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Forgotten stories of life in Kent as England lifted the World Cup in 1966


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From brawls outside TV shops showing the big game, to special greyhound meetings - Kent certainly had its fair share of news stories surrounding the last time England made it to the final of a major tournament.

That legendary year of 1966 was an era of black and while televisions, people waving rattles in the stands and, worth noting, the Italians getting trounced. An omen? Probably not, but let's keep our fingers crossed.

England celebrates triumph in the 1966 World Cup final. Picture: PA
England celebrates triumph in the 1966 World Cup final. Picture: PA

So as we all prepare for this weekend's Euro 2020 final against Italy, we take a look back at how the county reacted when Geoff Hurst bagged a hat-trick, some people were on the pitch, and football really did come home.

Lucky ticket

Every football fan dreams of Lady Luck smiling down upon them and a ticket for a major sporting event falling into their lap.

A ticket for the final was like gold dust as England looked to claim glory on home soil
A ticket for the final was like gold dust as England looked to claim glory on home soil

So you can imagine the delight of a Mr R Agate from Leigh, near Tonbridge, who not only found himself face-to-face with England's upcoming opponents on that sunny July afternoon, but also giving him the chance to witness one of the most celebrated sporting moments in our nation's history.

He worked for pharmaceutical firm Smith Kline and French, which then had laboratories near Hildenborough.

Tasked with making a visit to the firm's headquarters in Welwyn Garden City on the Tuesday before the final, he was taken to lunch at a hotel in which the German football team were staying. They clearly got on like a house on fire as he left the lunch clutching a prized ticket to the big match.

Italians leave it late

Following a national team in a major football tournament is a risky business (in the days before the pandemic threw a spanner in the works, of course). After all, while you may dream of being there to see your team battle it out in the knock-out stages, the reality is there's every chance you'll cross the squad at the airport as you collect your luggage and they're heading for the departure lounge after an early exit in the group stage.

The Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells - home, briefly, in 1966, to a group of Italy supporters
The Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells - home, briefly, in 1966, to a group of Italy supporters

So you can imagine the disappointment of a group of Italy supporters who had pre-booked a jaunt to England in the high hopes of seeing their team challenge for glory. The only problem, of course, was that Italy suffered one of the most humiliating moments in their history - and the shock of the tournament - when they were beaten 1-0 by the mighty, ahem, North Korea. Having already lost to Russia, it meant the Azzurri were unceremoniously dumped out of the competition.

Which left the 20 or so fans who had booked in to the Spa Hotel in Tunbridge Wells clutching tickets to both the quarter and semi-finals Italy were expected to appear in. Instead, they ended up watching Russia take on Hungary and England see off Portugal in the semi-final. They did get one thing right though; before the final they predicted a "tough match" but with "England winning the final".

Gone to the dogs

You can imagine the euphoria across the nation on the evening on July 30. After all, a record 32.3 million people are estimated to have watched the match in the UK on TV. So it was little wonder that entertainment venues were keen to cash in.

Take the greyhound racing track at Dumpton Park, near Ramsgate. It banked on plenty of happy punters by organising a special 10-race meeting night on the day "to celebrate the World Cup Final". You can only imagine the mood among the spectators and the cash splashed on any mutt with a vaguely football-related name.

The old greyhound track at Dumpton, near Ramsgate - today it's housing
The old greyhound track at Dumpton, near Ramsgate - today it's housing

Dumpton Park closed in 1996 - ironically the year England next held a major football tournament, Euro 96.

TV ruckus

Remember when every high street had a shop either selling or, as was often the case back in the day, renting television sets? Then you'll understand that on the day of the World Cup Final, there was plenty of demand to watch the big match - even if it was through the window of a TV store.

However, things got a little heated in Margate when large crowds gathered outside a showroom in the town centre. In fact so large was the pavement audience, a policeman had to go into the shop to tell the owner to turn the TV off so the crowd would disperse. Which, as you can probably imagine, didn't play too well with those watching the action.

But, for one viewer, who had worked at the nearby Butlins holiday camp, it all became a bit much. After remonstrating with the policeman over his decision, he punched him in the stomach resulting, unsurprisingly, in a warrant being issued for his arrest.

Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst
Hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst

Interference

And while we're on the subject of the television, there were folks in the west of the county left fuming after interference from French TV transmitters. Back in an era before we had high-definition images flooding into our house via satellite, high-speed broadband or digital aerials, many had to go through the often excruciating process of twirling around a set top aerial in a bid to find the 'sweet spot'. That, however, could be disrupted by atmospheric changes and those fiendish French signals jumping across the Channel.

The issue rose its head in the summer of 1966 - just as everyone was glued to the set watching the progress of Alf Ramsey's men.

Particularly hit was BBC1, which took the lion's share of the final's TV audience, with the Beeb helpfully saying "the viewer must help himself by making sure he has a proper aerial".

Big screen entertainment

It's easy to forget that as millions settled down around a TV set to watch England do battle in the final, they watched Kenneth Wolstenholme commentate on how "some players are on the pitch, they think it's all over" on a picture broadcast in black and white.

Bobby Moore collects the prized Jules Rimet trophy from the Queen in 1966 at Wembley. Picture: PA
Bobby Moore collects the prized Jules Rimet trophy from the Queen in 1966 at Wembley. Picture: PA

So you can imagine that when the official film of the tournament was released on the big screen later that year, there were plenty of fans keen to not only relive the glorious summer but also to watch the action, for the first time, in glorious Technicolor.

Cinemas across the county showed the film, imaginatively titled Goal! alongside big blockbusters of the day when it opened at the end of November.

Typewriting bargains

Once upon a time Geerings was a familiar name on the high streets of the likes of Ashford and Ramsgate - leading the way when it came to office supplies. And if you were on the look out for a bargain in the November of 1966 you could have stumbled across the chance to buy a little piece of history with a rather practical purpose.

Once upon a time a typewriter sat on your desk rather than a flat-screen PC
Once upon a time a typewriter sat on your desk rather than a flat-screen PC

Geerings had snapped up a number of Imperial Model 70 typewriters (kids, ask you parents if you're not sure what they are) from the press box at Wembley and were selling them on for a £15 discount - which given that's the equivalent today of £290 is nothing to be sniffed at.

Used by "British and foreign correspondents" some were more niche than others, with keyboards on offer including "English, German, French and Russian". Still, they came with a guarantee and had witnessed England lift that trophy, so a bargain all round especially as they were "indistinguishable from new".

Star appearances

And while the thoughts of today's World Cup stars heading down to the county to open shops or work with local non-league sides seems ludicrous, the 1966 winning squad were far more connected to reality despite all becoming household names for their performances during that golden summer.

Take Bobby Moore, for example, the man who lead the England team to success and lifted the trophy. In the April of 1978, he was the star guest at the opening of a new branch of bookmakers Ladbrookes in Ramsgate - cutting the ribbon on the store and meeting fans.

World Cup winning England footballer George Cohen
World Cup winning England footballer George Cohen

Right-back George Cohen moved down to west Kent in the 1970s and contacted Tonbridge Angels about any roles they may have. He ended up managing the Angels - leading them to victory in the Kent Senior Cup in 1975. Perhaps we'll see Luke Shaw lead Sittingbourne to promotion in 2030.

Meanwhile, 3,500 fans flocked to watch the Angels play an all-star team in 1974 which included the likes of hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, 'keeper Gordon Banks and midfielder (and scorer of England's second goal in the final) Martin Peters.

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