first time that England have reached a major men's international football final since we won the World Cup against Germany in 1966.

That was 55 years ago. A large proportion of the nation who will be watching Sunday's match were not even born then.

Victory in 1966: England captain Bobby Moore holds raises trophy as he sits on the shoulders of his team-mates, from left to right: Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Gordon Banks (behind), Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson, George Cohen and Bobby Charlton. Photo by Popperfoto
Victory in 1966: England captain Bobby Moore holds raises trophy as he sits on the shoulders of his team-mates, from left to right: Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Gordon Banks (behind), Alan Ball, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson, George Cohen and Bobby Charlton. Photo by Popperfoto

So beyond knowing the most famous football commentating quote in history - Kenneth Wolstenholme's immortal "They think it's all over ... it is now!" as Geoff Hurst rammed home England's final goal in the dying seconds of extra time - what else do people know about that game and what it meant in 1966?

The country - and the world - was a very different place back then.

For a start we didn't play Germany in the final, we played West Germany. Their country was still divided in two, with half of Europe behind the Soviet Iron Curtain.

War was raging in Vietnam with the American President Lyndon Johnson committing ever more troops, and Australia, the often forgotten partner in that war, increasing its military involvement too.

Across the world that year, there were coups in the Central African Republic, in the Republic of Upper Volta (modern-day Burkina Faso), in Syria, in Argentina, in Ghana, two in Burundi and three in Nigeria.

1966: Bobby Moore kisses the World Cup trophy he had just received from The Queen
1966: Bobby Moore kisses the World Cup trophy he had just received from The Queen

There were civil wars in Chad and in Yemen and military confrontations if not all-out war between Syria and Israel and between Malaysia and Indonesia.

China had started to tear itself apart as its Communist dictator chairman Mao Zedong launched his Cultural Revolution.

America was struggling to contain anti-war protests and the black civil rights movement - 1966 was the year that the Black Panther Movement was founded.

And in an event remarkable similar to last year's death of George Floyd, there were riots in Chicago in response to the police shooting of a young Puerto Rican man.

It was also the year that America dropped two atomic bombs on Spain - by accident of course. Their B-52 bomber was in a mid-air collision with another aircraft and three hydrogen bombs fell (one landed in the sea). Fortunately none went off.

The most famous band in the world - The Beatles
The most famous band in the world - The Beatles

By contrast, England was in a good place.

Yes, there was growing unemployment, fears of a recession, and struggles to maintain the value of the pound, but there was also growing confidence that England was the place to be - especially if you were young and working class.

In terms of fashion, design and music England was leading the world.

It was in 1966, that America's Time magazine first coined the term Swinging London, proclaiming: "In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene.”

Certainly British pop music had taken the world by storm. The Beatles, who released their Revolver album in 1966, were the biggest band in the world, as John Lennon modestly confirmed, saying: "We're more popular than Jesus now!"

John Lennon: 'More popular than Jesus' PA Photo
John Lennon: 'More popular than Jesus' PA Photo

But in fashion too, Carnaby Street in London was the place to shop, not Paris. In the cinemas, James Bond was the most popular movie franchise.

Even our cars, the ever-popular Mini, the Jaguar E-Type and the Lotus Elan were seen as style icons of design.

When Jack Brabham won the 1966 British Grand Prix he became the only man ever to head both drivers' championship and the manufacturers' championship - he was racing a Repco Brabham car that he had built himself.

It was also very much the era of the working man. Most of the heroes of the day from the Beatles to movie stars like Michael Caine and Stanley Baker were proud of the working class roots.

Indeed pipe-smoking Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson had just won a huge 96-seat majority in the 1966 General Election.

Prime Minister Harold Wilson meets an admirer
Prime Minister Harold Wilson meets an admirer
The Elliot and Rutherford Colleges nearing completion at the University of Kent at Canterbury
The Elliot and Rutherford Colleges nearing completion at the University of Kent at Canterbury

Kent in those days was a much more industrial place than it is today.

Rochester had a bustling commercial port on the Medway, with paper mills and cement factories spread along the river banks between Maidstone and Snodland.

Women were increasingly entering the world of work, unlike their parents' generation, when a married woman had been expected to stay at home and raise the family.

But the job opportunities open to women remained limited: factory work, shop work, typing and working as a receptionist were the most common.

However, the growth in University education was under way and the University of Kent at Canterbury had just been completed and opened its doors to its first 6,000 students.

Night view of ships on the River Medway
Night view of ships on the River Medway
Loading up at Townsend Hook Paper mill in Snodland
Loading up at Townsend Hook Paper mill in Snodland
Women's work at Kent Fire Brigade headquarters in Maidstone
Women's work at Kent Fire Brigade headquarters in Maidstone

The county still maintained a strong connection to agriculture and visitors to the Kent County Show that year would have found the format instantly comparable to modern shows.

Even many of the winning farmers' family names remain the same today - though drawn from a different generation.

But some traditions were coming to an end.

That year the flags of four famous Home Counties regiments were lowered for the last time at Howe Barracks.

With them came down the flag of the Home Counties Brigade Depot.

In April Princess Margaret opened a £60,000 extension to Graham Chiesman House, the Rochester Diocesan Youth Conference and Retreat House at Chislehurst
In April Princess Margaret opened a £60,000 extension to Graham Chiesman House, the Rochester Diocesan Youth Conference and Retreat House at Chislehurst
Princess Alexandra inspecting the fruit at the annual Kent Agricultural Show
Princess Alexandra inspecting the fruit at the annual Kent Agricultural Show
The flags of four famous regiments were lowered for the last time at Howe Barracks
The flags of four famous regiments were lowered for the last time at Howe Barracks
The Kinks perform at the University of Kent in 1966
The Kinks perform at the University of Kent in 1966

The ceremony marked the passing of The Queens Royal Surrey, Queen's Own Buffs (The Royal Kent Regiment), the Royal Sussex and the Middlesex Regiments.

They were combined into a new single Queen's Regiment.

Looking back to photos of Kent towns from those days, probably the starkest difference is the lack of traffic.

Many families in 1966 still didn't have a car, let alone the two or three of today.

That didn't stop thousands of people flocking to Margate beach whenever there was some summer sunshine.

Gravesend in 1966
Gravesend in 1966
A street scene in Ashford in 1966
A street scene in Ashford in 1966
Chatham Town Hall in 1966
Chatham Town Hall in 1966

When on July 30, the country settled down to watch the final at Wembley, there was actually quite a level of confidence that this was our time.

There were 96,924 in the crowd at Wembley. Many had been able to buy tickets only days before, as disappointed fans from other teams went home and sold their tickets on.

The official price for a place in the terrace, was 10s. (England was still using pre-decimal currency, that's 50p in today's coinage.) The best seats were £5.

Like today, there was huge anticipation before the game - conducted through the newspapers, radio and TV - no social media then of course.

It was seen as particularly patriotic to support the team, because we were playing the old enemy of two world wars.

A crowded beach at Margate in 1966
A crowded beach at Margate in 1966
1966: Jack Brabham at Brands Hatch
1966: Jack Brabham at Brands Hatch
How Kent House in Ashford looked in 1966
How Kent House in Ashford looked in 1966

The match was watched by 32.3m viewers - the biggest TV audience ever. But it was different experience than today's. There were no big screens, no pubs showing the match. And the game was broadcast in black and white (BBC 1 wasn't to broadcast in colour until 1969).

Also there was far less drinking as an accompaniment.

In 1966 you couldn't buy alcohol from the supermarket. You had to purchase it from an off-licence, often a side-room to a pub, which had strictly limited opening hours.

People mostly watched the game gathered round the set in the lounge with their families.

But that didn't stop them pouring onto the streets afterwards in celebration of the 4-2 victory, with some witnesses saying the dancing and joy was reminiscent of the scenes at the end of the Second World War.

Another final from 1966 - the Maidstone United side about to take part in the Kent Senior Cup Final. Picture Bob Jeffery
Another final from 1966 - the Maidstone United side about to take part in the Kent Senior Cup Final. Picture Bob Jeffery
Bob Jeffery dives to save a shot during the Kent Senior Cup of 1966
Bob Jeffery dives to save a shot during the Kent Senior Cup of 1966
Geoff Hurst scoring the final goal at Wembley in 1966. PA Photos
Geoff Hurst scoring the final goal at Wembley in 1966. PA Photos
A ticket and programme from the 1966 World Cup
A ticket and programme from the 1966 World Cup

The England squad themselves took it much more calmly.

Jack Charlton later described how he stopped at the Knockholt Service Station on the way home for egg and chips, because he was starving for "some proper food."

And when photographers went to the home of England's triple goal scorer Geoff Hurst the next day, they found him mowing the lawn.

Manager Alf Ramsey took his phone off the hook and simply refused all interviews.

If people are looking for similarities between 1966 and this Sunday's team, they may take comfort in the fact that England in 1966 didn't concede a goal until their semi-final against Portugal, much as the current team.

Football's coming home!
Football's coming home!

And if by some lucky fluke, the Italians should score the first goal on Sunday, don't be disheartened, so did the Germans in 1966, but much good it did them.

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