To celebrate the 50th anniversary of England’s World Cup victory, we’re serialising the wonderfully comprehensive new book 1966 and Not All That throughout July. Published by Repeater Books, 1966 and Not All That includes contributions from award-winning writers David Goldblatt, Simon Kuper, Philippe Auclair and Amy Lawrence, among others. An exclusive discount code for readers of The Set Pieces can be obtained at the bottom of the article.
Note: Match reports are penned by journalists from each of England’s opposing countries.
England v France Match Report, 20 July 1966
Venue: Wembley Stadium
FRA: Aubour (GK), Herbin, Budzinski, Bosquier, Arelesa (C), Herbet, Simon, Bonnel, Hausser, Djorkaeff
ENG: Banks (GK), Cohen, Charlton. J, Wilson, Moore (C), Callaghan, Stiles, Peters, Charlton. R, Hunt, Greaves
Final score: France 0 England 2
Goals: Hunt, 38; 75
Just as implacably and inevitably as November winds rob the trees of their leaves, France came to Wembley and was conquered as it had been nine years previously in the same stadium, when Finney, Edwards and Haynes put Roger Piantoni’s side to the sword.
Facing elimination from the World Cup, the French had no choice but to abandon the safety-first approach that had cost them so dear against Mexico and, especially, Uruguay. This they did with panache, until a lack of what the English call “the killer instinct” (a leitmotiv of our game since Just Fontaine’s career was cut short by a knee injury four years earlier) in front of Gordon Banks’s goal combined with bad luck and dubious refereeing to ensure there’d be no repeat of 1963’s miracle — when a 5-2 win over the English at the Parc des Princes had given France a place in the last sixteen of the 1964 European Championship.
National team manager Henri Guérin, so widely and so justifiably criticised at home for his startling lack of ambition in France’s first two group games, chose to change his team’s shape rather than its personnel. Save for Nestor Combin and Di Michele, this was the same XI that had drawn a dire opening match against Mexico. And except for Herbin, restored to the starting line-up in the place of De Bourgoing, the same XI that had also lost against Uruguay.
This time, however, now that the French were up against a far more formidable opponent than those faced earlier in the tournament, Guérin did what he should have done from the outset. He deployed a 4-3-3 formation that played to the qualities of the skilful squad at his disposal, as was shown almost right from kick-off. He also dropped the sterile béton — literally, “concrete,” the béton that had crumbled against Uruguay — to adopt a zonal defence system which, though barely rehearsed ahead of this game, gave greater freedom to defenders such as the adventurous Bernard Bosquier. What if Guérin had showed the same daring before it became a gamble?
Perhaps the English, having seen Mexico and Uruguay draw 0-0 on the same Wembley pitch twenty-four hours earlier, relaxed a little, knowing that a place in the quarter-finals surely beckoned. It certainly was an advantage to both England and France to know exactly what was required of them on that Wednesday evening.
England battled hard, too hard. Alf Ramsey had said when he took charge of England in 1962: “Some overseas sides control the ball better. I would say that players in the hotter countries move better, move quicker, perhaps think quicker than ours.” Guérin’s team certainly threw itself into the game as if to prove the English coach had a point.
First, Hausser stroked a beautiful cross from the left with the outside of his right boot, Herbin — who’d started the move — heading the ball powerfully just wide of Banks’s right-hand post. The slight but vivacious Herbet, who moved from the wing to a more central position as early as the eighth minute, provided the zest and imagination that had been lacking until then, drawing attractive patterns deep in England’s half — but without yet seriously threatening Banks.
There was the misfortune of the injury that Herbin was limping on from a very early stage. With no substitutes allowed it meant France were effectively playing with one man down. But they did not lose heart, and could consider themselves unlucky to go behind seven minutes before the interval, when, following a corner kick, Stiles crossed deep towards the far post, where Jack Charlton had unaccountably been left alone by the French defenders.
His header struck the post, only to be fired home from point-blank range by Hunt. Was he offside, or was Charlton? The French were convinced that this must have been the case and that Hunt’s effort should be disallowed, as a Jimmy Greaves’ “goal” already had been earlier in the game. Their protests were ignored. This wouldn’t be the last time they’d have cause to complain about the decision-making of the referee, the Peruvian Arturo Yamasaki.
Perhaps fired by a sense of injustice, and despite what amounted to a numerical disadvantage, France played with even more purpose and vigour in the second half. Bernard Bosquier, one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in French football, was unlucky to narrowly miss the goal from a long way out on several occasions, whilst Simon, diving bravely to head from the penalty spot, forced Banks to turn the ball round a post.
Yes, Aubour had to parry a vicious swerving shot by Martin Peters, but France were still in with a chance — until the game’s decisive moment, in the seventy-fifth minute, when Stiles’ crude hack on Jacques Simon left the elegant Nantes midfielder lying in great pain right in front of the Royal Box. And it is while Simon lay injured that Hunt sprang to head Ian Callaghan’s floating cross into Aubour’s net.
Perhaps the Lyon keeper had been at fault; but not as much as the Peruvian referee. Stiles was punished by a caution; but that was too little, too late. His brutal intervention forced Simon to have his left knee strapped, not that it helped him much. He could hardly move after the Englishman’s assault. France were de facto now playing with nine men — when England should have been reduced to ten.
There could, and would, be no way back. 2-0 it stayed. The inevitable had happened as expected, but not quite as feared. It did not constitute a redemption, as the despondency felt after the matches against Mexico and Uruguay could only be dissipated by a victory. But some pride had been restored, which was more than had been hoped for, if not enough.
What happened next for France?
As could be expected, Henri Guérin did not survive France’s worst World Cup campaign to date. A number of his players — especially the outspoken Robert Herbin — didn’t hide their dislike of his character and his methods, and the general public didn’t have a much more favourable opinion of the former Rennes and Saint-Étienne coach. But it still took well over a month for the French FA to act, following a twenty-four-hour-long meeting held behind closed doors at their Rue de Londres headquarters. Rue de Londres; Londres where France had failed. The irony was not lost on many.
At long last, on 3 September, Guérin ceased to be France’s manager. Who would replace him? The FA’s “crisis committee” came up with an imaginative solution: they chose not one, but two men, José Arribas and Jean Snella, respectively managers of FC Nantes and Saint-Étienne, France’s biggest clubs at the time. The experiment proved short-lived, however, lasting only four games before an even shorter appointment, Just Fontaine, who lost both of the two matches for which he was France’s manager.
French football was caught in a spiral of decline from which it would take well over a decade to escape. To most observers, the 1966 World Cup — the game against England in particular — had revealed the huge physical deficit of French players compared to almost all of their international opponents. We’d been left behind. Our academies — that of Nantes in particular — produced skilful players who could delight crowds with their imagination and their swift interplay. But what good was that when they had to face adversaries whose strength and fitness was so evidently superior to theirs and nullified their technical excellence?
In some ways, 1966 provoked a catastrophe in terms of the results that followed. French players — and spectators — developed an inferiority complex and a paralysing fear of failure which would only be conquered when a Michel Platini free-kick made sure that Les Bleus would be in Argentina for World Cup ’78. A tournament that of course England failed to qualify for. 1966 had forced the game’s administrators to address the systemic problems that had caused the catastrophe in the first instance, and this they did (nobody more than the FA chairman Fernand Sastre) in an almost visionary fashion from the early 1970s onwards, privileging the long term, paving the way for the successes to follow. Un mal pour un bien, a blessing in disguise, perhaps?
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This is an edited extract from 1966 and Not All That published by Repeater Books.
This new book includes original writing on 1966 from contributors including David Goldblatt and Simon Kuper, an oral history of the tournament compiled by Amy Lawrence, and new thinking on what 1966 meant then and now. Just £8.99 from Philosophy Football there’s an exclusive £1 discount for The Set Pieces readers. To pick up your copy for £7.99, quote coupon code ‘The Set Pieces’ at the checkout.