Charlton has gone but it is not too late to honour surviving heroes of 1966
Death of World Cup winner underlines unfairness of the system which has left others without proper recognition
It was British sport’s most celebrated team achievement, and yet recognition would become an individual lottery. We have Sir Bobby Charlton and Sir Geoff Hurst but, for the other nine England players who combined to win the 1966 World Cup final, there would be a varying wait of up to 33 years for even an MBE.
Jimmy Greaves, the greatest goalscorer in English football history and a significant part of that World Cup-winning squad himself, still remains inexplicably ignored.
Contrast that with Harry Kane who, within six months of helping England reach the World Cup semifinals in 2018, could already plan his trip to Buckingham Palace to collect an MBE. Or some of the other subsequent selections for footballing honours: Sir Bert Millichip, Sir Dave Richards, Sir Trevor Brooking, Gordon Taylor OBE and Geoff Thompson OBE.
That there should be calls for Jack Charlton to be posthumously knighted following his death on Friday is entirely understandable, but we should be equally concerned with understanding how this went unaddressed for 54 years. And, as well as belated recognition for Bobby Moore, Alan Ball, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson,
who should also be posthumously knighted, perhaps we should get on with properly recognising those who are still alive.
And we should learn the lessons of 1966, not just in the enduring spirit that underpinned their success (the players all still met for a discreet annual reunion until a few years ago) but in how a group of the country’s proudest heroes were too often let down in later life.
In tracing their individual stories over recent years, there are certain recurring themes.
The Charlton brothers, Banks and Roger Hunt remain the only players to have not sold their World Cup winner’s medals and, partly due to failing health, there has been a vast disparity in those who have been in a position to profit commercially from their triumph.
The 22 England squad players each simply received a £1,000 bonus for their victory and would later work in professions that ranged from funeral directing and construction to the pub trade and road haulage. They were all well aware that the West Germany players who they beat in the final each received £7,000 and a Mercedes from their association.
Sir Alf Ramsey and Moore died long before the statues that now exist at Wembley were commissioned and without quite seeming to know how deeply they were revered. Ramsey, who was only 54 when he was sacked as England manager and would never take another permanent job in management, largely got by on his £75 weekly state pension. When he later needed to move from a general ward at Ipswich Hospital to a care home while suffering with cancer and dementia,
Brothers in arms: Jack and Bobby Charlton won the World Cup but only one was knighted the costs were funded by his wife’s savings. “Broken,” was how she described him and she never moved from their home in Ipswich before her death two years ago.
Moore, the World Cup-winning captain, was famously asked to leave Upton Park after arriving ticketless at a largely empty stadium to catch the end of a match and never returned to West Ham United as a fan before he died in 1993.
Ray Houghton said on Saturday that it was “an absolute disgrace” that Charlton was never knighted and, in a series of interviews with The Telegraph in 2018, it was clear that greater recognition would have meant much over the years to the families. John Charlton, Jack’s son, said that Hurst was a “lovely fella” but that individual players should never have been singled out. “He couldn’t have done what he did without the others,” he said. “The powers-that-be obviously decided they weren’t worth it and they are getting older and older now. They are getting less and less.”
Banks, who died last year, also said in 2018 that he had been “very, very disappointed” with the Football Association and expressed hope that the current England team would feel more appreciated.
The great frustration is that it is still not too late for certain anomalies to be righted. An honour for Greaves is perhaps the most obvious starting point. The Professional Footballers’ Association should also be diverting far more of its vast resources towards its benevolent fund for former players.
An acute care crisis has long been silently unfolding behind closed doors. That was highlighted throughout the 50th anniversary year for the 1966 team when the overriding memory was not celebratory but sadness at the extent to which illness – especially neurological disease – had curtailed many of their lives. These were men generally in their mid-seventies who could have realistically hoped for plenty more good health. Charlton was himself suffering with severe memory problems by that time while Wilson and Martin Peters have both since died after living for many years with dementia.
Nobby Stiles also remains seriously ill with the disease.
And so, yes, the passing of a legend such as Jack Charlton is a time for happy memories and joyous reflections of a great life lived. But, as England’s finest team gradually leaves us, the story of 1966 should also prompt deeper reflections on the price we ask our heroes to pay and what is left when the spotlight moves on.
Jack Charlton always said the most joyous moment of his playing career was not the 1966 World Cup, but winning the league title with Leeds United. And to watch the