July 30th 1966
A day that England football supporters will never forget, apparently.
Nine years old, soon to be ten, soon to be moving up a year at Junior School into Thirsky’s class, old pimple head himself, the only male teacher in our school, the man with one suit and a thousand uses for his one suit, even football refereeing.
I watched the World Cup final on TV that Saturday afternoon, in black and white just like the clip above, I listened to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s iconic commentary and I sat there as a nine year old boy thinking that there might be something about this football lark for up to that age we had never played the game, yes, I repeat, until the 1966 World Cup Final the game of Association Football had largely passed us by – yes we kicked a football around in the streets and suchlike but we had never played in an organised game and I pin the blame for this entirely on the staff at Cookridge County Primary School.
For as previously mentioned the staff at Cookridge County Primary School were, with the exception of Thirsky, old pimple head, elderly spinster type women dressed in tweed and complying with every stereotype of elderly spinsters dressed in tweeds playing out the part of “school marm”, they had very little time for us uneducated five to eleven year olds and taught using the time-tested method of sitting us all in rows facing a blackboard and telling us things.
When I say telling us things I mean they TOLD YOU things, once, and if you didn’t understand what they had just told you then they’d write it on the blackboard for you to copy into your exercise books and if you still didn’t understand what they had just told you and made you write down, then you were one of the thick kids who would surely fail their 11 plus exam and go on to Secondary School and a life in the laboring classes, and they. as school marms could look down on you from their professional heights, and scorn…
So along came the 1966 World Cup Final and suddenly that six week school summer holiday all the kids were playing football and dreaming of the time when Kenneth Wolstenholme would describe your winning goal to a 30 million TV audience just as he had done for Geoff Hurst, and we all arrived back at school in the September of that year into Thirsky, old pimple head’s class and we were footballers now and we asked if, in our once a week games lesson, we could have a properly organised game of football, with a proper football and everything.
And to his credit Thirsky, old pimple head, he of the completely bald head with one very big pimple on top, went to the headmistress and requested some school funds to buy a proper football, and everything, maybe some nets for the goalposts that were on the school playing field but had never been used for anything other than hang kids off them for fun, and to her eternal shame the headmistress took the ever present cigarette out of her mouth, opened up the petty cash tin and gave him just enough money to go purchase a proper football, but no more.
And so it came to pass that on our first proper Games lesson with a proper football and everything, Thirsky, old pimple head, trotted out onto the school playing field with a proper leather football that weighed almost twenty pounds when wet, and we thin weedy boys trotted behind him determined to show him what we were made of in the hope that he would then invite Les Cocker, coach of Leeds United to come to our school and sign us up on youth terms so that in a few short years Kenneth Wolstenholme would be speaking of us in glowing terms, a life of first division football would be ours, sheepskin coats and sports cars, and then we could go and run a pub.
Thirsky, old pimple head, had bought himself a whistle, paid for it himself from his own stipend for the old bag of a headmistress would not relent on her rule of “no petty cash for this ridiculous idea of having a school football team” and he referee’d our first game with not the first clue of what he was supposed to be doing or what the rules of association football were, all he had was the enthusiasm of twenty or so ten year old boys who all wanted Kenenth Wolstenholme to know who they were.
So ill equipped were we that Thirsky, old pimple head, refereed the match in his trusty old suit with a concession made to the muddy patch of land we called a playing field by means of wearing wellington boots with his suit trousers tucked in, we boys had no football kits to speak of, just the white shorts that they made us wear for our normal Games lessons in the school hall and so we removed our school ties and tucked our school shirts into our shorts and those few that had proper football boots donned them and the rest of us played in our normal school shoes.
Now of course were this to be a novel of bestselling fame, or a box office smash film like “When Saturday Comes” (for which I supplied some of the props I’ll have you know), then those boys who played that first ever football game with old pimple head himself as referee-without-a-clue would by now be household names, would have easily won the Association Football World Cup of 1974 and would now be running a pub with an old 1970s vintage Mercedes convertible sports car in the car park and an array of international football shirts all signed by Pele in glass cases in the bar, but sadly I have to relate to you dear reader that this is not the case, for of those boys who stood around that muddy football pitch on that day back in September 1966 I report to you that none of them became professional football players, not even fourth division football players who drove Ford Escorts, longed for a sheepskin coat and worked as a barman in a pub, not even to that level, in fact as I stood on that muddy pitch back in September 1966 chatting to our goalkeeper while all the rest of the boys were up the other end of the pitch running back and forth with a heavy leather football I remember clearly thinking, “Its a bit shit is this game isn’t it ?” and I recall saying as much to our goalkeeper at the time.
I did eventually own a sheepskin coat though, almost owned a convertible sports car, and I frequented so many pubs that some people must have thought I owned them, but I never played football again.