“Austerity is repealed for a day as Britons swarm to the pubs”
The story of 1966 – the last time England were in a major a final
Harold Wilson launched the tournament at a meeting of FIFA in London and claimed England had a good chance of winning.
“England are playing together as a team. They will face the best you can put against us with great confidence.”
He admitted that “I have my own hopes for who should win the cup but I propose to keep it secret”
Hosting a dinner a few days later, he stood by the World Cup and said it was there “by courtesy of the British police and a dog of doubtful ancestry”.
Britain was in the midst of an economic crisis as sterling continued to take a hit.
“England brilliantly beat Mexico last week in a soccer match and is favoured to win over France. Otherwise the news here is all bad”
“The nation has lost another battle with its most persistent enemy, the economy. And the war will get worse before it gets better. At least a mild recession is forecast”
Harold Wilson warned the country that it needed to fix its industrial problems.
“To change these attitudes (on both sides) of industry is the biggest challenge our society is facing”
As the crisis gripped the Cabinet, Wilson received an urgent message from the US over his lack of support for the Vietnam War
“Could we not even send a token force? A platoon of bagpipers would be sufficient: it was the British flag that was wanted” Wilson later wrote.
On Thursday July 28th, Wilson finished PMQs and headed to London Airport
His RAF Comet 4 took off at 4:30pm and landed in Washington 10 hours later.
As Wilson came under pressure President Johnson backed him: “I must say that England is blessed now with gallant and hardy leadership. In you, sir she has a man of mettle”
“‘She is blessed with a leader whose own enterprise and courage will show the way. Your firmness and your leadership have inspired us deeply in the tradition of the great men of Britain”
In the Guardian, one financial journalist wrote that he prayed for an England win
“I shudder to think what will happen if we get beaten. It may only be a game…but many would regard it as final evidence of our moral and financial collapse”.
As the final loomed, the Lords opened a two day debate opened on the economic problems facing the country.
Lord Shepherd promised to “defend the parity of the pound with all the strength it had got. “It would be wrong to devalue when you can avoid it by putting your own house in order”
Lord Carrington replied that “the present crisis is solely and entirely the fault of the government. It must be humiliating for the Labour Party to recall the events of the last 18 months”.
Wilson he moved onto Canada for more talks. At a press conference with the Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson the pair bet each other $5 on the outcome of the World Cup final.
Wilson then took an RAF flight back to London to make sure he was back for the final. As he arrived home he drove straight to Wembley
“The British reading and viewing public were not interested that weekend in international affairs”.
Wilson arrived back just in time to offer his thoughts on the match to the BBC. He predicted a 2-1 victory. James Callaghan and George Brown also offered their thoughts on the game.
Wilson, it was later revealed, had to be stopped from appearing on the television at half time to offer his thoughts on proceedings.
As they game headed into extra time, even the Queen was caught up in the tensions. In the last minutes of the game she “repeatedly asked how much longer to go”?
As the team ran round the pitch as World Champions, the band of the Royal Marines blared out the England teams song “When the Saints go marching in”.
Helmut Schoen, the Germany Manager, claimed that all his players agreed that the fourth goal hit the crossbar and bounced outside the line.
“However, England deserved the win”.
After the game “Britain erupted with joy” with “patriotic fervour unequalled since V.E Day” according to the Observer
“As the team arrived at the Royal Gardens Hotel in Kensington for a banquet, arm-linked cordons of police popped open like seams when a crowd of more than 6000 mobbed the players”.
Cries of ENGLAND, Ramsey, Moore, Stiles and Charlton greeted them when they came out on a balcony
Harold Wilson told the press that “it was a marvellous game. I was a bit shattered when we went into extra time. I said before the game that it would be 2-1 in England’s favour and I was only a minute out”
Wilson ushered a nervous Ramsey towards the balcony to soak in the crowd celebration:
“It’s only once in a lifetime you know”
Over drinks, Foreign Secretary George Brown caught up with Bobby Moore
“It was a blinder, it really was” Brown told him
Brown claimed it had been won on the back of the three men from his West Ham team.
Wilson later recalled seeing Brown “on his feet leading his table in the singing” of I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.
At the banquet, the Earl of Harewood, FA President, produced a cake in the shape of a football pitch
“The cake has been prepared to remind you of Wembley”
“Traffic in the West End was at a complete stand still. Thousands of cars and pedestrians jostled around Leicester Square, Piccadilly and Trafalgar”
An AA spokesperson said “It’s like VE Night, election night and New Year’s Eve rolled into one.”
At Trafalgar Square, teenagers jumped into the fountains and chanted “We gave them a bloody good hiding….and so say all of us!!!”
The New York Times reported that “austerity is repealed for a day as Britons swarm to the pubs”
“Most of the game was played during the normal afternoon pub closing hours of 3 to 5 pm. But the pubs filled up soon after the game”.
Millions of fans were reported to head to bars, nightclubs and street celebrations.
And a few days later Wilson was delighted when “our gold and convertible currency reserves gained $5 (Canadian) as Lester Pearson cheerfully paid up”.