Sunday 24 July 2016, 10:10

Armfield: Togetherness made England stronger in '66

The role of a squad player at a FIFA World Cup™ has always been a challenging one. All too easily they can find the drive to fulfil personal and professional dreams out on the field, fighting against the desire to aid the team however they can.

While players today still grapple with the emotional tug of war this scenario throws up, look back fifty years and it was altogether tougher. Substitutes were not introduced – for non-injuries – until 1970, so if your name wasn’t on the team sheet at England 1966, you most likely hoped you wouldn’t be crossing the white line.

Players were no less keen to get on the pitch half a century ago, so the art of managing a squad, and the importance off the field of those not playing, were certainly different to those today. This was the challenge England full-back Jimmy Armfield, veteran of Chile 1962, former Three Lions captain and now honoured with a statue outside Blackpool's Bloomfield Road stadium, had to face.

Remembering his side’s triumph at the opening of an exhibition to commemorate England 1966 at the National Football Musuem in Manchester, Armfield cast his mind back to those memorable three weeks. “You could look back and say things that aren’t true and recall things that didn’t happen,” the 80-year-old told, “but the one thing that’s true right through was that the squad was strong together.

“The squad strength was something that was very important to Alf Ramsey. The other thing that was important is that when you get away in the camp, it’s what the group is like. I always felt there was a lot of togetherness with us. We all wanted to play in the final, but knew we all couldn’t.”

The Blackpool legend – who spent his entire career at the club from the north-west of England – felt the mix amongst them created that perfect cocktail on and off the field. The age range, running from the fresh talent of Alan Ball at 21 to more season heads like the 31-year-old Ray Wilson and Ron Flowers, brought exuberance and experience.

The time that ten of the squad spent four years earlier in Chile – which Armfield appeared in all four of England’s games – helped too. “We got to the quarter-final, but the squad was better than that, but learning from that experience definitely made a difference .”

Film stars and high spirits The off-field camaraderie was maintained in some conventional ways, such as casual games of cricket and cards, though a game of golf on the eve of the final was an impressive display of serenity amongst the camp. Others, however were a bit more left-field.

“Alf arranged for us to go to Pinewood Studios to meet Sean Connery, who was making a Bond film,” Armfield recalled with a smile. “ Lulu was there, and she took a bit of a shine to Alan Ball, and it was those sort of things that you remember as much as anything else.”

And it was evident that, even when staying sharp away from the limelight, spirits were high in the lead up to the final amongst those who were unlikely to make the cut. “We played a friendly, I think it was against Arsenal, for those who hadn’t played in the semi-final and, because we’d won and I was captain, they carried me shoulder high off the pitch. It was all part of the make-up.”

With eleven names not on in the starting line-up, Armfield found himself amongst an exclusive band of spectators for that now-historic day in English football history, with a unique perspective on one of his country’s biggest sporting moments. “One of the things about being someone who didn’t play in the final meant you watched it all,” he said. “The points I always remember are often not the ones others do.”

Though, funnily enough, one that sticks in Armfield’s mind is a moment he almost missed, as the topsy-turvy final twisted in the dying minutes of normal time. “I was sort of the leader of those who didn’t play in the final and ten minutes from the end I was to bring them out of our seats and down to the front,” he explained with a wry smile. “It was just a two-minute exercise – where there were seats for us, and I sat immediately behind Alf. But as we sat down Germany equalised. I’m not sure if all of them saw it!”

Two goals in extra-time from Sir Geoff Hurst – “I’ve seen Geoff’s goals a thousand times” – decided the game, but it wasn’t until 2009 that this tight-knit squad received parity, when medals were given to those who weren’t on the field. “We didn’t expect it. In my day it was only the actual players, the manager didn’t even get one. These days when they go up to get their medals the kit man gets one, the laundry lady gets one, it’s the longest part of the day!”

However, on the day itself, there was no doubts about all being equal amongst the 22 players in the squad. “We never talked about the money until after the game. The simple truth was, there was £22,000 bonus for the team so we all agreed that, whatever happened, whoever played, we all got a £1,000 each. £726 after tax,” he concluded with a wink.