50th anniversary leaves English football with mixed feelings
By Steve Tongue
LONDON (Reuters) - Fifty years on from the greatest day in the history of English football, pessimists fear that the prospect of becoming world champions again is as remote as it has ever been.
On that day, Saturday, July 30 1966, the nation came together in a manner rarely seen since the end of the Second World War as Alf Ramsey's England side defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time to win the World Cup for the only time.
In the intervening years, the event has come to be seen as an important part of British popular culture, exemplified in a book published last year titled "1966: The Year the Decade Exploded".
As part of the anniversary celebrations, British media are devoting acres of newsprint to the triumph and on Saturday BBC Radio 5 Live is broadcasting almost 12 hours of programming based on it.
That will include a 90-minute phone-in, in which football fans can be relied upon to offer unfavourable observations about the present state of the national team and most of its predecessors.
Sam Allardyce has just been appointed as the 12th full-time manager since Ramsey was sacked in 1974. The best any of the other 11 achieved was losing on penalties in the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup (Bobby Robson) and Euro 96 (Terry Venables).
Germany, taking ample revenge for 1966, won each of those matches and went on to take the trophy.
In the last two tournaments, England under Roy Hodgson won only one game out of seven in total, the 2014 performance being their worst ever at a World Cup.
Being knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland was particularly humiliating and offered no encouragement towards former Football Association chairman Greg Dyke's stated aim three years ago of winning the 2022 World Cup.
"We should have won a tournament in the last 50 years," he said more recently. "We haven't. But we will win in the next 50 years, hopefully long before."
Others are less convinced.
"We are blinded by the Premier League," former striker Alan Shearer told the BBC.
"We think it's the best in the world for talent. It's not. We are totally reliant on foreign players and managers for excitement. We are not as good as we think we are."
In the circumstances it is hardly surprising that the reputation of the boys of '66 grows stronger with every passing year and each tournament failure.
A number of the surviving team members are suffering from ill-health, adding further poignancy to memories of their World Cup victory.
Nine of them survive, although at least half a dozen have suffered from either cancer or serious memory loss.
Skipper Bobby Moore died of cancer in 1993 aged 51, followed by manager Ramsey in 1999 and midfielder Alan Ball eight years later.
"As a team we remain great friends and have kept in touch, but it is getting harder to meet up with some of the guys now because they are not well," goalkeeper Gordon Banks said this year.
The consolation is retaining their unique place in the country's sporting history.
(Editing by Toby Davis)