Where were you when England won the World Cup in July 1966? | Thompson Paul

Where were you when England won the World Cup in July 1966? You probably weren’t alive 55 years ago. Even if you were, you would have had to be about 18 years old to take it all in, so that means nobody under 73 now is likely to remember much, if anything, about it.

Only four of that famous team are still with us: George Cohen, Sir Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt and Sir Bobby Charlton. Will Gareth Southgate’s players join them in that great pantheon of English sporting heroes, along with the rugby team of 2003 and the cricketers of 2019?

The day of England’s historic victory in 1966 was my first Saturday on The Observer.

During the earlier rounds I had been travelling back from Africa, via stops in Nairobi, Cairo, Athens and Rome, catching TV pictures of England’s matches wherever I could in hotels or bars.

There was high drama at the paper when England won, because the game had gone to extra time and the managing editor, who knew nothing and cared even less about sport, wanted to print the first edition – for distribution to outlying areas like Scotland – without the final result.

As a new boy, I was nervous about telling the boss that the paper would look foolish on Sunday morning without the result of a World Cup which England, as the readers would know by then, might have won, and persuaded him that we should wait, even if it meant paying for a plane to carry the early edition.

Hugh McIlvanney, our great sports writer, dictated the final paragraphs of his story down the telephone to a printer, who took it down with a stubby pencil in the composing room. Hugh later won a press award for his report.

When I saw the first edition of the paper, I was astonished to see that there was no mention of the World Cup on the front page. Again I had to overcome a new boy’s nervousness to tell the bosses on the back bench that they were making a big mistake.
Finally I did so, and a mass of paper from the Press Association then landed on my desk, with instructions to write 500 words for the front page in ten minutes.

By the last edition the paper even had a picture to go with it of Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy.

Will Harry Kane be shown in a similar pose on Monday morning’s front pages? Like millions of other Brits, I certainly hope so, and Gareth Southgate’s men have the talent to do it, even though Italy, who are on a long unbeaten run, will be dauntingly hard to beat. For all the optimistic buzz about England, Italy must still be favourites.

I was very sorry that Spain lost to Italy in the semi-final, and not just because I live here. They played the better football and missed some golden chances to score. They also, as far as one can tell these things from afar, seemed nicer people. But luck can be as important as talent in these competitive games – as England showed against Denmark by winning with a doubtful penalty that was only converted at the second attempt.

England have three world-class players in Kane, Raheem Sterling and Harry Maguire, with Kyle Walker and possibly Declan Rice not far behind, judging by their performances in the tournament so far.

Whether England win or lose on Sunday, Southgate will have increased his prestige and popularity as England manager. He and his players will also have brought hope and a welcome dose of happiness to a country that has been too long down in the dumps.
I said last week that I hoped Jack Grealish and Phil Foden would put in an appearance and I was delighted that they were on the field at the climax of the semi-final. Maybe Southgate should bring them on as good luck tokens on Sunday. He is going to need all the luck he can get.

Will the Lions be able to roar?
For all Warren Gatland’s optimism, it seems more likely than not that the British and Irish Lions’ tour will become another victim of South Africa’s horrific Covid upsurge. This would be a great shame, because the series was building up nicely, with the Lions in fine form, admittedly against surprisingly weak opposition.

Although they have swept all before them, the Lions haven’t been seriously tested yet. As a friend said, why did they prepare themselves for playing the world’s most gigantic rugby team by facing Japan, which must be the smallest? And their first games on South African soil have been rightly described as men against boys.

If the tour is able to proceed, and assuming all the players are available, some tough decisions on the Test team will have to be made? Liam Williams or Stuart Hogg at full-back (probably Williams, a Gatland favourite), the prolific Josh Adams or the mighty Duhan van der Merwe at left-wing (probably Adams, at the least for the first Test), Bundi Aki or Owen Farrell at inside centre (Farrell).

Among the forwards some places are also still unclear: Ken Owens, Jamie George or even Luke Cowan-Dickie at hooker, Tadhg Beirne or Courtney Lawes at number six, Tom Curry or Hamish Watson on the open-side, Taulupe Faletau or Jack Conan at number eight?
It will be good news if Gatland is able to make these choices and not forced to abandon the tour.

Sad fall of Roger the great

How terribly sad it was to see Roger Federer bow out of Wimbledon this week. I could hardly bear to watch as he went down 6-0 in the third and final set against the highly promising Polish player, Hubert Hurkacz.

Has he ever lost a set 6-0 before? Certainly not at Wimbledon, where I watched him win his first singles title 18 years ago, when he was 21, and marvelled at his graciousness and beautiful style on court.

He and Rafael Nadal hold 20 Grand Slam titles. Federer won’t win any more, and there must be a doubt about Rafa too. Novak Djokovic is poised on 19 Grand Slams and will doubtless pass them both before long.

The Serb is a superbly efficient and often brilliant tennis champion, an all-time great, and plainly deserves his success. Nonetheless, one feels in one’s bones that Roger and Rafa represented something special in human terms that he cannot quite match and that the game will be diminished when they finally go.