The spirit of '66


1966 was a watershed year for British culture. From the release of iconic films like Alfie and Blowup to the Beatles continued domination of the charts, many of the sights and sounds that came to define the Swinging Sixties are the products of that one magical year.

But there is one moment more than any other that truly captures the spirit of '66: England beating West Germany in the World Cup Final at Wembley. Just as English music, film and fashion were making waves elsewhere - and legends like Eusebio, Pelé and Moore were innovating the game on the pitch - so England's hosting of this tournament came to forever change the way the world watches football.

With televisions becoming more widely available and games played in stadiums from London to Sunderland, the '66 World Cup felt accessible to supporters in a way it never had before. The whole country stopped for the Final, as 32.3 million people watched the game live. Football, a traditionally working class pastime, became a national obsession overnight.

From this moment on, football became something much closer to the game we see today. '66 introduced the first tournament mascot – the delightfully named World Cup Willie – as well as slow motion replays, so fans could analyse and debate controversial decisions to their heart's content. Footballers became celebrities, their wages growing and the media beginning their WAG fascination. 

The parallels with the ongoing 2018 World Cup in Russia continue. Despite being hosts, expectations weren't all that high for England. Recent World Cup and international games had included some embarrassing defeats, and manager Alf Ramsey's 1962 claim that England would win in '66 was met with more than a few raised eyebrows. It seemed unlikely, if not impossible, but the best football stories always are.

So can we expect a repeat of England's dramatic victory this year? Maybe not. But, then again, the vibrancy of London's youth revolution in the '60s would have seemed impossible to many young people under the rationing and post-war gloom of the previous decade. Just as working class culture was starting to demand attention on the global stage then, so London's urban and grime scenes, along with the democratisation of online culture, are now changing the tastes and artistic opportunities of people the world over. This new London might look and sound different, but the spirit of '66 lives on.