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The legacy of England's 1966 World Cup triumph

10 July 2021

Part of the frisson of awaiting England’s first international championship final for 55 years is wondering how victory over Italy might change our lives, individually and collectively. How many of us will claim in future years that we were there? Many more times those who will actually cram into Wembley, to be sure.

And beyond the impromptu renditions of ‘Football’s Coming Home’ in garage workshops, offices and Post Office queues, the feel-good factor will no doubt play out all across our daily lives.

In the summer of 1970, incumbent Prime Minister Harold Wilson was so convinced that England would repeat their World Cup victory of four years earlier or at least reach the latter stages in Mexico that he called an early General Election to tap into an anticipated state of national euphoria.

The move backfired. England lost to West Germany in the Quarter-Finals and four days later Wilson’s Labour Party found itself elected out of power.

So what effect might England success in Euro 2020 have on next season’s domestic football, coming as it would less than four weeks before the new Sky Bet EFL campaign kicks off?

Perhaps a clue to that answer can be found in 1966. Without widespread television coverage and with new safety-first tactics moving the game in England away from the high-scoring football of the 1950s and early 1960s, attendances were falling quickly, down an average of 10,000 from their Fifties heyday.

The average attendance at First Division matches in the 1965/66 season was 26,903, while only eight Clubs drew in average crowds of over 30,000. Liverpool, the reigning champions, were the only club who increased their average attendance from the previous season.

Most remarkably of all, Arsenal recorded their smallest-ever crowd for a competitive fixture at Highbury with just 4,554 supporters turning up to see the Gunners take on second-placed Leeds United. That match took place on 5 May 1966, less than six weeks before the World Cup began.

The tournament itself was hardly a resounding commercial success in the early stages. Tickets for England’s Group Stage meeting with Uruguay could be purchased on the night by fans simply walking up to Wembley.

Victory over West Germany changed all that. Much like in the past fortnight, the success of the national team at home in a major tournament spawned a joyous momentum that spilled over into everyday life and lasted much longer than the summer.

When the new season began, fans flocked through the turnstiles, excited to watch their own team, but also to see their new England heroes in visiting sides.

Attendances increased by 14% overall in the 1966/67 season, taking the average crowd for a First Division fixture back to 30,770. Manchester United’s average gate went up by 38% to 53,854.

Nor did the post-World Cup boom stop there. By 1967/68, the average First Division crowd was up to 33,036.

Of course, it may not be possible to judge the effect of an England triumph in isolation in the 2021/22 Sky Bet EFL season.

That is because, due to COVID-19, it will be nearly 18 months since some Clubs have played at home in front of their own supporters. Fans will be desperate to return come next month.

But England as champions of Europe surely wouldn’t hurt, would it?


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