For individuals, as well as teams, timing is everything. There are players of the highest distinction who never got to take part in the high alter of fottball that is the World Cup and regret it for ever. Ryan Giggs and the late George Best spring immediately to mind, while others include Ian Rush and Eric Cantona.
Here, however, we look back at tournaments through the eyes of those who have had the privilege down the years: three former international footballers, a BBC commentator and an England team administrator tell us about their abiding World Cup memories and the key moments that left an indelible mark on their lives:
Sir Geoff Hurst
Sir Geoff is the only player to have scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final – when England won the cup in 1966. He played 49 times for England between 1966 and 1972, scoring 24 goals. For West Ham he made more than 400 appearances, scoring 180 goals. He turned to football management at Chelsea before working in the insurance industry.
That hat-trick changed my life, but I do have to say I don’t want to talk about it every day and I avoid going out because of it. Every new person I meet wants to talk about ‘that’ goal. Did it cross the line or not?
The other day an Arsenal fan said: ‘Well, was it over the line or not?’ I have a stock answer and asked him: ‘What do the record books show the score was?’ He said 4-2, so I replied: ‘There’s your answer then.’
My abiding memory of the great day was the reception that night at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. Afterwards I arranged for a few of the lads to go to Danny La Rue’s nightclub. I invited Nobby Stiles, Alan Ball, Martin Peters and John Connelly. Martin decided to stay in the hotel with his missus. We didn’t realise at the time just how huge our achievement was.
We would have been acclaimed and fêted anywhere, but I phoned Danny La Rue’s place and practically begged them to let us in. We’d just won the World Cup for heaven’s sake! Any club in London would probably have paid to get us there.
We had to take the wives – they’d been stuck in their hotel rooms while we were at the reception. The FA hadn’t invited them! Today, the players take their s wherever they go in the world.
The next day I cut the grass and washed the car. As I say, we just didn’t realise how big it all was. It’s something that has been brought home to us every day since.
An outstanding football commentator, Barry, has covered ten World Cups. After joining the BBC in 1969, he worked on Match of the Day for 35 years.
He has also commentated on a host of other sports, including the Olympic Games and Wimbledon tennis.
My highlight is from the quarter-final between England and Argentina in Mexico City. It was a match that had everything from my point of view – except the result. I made a terrible hash of Diego Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal. I didn’t see the handball. Nor did I see the replays they had back in London, which showed what Maradona had done.
That certainly wasn’t a highlight, but very soon after that Maradona scored the best goal I’ve ever seen. The beauty of that, which seems to have been forgotten amid all the controversy over his first goal, was that he was 15 yards inside his own half, looking towards his own goal, when he started that run.
At that point Jimmy Hill, who was sitting alongside me as our expert, was saying how difficult it was to concentrate on commentary when he had just got up [the kick-off was at midday]. Later, when BBC Two screened a programme in which they showed all the best goals from the tournament, I had to go into the studio and re-do the beginning of that commentary, replacing his chatter.
While Jimmy was still talking about his breakfast, a spin turn took Maradona away from three England players and he continued to run on and on before scoring. I was quoted as saying it was ‘sheer football genius’, but what I actually said was ‘pure football genius’. My choice of words was significant, comparing it with the cheating of the first goal.
When John Barnes got on as substitute and immediately showed that he had the beating of Giusti, Argentina’s right-back, I said in commentary: ‘Everybody in England will be saying, “Go on, take him on”.’
And in my mind I can still see Barnes crossing and Gary Lineker scoring the equaliser – except that he didn’t. But it was such a memorable occasion.
Football for the over-50s
A one-club man who played nearly 600 times for Blackpool between 1954 and 1970 and later managed Leeds United when they reached the European Cup Final in 1975.
The first overlapping full-back, Jimmy played 43 times for England, was named the world’s best right-back in 1962, and captained his country 15 times. He was part of the squad that won the cup in 1966, but didn’t play because of injury. After leaving football management he became a journalist, and worked as a match analyst with BBC Radio 5 Live. He sadly died in January 2018 at the age of 82.
In June 1962 I was 27, right at the top of my game, and I had never played better. After the results we’d had in the previous two years, I genuinely thought we could go and win the World Cup in Chile.
We left for South America with high hopes. The previous year we had beaten Scotland 9-3, Mexico 8-0 and Italy 3-2 in Rome. And en route to the finals we played a warm-up match against Peru in Lima, where Bobby Moore made his debut, and we won 4-0, Jimmy Greaves scoring a hat-trick.
In Chile our base was a small village called Coya. It could never be a World Cup venue today. We stayed in chalets and amused ourselves by playing cards; fortunately there was a nine-hole golf course nearby.
We played our group games in Rancagua, 8,000 feet up in the Andes, in a small ground with a capacity of 8,000. The conditions were alien to us but an even bigger handicap was the loss of two of our key players before the tournament started.
Bobby Smith, the Spurs centre-forward who had a great partnership with Jimmy Greaves, was injured beforehand and didn’t make the squad, and Peter Swan, our commanding centre-half, picked up such a bad stomach virus out there that he didn’t play a single game.
Our first match was against Hungary, who were in decline. We should have won, but just before the end Florian Albert made it 2-1 to them to give us the worst possible start.
The second game was against Argentina, one of the tournament favourites. They weren’t as good as people thought and we won 3-1. I remember one of their players tapping me on the shoulder and when I turned round he spat in my face; Rattin and a lot of the players Alf Ramsey called ‘animals’ in 1966 were in their team.
A 0-0 draw against ultra-defensive Bulgaria, who didn’t come out and play, saw us through to the last eight.
Our quarter-final against Brazil was at Viña del Mar, where the weather was hotter and the humidity higher. After three weeks up in the mountains we had three days to adapt to the conditions, whereas Brazil had been down at sea level from day one. They were without Pele, who was injured, but Garrincha was becoming the star of the tournament.
He scored in the first half but Gerry Hitchens equalised before half-time, then two second-half goals killed us off.
I really believe that if we had beaten Brazil we would have gone on to win the tournament, but after scoring so many goals before the tournament, we missed too many chances when it mattered.
From my personal point of view, the highlight came afterwards, when I was named the best right-back in the world. Collectively, it had to be the win against Argentina, who are never easy to beat anywhere, let alone in South America.
Boys' comics of the 1940s - The Wonderful World of William Wilson
Michelle worked for the FA for 30 years, most recently as England’s Director of Team Operations, before leaving the post in 2015. She was the first woman to travel to major international tournaments as part of the England staff.
The 2014 World Cup was my sixth [England missed out in 1994]. My first was 1990, when I was Bobby Robson’s personal assistant. I’ve worked with nine England managers, starting with Bobby, and they’ve all been very different. If you include caretakers, it’s been 12.
I was the first female employee to stay in the England team hotel and, while I didn’t think of myself as a trailblazer for women, it was a big thing at the time.
For me, the most memorable and enjoyable World Cup has been France ’98. It was the first time I was in the middle of everything with the players. The highlight of the tournament was the Argentina game, when we were so unlucky to get knocked out on penalties after drawing 2-2. I’ll always remember Sol Campbell’s disallowed goal that would have won it.
When it went to penalties Steve Slattery, our masseur, said to me: ‘Don’t worry, it’s our turn’. I was so certain that he was right.
After the game I sat on the steps outside the dressing room and cried. [England player] David Batty walked past me, saying: ‘Which penalty did you miss then?’
He and Paul Ince had seen theirs saved. We saw the Argentina players jumping up and down on their bus while we waited to board ours. It was so upsetting.
That night I had to arrange the packing up and everyone getting home from the airport once we got back to England. Once I’d done that I hung out with some of the players and staff, just talking. We were up until 7am – some sort of group therapy.
The real highlight was the time I got to spend out there. I was the first female to be part of what was a close-knit group and the players were very welcoming. I was treated as one of the lads, made to feel part of everything.
There was a TV room next to my office and we watched a lot of games together. There was also a Scrabble competition going between players and the coaching staff; it got so competitive that I had to send home for a Scrabble dictionary. Teddy Sheringham and Gareth Southgate were very good at it.
Bearing in mind that I was the only female, I never felt on my own. I could go for a coffee with anyone. It was just a very nice atmosphere.
A key member of Tottenham Hotspur’s 1960-61 double-winning team, Cliff was regarded as the best winger in Europe. A sheet metal worker before turning professional, Cliff joined Spurs from his home-town club, Swansea, in 1958 and played for Wales in all five matches at the World Cup that year.
He played 59 times for Wales, scoring 16 goals. On retiring from football he became a PE teacher at a school in north London.
Wales hadn’t qualified by right. Because of the political situation in the Middle East we were drawn out of a hat as group runners-up and had to play Israel for the right to go to the finals. I suppose we got in through the back door but we were a good side, very difficult to beat. Jimmy Murphy, our manager, was Sir Matt Busby’s assistant at Manchester United, and he had us well organised.
We had some outstanding players, too: John Charles, Ivor Allchurch, Terry Medwin, and people put me in that class as well.
In our first game we drew 1-1 against the Magyars [Hungary], who went into the competition as one of the favourites. John Charles got our goal from my corner kick, an inswinging right-footer. Big John just towered above them all and powered it into the back of the net.
Typical John. He was in a class of his own, either at centre-half or centre-forward. People ask me which was his best position. I’m not sure. He was the best centre-half I’ve ever seen – and the best centre-forward.
After Hungary we had a battling 1-1 draw with Mexico and a dreadful goalless bore with Sweden. Ivor Allchurch got a top-class goal against the Mexicans. Ivor was another special player – they called him the Golden Boy of Welsh Football.
We had to play-off against Hungary for a place in the last eight and won 2-1. We played really well but, unfortunately, they got stuck into John Charles, who was injured and couldn’t play in the quarter-finals. Colin Webster of Man United took his place. He was a good player, but not a John Charles.
The quarter-final against Brazil was the highlight of the tournament for me.
If John had played, I think we could have won. I had the beating of my full-back and put in the sort of service Big John thrived on. If he’d been there I’m sure he would have been on the end of at least one cross and scored.
Instead we lost 1-0, with the goal scored by a 17-year-old lad we’d never heard of called Pele. Even at that age he was just in a different class.
There was no overseas football on TV in those days, so we knew nothing about him. The one everyone did know was their little winger, Garrincha. He was their main man, but on the day Mel Hopkins, our left-back, played him out of the game.
It was young Pele who got the only goal and, although we were very disappointed to go out, it was a privilege to be on the same pitch as the player who was to become the greatest talent the game has ever seen.
Saga Magazine readers say
'I remember being in Junior School and having to embroider, in cross stitch, a World Cup Willie Lion sampler. I don't know where it is now but am sure I still have it somewhere.' - Jan, via Facebook
'I was the only girl sandwiched between two brothers and the only one in the family interested in football. I used to get Shoot - had the posters, collected the badges and was glued to the World Cup.' Julie, via Facebook
Share your own World Cup memories with us and other Saga readers by emailing email@example.com
Subscribe today for just £29 for 12 issues...