What a grand year 1966 was. Not just for the nation, but for little old me. I witnessed three remarkable events that year, which in so many ways have coloured and directed and dominated my life ever since.
First was the birth of my only son, Jake, in May 1966. We already had a daughter, Caitlin, born in 1964.
On July 30 it was the World Cup Final at Wembley – and I was there.
In August 1966, The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby came out. I thought the words and not just the music were brilliant – so original, so poetic
A young England supporter runs on to the pitch carrying a Union Jack flag after the FIFA World Cup Final between England and West Germany at Wembley Stadium in London
My life personally has been totally transformed since those wonderful events in 1966. I have my own house – and a tortoise. My wife, alas, died five years ago, after 55 years of marriage, but I do have a girlfriend, three grown-up children and four lovely grandchildren, says Hunter Davies (above)
The game – graced by England’s majestic captain Bobby Moore – passed in a blur, it was all so exciting and dramatic, with four goals to England, one controversial, though at the time we were not aware the Germans had protested, saying it had not crossed the line.
Nor, of course, did we hear Kenneth Wolstenholme on television say his famous words: ‘They think it’s all over – it is now!’
The reason it mattered so much to Ingerland fans that day was that since the war we had slowly begun to realise that Johnny foreigners could play the game better than us.
It seemed we were being left behind, with new tactics, new skills. Soft, flimsy boots, even, which looked like slippers or ballet shoes, were being worn abroad while our stout lads were still wearing stout boots with hard leather up to the ankles and toe caps like steel.
And I never knew when I was at Wembley that day that the match would be so memorable for so long – for the wrong reasons. For it not happening again.
Looking back, despite those ‘55 years of hurt’, life has improved so much.
World Cup Final at Wembley Stadium. England 4, West Germany 2 after extra time. Geoff Hurst fires in England’s fourth goal in the dying seconds of extra time
Bobby Charlton raises the Jules Rimet trophy in the air. Among his team mates celebrating with him are goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Alan Ball on his right and team captain Bobby Moore at his left
England captain Bobby Moore is presented with the World Cup trophy by Her Majesty The Queen as Geoff Hurst looks on in awe
Just think about the NHS and all the wonderful medical treatments now available. Supermarkets are like Aladdin’s cave. In my childhood, I never saw a banana.
The lives of women have been hugely improved: more equality, better education. When I went to university in 1954, only four per cent of school-leavers went – almost all men. Today, almost 50 per cent go to university, and the majority are women.
I think of my poor mother in our council house in Carlisle, with an invalid husband in bed with multiple sclerosis. No treatment, no respite care, no help, having to go out into the back yard to heat the boiler to do the washing by hand.
Dear God, how did she cope? How did they all cope, in those post-war years? Most ordinary people during the 1960s did not have a washing machine, a fridge, TV, central heating and certainly not a car.
Yet football itself has had a brilliant 55 years.
For the Premiership is the most-watched league in the world, we have many of the best players and we pay the best money.
We have come good. Thanks to all the trillions now flooding into football from TV rights and commercial sponsorship.
As for football, dear God, it is everywhere. All the media have been telling us ‘Football’s Coming Home’. Football has become our life-blood. (Newspaper headlines from 1966)
There was none of that in 1966. Even as late as the early 1970s, stuck-up clubs such as Arsenal and Spurs would not allow advertising in their ground or match programmes. Rather vulgar, you know, making money out of football.
Now our clubs are worth billions and our players are millionaires, even just ordinary Premiership journeymen.
The football itself is better –faster, more skilful – the players are fitter, leaner, the pitches are pitch-perfect compared with the mud baths in the old days. TV coverage is now wall-to-wall – and fab. Bliss it is to be alive for we footer fans. In 1966 I was writing the Atticus column in The Sunday Times. It was rather stuffy and traditional. I was expected to write about who would be Britain’s next ambassador in Washington or the next Bishop of Durham. As if I cared.
I wanted to write about my own interests and pleasures, such as pop stars, footballers, photographers, fashion designers, gritty Northern novelists. These were becoming our heroes, the glamorous people of the Sixties.
But it took time for the Sixties to actually arrive.
I reckon 1964 was the breakthrough year, when it all changed. I insisted on writing about people such as George Best, much to the horror of the old guard. In August 1966, The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby came out. I thought the words and not just the music were brilliant – so original, so poetic.
Paul helped me write a grovelling letter to their manager, Brian Epstein, who agreed I could do it
Journalists and fans were still asking The Beatles about their long hair and the funny spelling of their name. I wanted to know where those lyrics had come from
I was so in awe of Eleanor Rigby – ‘wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door’ – that I went to see Paul McCartney in his new house in St John’s Wood, North-West London.
Journalists and fans were still asking The Beatles about their long hair and the funny spelling of their name. I wanted to know where those lyrics had come from.
In the piece I wrote, I referred to ‘Mr McCartney’ and ‘Mr Lennon’.
A few months later, I went to see Paul again to ask him to write the theme tune to the film which was being made of my first novel, Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush.
He said no. But I suggested there should be a proper hardback biography of The Beatles. I said it would stop them having to answer the same dopey questions for the rest of their lives.
Paul helped me write a grovelling letter to their manager, Brian Epstein, who agreed I could do it.
That was 1966 and the book came out in 1968. Two years later, The Beatles were no more. They had split. So during the time I worked on the book, I never knew it was going to be the only ever authorised biography of The Beatles.
My life personally has been totally transformed since those wonderful events in 1966. I have my own house – and a tortoise. My wife, alas, died five years ago, after 55 years of marriage, but I do have a girlfriend, three grown-up children and four lovely grandchildren.
Football and The Beatles are still two of my passions in life. And a strange thing has happened, which I could not have foreseen in 1966. Both of them have grown bigger.
The Beatles sell more records today and are more influential than they ever have been.
As for football, dear God, it is everywhere. All the media have been telling us ‘Football’s Coming Home’. Football has become our life-blood.
I bet, like me, you can’t wait for the roars and screams – or the tears and agony – as you crouch behind the sofa this evening with your eyes half closed…
lA new, updated edition of The Beatles (the only ever authorised biography) by Hunter Davies is published by Ebury at £13.99.