Everybody remembers the disputed goal. Few talk of the move that led to it.
That England’s greatest moment in football history came half a century to the day, is equal parts compelling and dismaying. With the Euro debacle fresh in their minds, the team---and new coach Sam Allardyce---would do well to revisit their finest two hours and take a lesson in thinking outside the box.
Twelve minutes into extra-time of the 1966 World Cup final, yet-another long ball forward from West Germany fell to England defensive midfielder Nobby Stiles.
Stiles picked out wide midfielder Alan Ball, who had zoomed ahead of German full-back Karl-Heinz Schnellinger, and crossed towards Geoff Hurst. Hurst swivelled and shot, the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, looked like it bounced on the line and was cleared. The goal, however, was awarded even if jury’s still out on whether the whole ball had gone in.
That Ball -- the youngest of Alf Ramsey’s ‘wingless wonders’ – had tormented the experienced Schnellinger all day vindicated the manager’s 4-1-3-2 formation. Ball and fellow workhorse Martin Peters came into the centre to strengthen defence and free up space for full-backs George Cohen and Ray Wilson. If the opposing full-backs didn’t attack, the wide midfielders could accelerate up the pitch. If the defenders followed -- like Schnellinger did -- it left space to be exploited.
England had experimented with the formation before the World Cup, but Ramsey opted for the lopsided 4-3-3 for the group games. The 4-1-3-2 was brought back for the knockouts.
It wasn’t the only change. Prolific striker Jimmy Greaves suffered a nasty gash on his leg and was replaced by West Ham’s Hurst. Though the press clamoured for a now-fit Greaves to return for the final, Ramsey stuck with Hurst -- scorer of the solitary goal in the quarter-final against Argentina. Greaves was arguably more talented, but Hurst was more-rounded, able to score goals and hold the ball.
The decision would pay off, and how.
On the fateful day, however, Wembley was silenced after just 13 minutes as Helmut Haller took advantage of a defensive blunder and put West Germany ahead. England were trailing for the first time in the tournament and could take heart from the fact that in all the World Cup finals since the war, the team scoring first had lost.
Six minutes later, captain Bobby Moore floated a free-kick towards the far post. Hurst slipped through and headed the ball past Tilkowski.
The hosts proceeded to control the midfield and took the lead through another set-piece. Hurst’s deflected shot found Martin Peters, who scored from eight yards out. Germany equalised in the 89th minute, forcing extra-time.
England’s third goal in the 101st minute shook the Germans, who went all out to get the equaliser. Hurst made it 4-2 in the 119th to become the only player to get a hattrick in a World Cup final. The ensuing frenzy prompted BBC’s Kenneth Wolstenholme to say the now famous words – “...some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over. It is now! It’s four!”