The final whistle had just blown on the Netherlands’ 5-2 thrashing of hosts Chile. The World Cup final was over and so too, it seemed, was the bid to host the 1966 finals. Only one country remained in the race England. Dutch Football Association president Pieter van Vossen later called it ‘the most shameful day in Dutch football history.’ It was also a turning point for international football, as England became the first nation to host a World Cup rather than just compete in one. Voting began soon after the final whistle at Santiago’s Estadio Nacional, with all representatives having voted for themselves first. But after that? Chaos reigned supreme and only an 11th-hour intervention from FIFA Vice President Constant Coe saved the English bid. In this article, we look back at how England won their audacious bid to host and stage a World Cup tournament more than 50 years ago…
England’s vision for 1966
England’s vision for the 1966 finals centered around the use of existing stadiums, with London the main hub. Wembley Stadium, the ground that had hosted the 1938 finals, was the natural choice to host the semi-finals and final. Meanwhile, White City Stadium, the home of the British Athletics Championships, was seen as ideal for the opening match. The Royal Hospital at Chelsea, just a few miles away from Wembley, would become the base camp for the teams. And the Royal Albert Dock in east London was earmarked to become the main merchandise center, with goods ferried around the country to avoid the congestion that had plagued the 1950 finals in Brazil. With the British economy booming, the FA also promised FIFA it would make the most of the pounds, shillings, and pence to promote the tournament. England had also declared its intention to stage football’s first ‘World Cup’ when it was a one-off, ‘World Championship’ between the reigning champions and all challengers, back in 1927. The ’66 finals were to be a realization of that vision.
The ‘magic formula’ to win the Bid
England’s bid was led by Sir Stanley Rous, the long-standing president of the Football Association. Rous had been the England manager in both the 1950 World Cup and 1954 British Home Championship and had previously held the posts of Secretary of the Football Association and Director of Education for London County Council. Rous and his team had also worked closely with FIFA vice president Constant Coe, who was based in London and had overseen the successful campaign to host the 1966 British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand. As the bid drew closer, England’s strategy was to divide FIFA’s members into three categories: Those who would vote for England automatically; those who would need careful courting; and those who would have to be persuaded to vote for England.
FIFA turn the screw – and only one country is left in the race
FIFA’s members were initially impressed with England’s experience and reputation. But as the bidding progressed, the organization’s idea of how the tournament should be staged changed. FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous had wanted to keep the event in Europe, but he was outvoted by the Executive Committee, which wanted to stage the finals outside the continent for the first time. This led to some European members changing their votes to Asian hosts Indonesia and African hosts Nigeria, while Asian powerhouses Japan and India also became increasingly influential. FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous also had a change of heart. Thinking that the World Cup should be staged outside Europe for the first time, he joined forces with Asian and African members to vote against England. After England had been eliminated, the 16 members of the remaining countries were asked by ballot to choose between the African and Asian bids. When, at the second attempt, the vote was tied, FIFA President Sir Stanley Rous had the casting vote, and he chose Nigeria as the host country.
Resignation of English FA president
The bidding process had been arduous, tense, and long-running. The vote, at FIFA’s Congress in July 1966, was held on the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. By that point, the English bid team was feeling the strain and Rous was in Paris for the FIFA Congress. On the morning of the Congress, he got a phone call from the team, to say the bid was over. Rous’s decision to change his vote had proved a tipping point. The English bid team had been confident that Caribbean delegates would switch their votes back to England, after voting for Nigeria in the first ballot. But, as Rous pointed out, “The West Indians and some others had been promised Nigeria, while the East Indians had been promised India.”
England hosted the 1966 World Cup 50 years ago, showcasing an exciting tournament to millions of fans. The success of that tournament was largely due to the vision and determination of the English bid team. But the bid team’s tactics were controversial and many of the promises were never delivered. The tournament also became famous for its ‘Baby Bootie’ craze after a ‘bootie’ was worn by a baby on the official poster. England’s 1966 World Cup is remembered fondly and was certainly a vintage year for football fans.