AS SOON as the final whistle sounded on Wednesday the same intoxicating feeling of euphoria I had experienced 55 years ago was once again coursing through my veins.
England, after suffering so much heartache after decades of bitter disappointment, were at last on the way to a European Championship final.
It was no wonder there were floods of joyful tears shed by the team and fans. I shared their emotion in front of my TV screen.
In seconds, my mind was transported back in time to July 26, 1966, and another semi-final in a completely different era.
It seemed as if I were walking on air as I left the old Wembley with 94,000 others, having watched Bobby Charlton blast in two goals to demolish Portugal.
It meant I was going to return to the stadium four days later to see England do battle with West Germany, in the World Cup final.
The mere thought of it sent an adrenalin rush through my body strong enough to revive a corpse.
I knew it was bound to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
If Gentleman Gareth Southgate’s talented young men manage to get their hands on the trophy tomorrow, it will be a magnificent achievement and it will once more send the nation on another emotional high.
I have no desire to rain on the squad’s parade but I’m sure my fellow senior citizens will agree, as great as it will be, it won’t bear comparison with Alf Ramsey’s boys’ blood-stirring victory over the Germans.
England have won nothing yet. If they are to be heralded as European champions it will fill us all with immense pride and set off even greater ecstatic celebrations across the land than we have already enjoyed.
But to be acclaimed masters of the whole world puts the immortal Bobby Moore and his legendary mates — my heroes — on a very much higher plane.
It’s impossible to equate the England of here and now to our lifestyle of more than half-a-century ago.
Today’s youngsters would assume we were living in the Dark Ages.
Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson smoked a pipe. There were no mobile phones, no computers, no internet, no social media, no colour TV and just three channels to choose from.
A pint of beer cost 12p, a gallon of petrol was 33p, the average house price was £3,620 and the average weekly wage was £25 — which would buy you a round of five pints today.
There’s certainly one thing us old ’uns definitely have in common with the present generation and that’s our love and passion for football and the England team.
But we showed our affection and fervour far more soberly — in every sense of the word.
People then were more inhibited and much less worldly.
Neither me nor my West Ham mates would have dreamed of throwing our beer in the air — even if we watched the Hammers beat Spurs 10-0.
And the media coverage back then was very low key. There wasn’t the hysteria surrounding the players like there is now.
England’s HQ was at the Hendon Hall Hotel a short coach ride from Wembley.
Stars like Moore, the Charlton brothers, Jimmy Greaves and Gordon Banks would walk to the local shops unmolested, though a few fans might have politely asked them for their autographs.
A year before the World Cup I applied for a ten-match season ticket and I was overjoyed when I was lucky enough to get it.
I was guaranteed the best seat in the stand opposite the Royal Box for every England match. It included a semi- final, third-place game and the final.
The price was £25 — then a considerable sum. The top-price ticket tomorrow is more than £800.
The 12-month wait for the 16-nation championship to begin stretched my patience to the limit.
England’s opening match against Uruguay was a 0-0 bore draw and Ramsey’s bold pre-tournament prediction that England would win the World Cup looked far-fetched.
But after beating Mexico, France, Argentina and Portugal, morale was on a high and the stage was set for a classic climax.
England’s previous World Cup appearances in 1950, 54, 58 and 62 were embarrassing.
I shall never forget, as a 15-year-old schoolboy, feeling a sense of humiliation when our household names like Billy Wright, Stan Mortensen and Wilf Mannion unbelievably lost 1-0 to the USA in Brazil in 1950 — England’s first- ever entry in the World Cup.
Sixteen years later I vividly remember walking along Wembley Way a couple of hours before kick-off and felt an unusual air of expectancy and confidence among the English fans — even knowing the West Germans were tough and formidable opponents.
England shirts weren’t on sale in those days but we showed our loyalty and fervour by waving our Union flags and kept up ear-splitting chants.
There are many reasons why the game was memorable and matched the occasion.
From the kick-off it was a heart-in-the-mouth battle that went from end to end. And there were several dramatic incidents that those of us who saw them will never forget.
After just 12 minutes Helmut Haller put Germany ahead. The lead lasted just six minutes.
A perfect Moore free-kick and Geoff Hurst’s header had us level. Martin Peters put us ahead 23 minutes into the second half and with a minute to go Wolfgang Weber must have been responsible for several cardiac arrests among the 32.3million watching on TV — the biggest British TV audience ever.
He capitalised on the rare confusion in the England defence and snatched the equaliser to force extra-time.
Eleven minutes into the first period came one of the most controversial episodes in the history of the beautiful game — and one that’s still argued about more than half a century later.
That’s when Hurst smashed an Alan Ball pass beyond goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski that hit the underside of the bar and bounced over the line. Or did it?
Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst wasn’t sure. He went over to consult Soviet linesman Tofiq Bahramov. The tension was unbearable as the majority of us in the 96,000 crowd held our breath as the two men decided England’s fate. After seconds that seemed like hours Dienst signalled a goal and I found myself hugging several men around me.
If VAR had been operating who knows what the outcome would have been? But let’s not dwell on that.
Hurst put the proverbial icing on the cake when he took a long Moore pass and hammered a left-foot shot that scorched past Tilkowski on the stroke of full-time.
That’s when BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, just before the ball hit the back of the net and Hurst became the first and only man to score a World Cup final hat-trick, came out with the memorable line: “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over . . . it is now!”
There are images of that day that I can never erase from my memory.
Moore wiping his hands as he went to collect the Jules Rimet trophy so he shouldn’t dirty the Queen’s gloves as she shook his hand before handing it over.
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The toothless Nobby Stiles doing his jig of honour round the pitch, to the delight of the crowd.
Bobby Charlton sobbing in the arms of his brother Jack. And Ramsey sitting calmly on the bench reflecting at making history as everyone around him was going mad.
Going into London’s West End to join the thousands celebrating, I was reminded of the night my parents took me to Trafalgar Square on May 8, 1945, to rejoice at the end of World War Two.
There was the same sense of relief and elation at a job well done.
Much of the over-the-top partying we have witnessed in the last few weeks is understandable. I’m sure it isn’t only because England have won a few football matches. It is being released from 17 months of lockdown.
In 1966 there was also a similar air of freedom. Most of us had survived six years of war and had come out of years of severe austerity.
And winning the World Cup had given us the opportunity of letting our hair down like never before.
Let’s hope we will all still be smiling on Monday morning.
I’ll let the final word about 1966 and all that go to Ramsey. No one could bring people down to earth more forcibly or succinctly.
When his victorious team were departing their London hotel to return to their homes the following morning, Hurst, bursting with satisfaction at his momentous hat-trick, said: “Goodbye, Alf — see you at the next game.”
“If selected, Geoffrey,” Alf replied.
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