Wednesday, January 07, 2009
1966 Observations, Part 1
Even beyond the usual “did it cross the line” clichés, there has always been a whiff of suspicion about a few home-town calls favouring Bobby Moore and Co. (as with the Argentinians of 1978, whose “suspicious” penultimate game I’ve described in detail earlier).
I was interested to see whether the oft-repeated claims of illegitimacy levelled at Sir Alf Ramsey’s side had any foundation. And now, after a fair bit of viewing and reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that they were, in fact, legitimate champions…but perhaps not worthy ones.
By that, I mean that they were almost certainly not the best side in the tournament, despite winning the event. They looked the poorer team in every one of their three knockout matches, but overcame their technical limitations with grit, teamwork and a little luck. But was it a conspiracy? Probably not.
They were indeed lucky to be placed in by far the weakest first-round group, with long-time easybeats Mexico, a French side who hadn’t yet come close to replacing Fontaine and Kopa, and Uruguay, who were resilient and organized rather than brilliant. England passed through the opening stage with little trouble, despite an injury to star striker Jimmy Greaves.
And so to the knockout stage, where the controversies really begin.
The quarter-final against Argentina has long been a bone of contention in South America. Antonio Rattin, the Argentina captain, was sent off shortly before half-time. For nothing, is the South American view. And about time too, is the British take.
The truth? Yes, he deserved to be sent off. But there were mitigating factors.
The main one being that Argentina, who had begun the game in relatively benign fashion, were quite understandably incensed by a dreadful off-the-ball “foul” (king hit, in fact) by the notorious Nobby Stiles midway through the first half. The inept German referee takes no action, and from that point on, it becomes war.
Rattin receives a caution for a foul on Bobby Charlton, and far from chastening him, this seems to goad him on to further misdemeanours. He follows up with a nasty tackle from behind on Geoff Hurst, and a spirited protest when another decision goes against Argentina. This may well have been the time for one of his team-mates to gently suggest that he calm down, but clearly it didn’t happen.
One more foul given, one more protest, and this time he is dismissed. Unfortunately, the referee subsequently made some foolish remarks about Rattin’s dismissal being the result of “the look in his eye”, which only fanned the flames of suspicion. In reality, by the time Rattin was dismissed, he had richly deserved it.
Here, however, is the rub. After the break, England, with a full complement, look pitifully blunt and unimaginative against Argentina’s ten men, and if anything the South Americans appear more likely to score, with the River Plate duo of Ermindo Onega and the young Oscar Mas always dangerous on the break, and the elegant left-back Silvio Marzolini (an early version of Javier Zanetti) wonderfully effective in defence.
In addition, the English are hardly angelic in the tackle either: Hurst and Bobby Moore are both guilty of crude challenges on the other fullback Roberto Ferreiro soon after Rattin’s dismissal, both escaping sanction, and in the second half Alan Ball is incredibly lucky to avoid a caution (at least) for a truly awful professional foul on Jose Albrecht when the latter goes on a run upfield.
Home-town calls, without doubt, but such is to be expected in a World Cup, up to a point. And none, in truth, were significant enough to really alter the course of the game. When England finally do score, with a cross and a clever near-post header from Hurst, that is clearly that. But they have hardly been the better side.
There is, however, one moment of old-fashioned British sportsmanship which is worth noting. With only a few minutes to go, Bobby Charlton is on the end of a vicious foul from Onega, and another Argentinian proceeds to whack the ball into Charlton while he is still on the deck. Sitting on a 1-0 lead, with the clock ticking down, most players would surely milk the double foul for all it was worth. Yet Charlton gets straight back up and continues with the game.
Next: England’s semi-final against Portugal, a thrilling game with, again, a hint of controversy.
the type of review you are undertaking is something I have often undertaken with other famous sports evetnsof the past.
It is amazing the things you pick up.
I look forward to all your reviews