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England 1966

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Let's look back at the eighth World Cup, held in England in 1966 and won by England, their first and only win so far. They were the third host to win and the first for twenty-two years.

Given the English FA's somewhat conservative approach to football, it is perhaps surprising to learn that the concept of a World Cup mascot was introduced by England for WC 1966. Every host since has followed suit.

North Korea's attendance at the World Cup presented some problems for the English public service as the United Kingdom did not officially recognise the People's Republic of North Korea. They'd been hoping Australia would qualify but North Korea defeated us 9-2 on aggregate to take the final spot. England couldn't risk banning them in case FIFA switched hosts, but they put many obstacles in their way. This was all kept from the public at the time and only came to light after 30 years elapsed and the documentation was made public.

Firstly, the North Koreans were denied entry visas, before the governing Labour party and the FA stepped in. Invitations were "overlooked", eg. the North Koreans were the only country not invited to the official draw. The North Korean flag and anthem were banned from all stadiums, although the FA managed to get the flags flown to honour sponsorship agreements. Their anthem was only played at the opening and closing ceremonies along with all the other anthems, but not before their games. And finally one of the official World Cup stamps featuring the North Korean flag was hastily pulled and replaced just a few weeks before kick-off.

On the field the North Koreans did very well. Their group games were played in Middlesbrough and the English public got right behind the underdog. North Korean started badly with a 3-0 loss to Russia, before drawing 1-1 with Chile and then defeating Italy 1-0 to earn a quarter-final spot. Incredibly North Korea lead Portugal, who eventually finished third, 3-0 after 24 minutes before Eusebio scored four and Portugal won 5-3.

The precious Jules Rimet trophy was released by FIFA for display in Westminster. Two days after the exhibition opened the trophy was stolen on Sunday March 20 while the guards were on a break. A ransom demand was made to the FA accompanied by a small detachable part of the trophy. Scotland Yard conducted a sting operation and duly caught a dock worker called Peter Betchley. He got two years in gaol but refused to reveal the mastermind behind the theft or the whereabouts of the trophy. The police were stumped. Miraculously a barge worker out walking his dog found the trophy wrapped in newspaper under a hedge near his flat in Beulah Hill, when his dog Pickles started rooting under the hedge. Pickles became a national hero and his owner David Corbett received the 5,000 pound reward.

England defeated Argentina in a quarter-final in a match that lived up to its expectations of being a brutal match. The Argentine behaviour was awful, including spitting, violent conduct and so on. Their captain was sent off, refused to leave the pitch for eight minutes, eventually left the field but staged a sit-down on the sideline before a policeman lead him to the changeroom. Following the game the England manager referred to the Argentines as animals. And ever since then matches between the two countries have been bitterly fought. One statistic that is rarely remembered is the foul count from that game: Argentina 19, England 33.