Finally, the forgotten heroes of 1966 are honoured at No 10

Finally, the forgotten heroes of 1966 are honoured at No 10

On the day that should have provided the crowning moment of an illustrious football career, he was, famously, a figure on the margins.

Dressed in a brown suit and seemingly unable to smile as his country celebrated the greatest moment of its football history, Jimmy Greaves could only look on and wonder.


It was an achingly sad image on an otherwise glorious day, the moment 43 years ago when Alf Ramsey and England won the World Cup at Wembley.

Last week, though, it was a different Greaves who finally laid his hands on the winner's medal denied him for all those years by football's mean-spirited belief that only the 11 men on the pitch when the World Cup was won should receive any award.

With a familiar twinkle in his 69-year-old eyes, Greaves was in the limelight and in his element as, with his 10 fellow England reserves from 1966 along with representatives of the families of Sir Alf, Harold Shepherdson and Les Cocker, the England manager's late assistant and trainer, he was ushered into 10 Downing Street to receive belated World Cup medals from Raith Rovers' most famous supporter.

Somebody joked that the Prime Minister and John Connelly were probably the only left-wingers in the room.

Somebody joked that the Prime Minister and John Connelly, who played 20 times for England before retiring to run a fish and chip shop called Connelly's Plaice, were probably the only left-wingers in the room.

For Gordon Brown, it was an occasion to put the travails of recession and revolt to one side and pay tribute to the forgotten heroes of 1966.

For The Mail on Sunday, it was the gratifying end to a campaign led by this newspaper to honour the men who, as squad members and back-up staff, played their part in helping Bobby Moore's team to victory.

Some of them, Connelly and Greaves included, played in the tournament's early games but lost their places before the glorious march to the final and the dramatic 4-2 victory over West Germany.

Others, like Jimmy Armfield, saw not a single minute of action but had their parts to play nonetheless.

Ramsey put Armfield, who had won acclaim for his performances in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile, in charge of the reserves.

The then Blackpool right-back dubbed them 'my lot' and took them under his wing.

Nothing, though, could console Greaves at his loss, as he readily admitted on the day he went to No 10.

 
Ian Ridley with Jimmy Armfield

Victory: Ian Ridley with Jimmy Armfield

'It was devastating for me that I didn't play in the final,' he said. 'I always believed that we would win the World Cup and I'd be part of it, but I wasn't.'

And he added wistfully: 'It wouldn't have been so important now because I would have been a substitute and probably would have got on.'

That would be enough these days to earn a World Cup winner's medal but until 1978 FIFA handed them out only to the members of the winning team.

In 1966 not even Ramsey received one.

Greaves's exclusion triggered the alcoholism that he has kept at bay by not drinking for some 30 years.

But if he was the sub-plot on that day 43 years ago, last week he was the star of the show. That was obvious from the moment the back-up boys assembled at a London hotel for lunch.

George Cohen, the first-team right-back, was there representing Sir Alf's 88-year-old widow, Lady Vickie, while Roger Hunt was, like the hat-trick hero, Sir Geoff Hurst, only too happy to lend support to men they agreed should have been recognised more fittingly.

Hunt had intended to be at Wembley that night to watch England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra but the offer of a decent hotel room was a sizeable cut above the Travelodge in Dunstable that Hunt had originally booked.

 
Sir Alf Ramsey

Golden day: Sir Alf Ramsey and trainer Harold Sheperdson (standing) watch England's victory over Germany in the 1966 World Cup

He shied away from the cameras, unlike the accommodating Greaves, who was last on to the leather-seated England Under-21 bus for the trip to Downing Street.

'Blimey,' he said as he climbed on board. 'Charabancs have changed since my day.'

Greaves was also among the stragglers into No 10 after another round of interviews in the street.

Norman 'Bites Yer Legs' Hunter put his arm round him as they crossed the threshold.

'That,' said Greaves, 'is the closest we have ever been without you scarring me.'

Only Armfield seemed to have been to Downing Street before, as a boy on a day trip to London in the now unthinkable days when you could walk into the thoroughfare, gaze at the black door and watch its comings and goings.

'I think Attlee was Prime Minister,' he said.

All were awestruck as they entered the hall and negotiated the staircase to the airy state rooms. As they passed the portraits of previous Prime Ministers, Cohen remarked that Gladstone and Disraeli may be close now but they hated each other then.

Once in, Greaves was the one to prompt a laugh and a joke with the Prime Minister, whose speech paid due tribute to the forgotten ones.

'Justice has finally been done,' said Brown. 'I have watched your careers and noted that when you retired from football, you remained great servants to your country. You made history by showing that England could host and win a World Cup and it is because of your legacy that we are able to bid for 2018.'

 
Bobby Moore

Crowning moment: England captain Bobby Moore (second right) is congratulated by manager Alf Ramsey (left) as Nobby Stiles kisses the Jules Rimet trophy

The Prime Minister was complimented later on having resisted the temptation to mention Scotland's 3-2 win over England in the world champions' first defeat following the 1966 final.

'Yes,' he replied with a smile, 'very restrained, wasn't I?'

Back on the bus, the nine miles to Wembley and a guest appearance at the game against Andorra took three hours to cover. There was plenty of time to reminisce and recall the famous day.

Someone remembered that five minutes before the end of normal time, with England leading 2-1, Ramsey called for the reserves to come down from the Wembley stands to join their winning team-mates.

Then Wolfgang Weber scored that last-breath equaliser and the 11 had to find seats where they could, some sitting on the red carpet.

Armfield was wearing a red sweater and Hunter carrying his raincoat.

Both were acts of superstition.

Armfield had been wearing the same sweater and Hunter carrying the same coat as they watched England's first win of the tournament, over Mexico, which followed the dull 0-0 opening draw with Uruguay.

Ian Callaghan recalled having Nobby Stiles's false teeth in his jacket pocket at the final, ready for him to look presentable for the Queen.

But all self-consciousness was lost in the euphoria of victory.

 
Gordon Brown and 1966 World Cup reserves

Heroes remembered: Gordon Brown and the 1966 reserves and family representatives honoured at Downing Street

Greaves was asked what it was like in the Playboy Club that night with Bobby Moore, Jimmy Armfield and their wives but he claimed to have no memory of going there.

'Jimmy Armfield in the Playboy?' said Greaves. 'If you'd said Jimmy and church, it might have rung a bell.'

The organ-playing Armfield, meanwhile, said he had a new campaign in mind. He had his MBE, along with Callaghan, Terry Paine and George Eastham, but reckoned the other seven should now get honours, as the first team did at the time.

Not one for nostalgia, Greaves had been the coolest about receiving the medals.

But after hearing the reception from the fans as the heroes were introduced at half-time at Wembley, he concluded that it had been a good day, not least because he had just been presented with his first great-grandchild, a 9lb boy.

'I don't think any of us expected to get a medal, nor did we want one,' he said. 'But when I heard we were finally getting them, I thought, "That's great for the lads. Let's enjoy it and have a good day". And that's how it's been.'

A good day, indeed.