Fifty years from 1966 and it’s still all over…

SOMETIMES the most famous words, the ones that stay on history’s wall, are the simplest ones.

In sport that honour belongs to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary on England’s 4-2 victory over Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. “Some people are on the pitch! They think it’s all over!” Wolstenholme says in the proper tones of old England. Then as Geoff Hurst scores to put England two goals ahead, he adds: “It is now, it’s four!”

Time has edited his words to the neat phrase: “Some people think it’s all over… it is now!” Nine simple words that say so much. I guess what no one realised at the time was that something else was all over too: England’s days as the sort of team that won things.

While the BBC footage to go with Wolstenholme’s words is in grainy black and white, a Pathé newsreel captures the victory in colour, complete with the Queen in canary yellow coat and matching hat as she hands over the cup.

The newsreel doesn’t contain the famous phrase, but it does end with a dollop of hopeful pomposity about having similar luck in the 1970 World Cup.

Days before the 50th anniversary of that great win in 1966, the modest semi where England’s captain Bobby Moore lived when he was growing up has been commemorated with one of those blue plaques more normally dedicated to the lives of great statesmen we have forgotten. I like this idea very much. From a similar era, another blue circle marks the place where the guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived at 23 Brook Street, in Mayfair, London W1. History we can remember instead of history we have forgotten.

Moore’s address is more modest: 43 Gardens in Barking, east London. He lived there from birth until after he made his England debut in 1962.

His daughter, Roberta Moore, said this was a “wonderful honour”, adding: “This is where it all began – kicking a ball out here in the street with his friends before embarking on an incredible journey which as we all know led him up the steps to collect the World Cup from the Queen at Wembley 50s ago this week.”

Ah, yes. The Queen in her canary yellow hat, the Queen who is still here today, and still wearing a hat whenever she goes outdoors. I am not much of a royalist but sometimes the continuity can be a comfort.

The headlines of history weave with those of our own past. Fifty years ago, we were on holiday in France, our regular destination as a family then. As mentioned here before, we travelled in a Mini-van packed to the tin rafters with a tent and everything we needed for the long trip.

I have a memory of the World Cup. I was nine and we were staying with a French family in Bayonne in the south-west. As a boy my father had gone on an exchange with the family, and he’d kept up the friendship (and maintains it still, all these years later, with those who remain).

Here are a few scraps from those days. Mystifyingly long meals. My mother screaming and pulling us indoors when her French counterpart took a chicken into the yard to kill it for lunch. My younger brother, only about four at the time, going upstairs to the toilet and causing some sort of flood with the bidet. Long and hard tubular pillows. Bowls of milky coffee for breakfast, with crusty baguettes. Small lizards darting over stone walls. Cornflakes on campsites. And so on.

On the day of the World Cup, there was an expedition up into the foothills of the Pyrenees. From distant memory we were driven most of the way in cars that could handle the rough track. We walked the last stretch to a restaurant where we ate fish. I think the place was some sort of fish farm, but that might not be true. Perhaps my mother will be able to tell me. Like the Queen she is still around, although minus the hat, unless it is a woolly walking hat on a bracing day.

What I do remember, and my mother backs this up, is that the French wanted the Germans to win, which was odd when you remember that it was only 21 years after the end of the war.

Next week I will be returning to France with my mother, now 84, and my brother who caused the mini flood. We are visiting the other brother, the one who lives in France, staying with him and his wife in Brittany for a few days.

The France we visited then was different to the country we will visit next week. Perhaps in time the old France, or something like it, will come back into focus.

And as for today’s blog, they think it’s all over. It is now.

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