England hosted the World Cup in 1966. On July 30th, they beat West Germany 4-2 in the final, winning the World Cup for the first time.

World Cup Willie was the first World Cup mascot
World Cup Willie was the first World Cup mascot

The Tournament

16 teams took part in the Finals: 10 from Europe, 4 from South America; 1 from Asia; and 1 from North and Central America.

Many African teams chose not to try to qualify, feeling the route to the Finals was unfair for them (they had to win in Africa, then beat the best Asian team).

The top scorer was Eusebio, from Portugal. He scored 9 goals, including 4 against North Korea. Portugal finished 3rd in the tournament.

The biggest surprise team of the tournament was North Korea. They beat Italy (one of Europe’s best teams, and winners of the 1968 European Championships) 1-0, and led 3-0 against Portugal before losing 5-3. North Korea were the only non-European or American team to reach the second round until 1986.

The Finals had some very controversial moments. As well as a ‘ghost goal’ in the final, two South American teams felt they were cheated. Uruguay lost 4-0 to Germany after having two players sent off and the English referee not give them a penalty for handball on the goal-line; Argentina, meanwhile, call their 1-0 loss to England ‘The Robbery of the Century’ after having a man sent off and feeling England’s goal was offside.

North Korea defeated Italy
North Korea defeated Italy

The Final

The final was played at Wembley Stadium, London, in front of 98 000 people.

Germany scored the first goal in the 12th minute, through Helmut Haller, but England equalised in the 19th minute through Geoff Hurst. The score was 1-1 at half-time.

England scored again in the 77th minute, through Martin Peters, but in the last minute Wolfgang Weber equalised for the Germans. The score was 2-2 after 90 minutes, so extra-time was needed.

In the 101st minute one of the most controversial goals in World Cup history made it 3-2 to England. Geoff Hurst’s shot hit the bar and bounced down. It did not look like it crossed the line, so the Swiss referee asked his Russian linesman. The two did not speak the same language, but the linesman communicated it was a goal (TV replays have shown the ball did not cross the line, and it should not have been a goal).

The final included a famously controversial goal, with many saying the ball didn't cross the line
The final included a famously controversial goal, with many saying the ball didn’t cross the line

In the 119th minute (the last of extra time) Geoff Hurst ran clear. He wanted to hit his shot hard so that if he missed it would take longer for the Germans to get the ball. The ball went in the top corner, making it 4-2.

The final goal has some of the most famous commentary in English football history, from commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme:
“And here comes Hurst. He’s got… some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”.

Geoff Hurst
Geoff Hurst

Notes on the Final

Geoff Hurst became the first player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.

The ‘ghost goal’ (the controversial third goal) is one of the most famous in World Cup history.

England’s captain, Bobby Moore, and the two goalscorers (Hurst and Peters) all played for West Ham United. A statue of England’s winners sits outside West Ham’s stadium. West Ham fans like to joke that they won the World Cup.

At the time, FIFA only gave winners medals to the players who played in the game. They later decided all players in the squad and the management should get medals, and so in 2009 the rest of the team were given their medals.

’30 Years of Hurt’ (and counting)

England have traditionally been one of the powerhouses of world football, but the 1966 World Cup remains its only major victory.

As time has passed – and other traditionally underachieving European teams such as France and Spain have picked up World Cup wins – England’s victory has slid into history. Meanwhile the English League became the richest in the world.

When England hosted Euro 1996 hopes were high. A song called ‘3 Lions’ talked about ending ’30 years of hurt’. England lost on penalties in the semi-final – to Germany. The song, however, has become an anthem to English football fans.