I hope to have this title out by the end of May. Here's the intro:
1966: Sport’s Forgotten Year - introduction
Mention the year 1966 even to those who weren’t born at the time and the response is instant: World Cup, Wembley, extra time, the third ‘goal’, Hurst hat-trick, Sir Alf, England champions of the world. The events of July 30th that year have become part of the historical fabric of Britain, acquiring a status approaching the Blitz, Waterloo or that other ’66 nine hundred years earlier at Hastings.
Yet it was one afternoon in one competition which lasted for less than three weeks. Everything else that happened in the sporting world that year has been obliterated from the collective memory. It’s highly likely that more people know that a dog named Pickles ‘found’ the stolen World Cup than can tell you that the legendary Muhammad Ali boxed twice in London inside three months the same year. Or can recite Kenneth Wolstenholme’s match commentary than are aware that Jack Nicklaus won his first Open championship two days before the World Cup started.
Yet 1966 was a remarkable sporting year and many great achievements have been airbrushed from history thanks to the World Cup. It’s not just that the greatest boxer who ever threw a punch appeared twice in the UK during the course of a year in which he defended his title five times in four different countries. Or that the world’s greatest golfer (though Tiger Woods may some day claim that title) finally broke through to win the Open after years of trying. Consider some of the other great sporting events which in their own right would rank much more highly in the collective consciousness than they actually do. Look at the performances of some of the greatest sporting stars of all time whose achievements that year languish in undeserved obscurity.
In tennis there was a rare British triumph in a major singles tournament when Ann Jones won the French title. At Wimbledon Billie-Jean King won the first of six singles titles which established her as the foremost player of her generation while Manuel Santana became the first Spaniard to win the Men’s title. Spain had to wait 42 years for another such victor.
The England cricket team narrowly failed to regain the Ashes but all thoughts of a revival were ended when the touring West Indies side won the Test series comprehensively. England contained great names like Geoff Boycott, Ken Barrington and Colin Cowdrey but the West Indies were led by the greatest all-rounder ever in Gary Sobers.
Boxing wasn’t just Ali and his British opponents Henry Cooper and Brian London. Scotland’s Walter McGowan won and lost the world flyweight title that year. The Grand National was won by a 50-1 outsider while 52-year-old Scobie Breasley rode to victory in the Derby and Arkle won a third Gold Cup. The British Lions triumphed in Australia before falling back to earth in New Zealand. The Commonwealth Games were held in Jamaica, the first time a ‘non-white’ country had staged that event and stars like Ron Clarke, Kip Keino, Lynn Davies, David Hemery and Mary Rand either reprised their Tokio Olympics success or laid down their markers for Mexico City two years hence.
Even football was about more than England at Wembley. A German team actually beat an English side after extra time in the final of an international competition on British soil that year when Borussia Dortmund overcame Liverpool at Hampden Park in the European Cup-Winners Cup. Everton’s comeback from 2-0 down to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the FA Cup Final would have been the stuff of legend any other year.
And there was tragedy alongside the triumphs too when Wales and Scotland somehow contrived to play out ninety minutes football while a few short miles away rescue workers and volunteers were frantically digging to try and find survivors among the generation of schoolchildren buried in the Aberfan disaster.
These are events and deeds unjustly forgotten by time. Men and women whose sporting prowess has been neglected by posterity simply because they had the misfortune to reach their peak in the same year England won the World Cup. It is time to restore them to their rightful place on history’s podium.