Fifty years ago today: West Germany beat USSR in the World Cup semi-final

25Jul16

The World Cup semi-final between West Germany and USSR took place 50 years ago today at Goodison Park. The match itself was a dour affair, typical of those that had preceded it, but the main controversy was off the field.

When the draw for the tournament was made in January 1966 the two semi-final venues were announced as Goodison Park and Wembley Stadium. The schedule of fixtures produced in FA News for July 1966 confirms where the games would take place. Goodison would host the first semi-final between the winners of quarter-final 1 (winners of Group 1 vs. second of Group 2) and quarter-final 3 ((winners of Group 3 vs. second of Group 4), while Wembley would host the second semi-final.

Many fans who had purchased packages of tickets in advance of the tournament correctly predicted that England were likely to win Group 1, and therefore, assuming they were successful in the quarter-final, they would play their semi-final at Goodison. However, fresh from creating controversy in Latin America with their choice of referees for the quarter-final ties, FIFA added further fuel to claims that the tournament was ‘fixed’ in England’s favour by switching the ties at short notice. After the quarter-finals it was announced that USSR and West Germany would play at Goodison with the England vs. Portugal fixture taking place at Wembley Stadium. The Guardian (26 July 1966) noted that “The official answer [for the decision] is that FIFA felt there was a better chance of a good gate there [Wembley] than at Goodison Park, which may or may not be true.”

According to the Liverpool Daily Post, Merseysiders called the decision “the greatest betrayal in sporting history.” David Bull, writing in the forthcoming issue of Soccer History Magazine expresses the views of many who had bought tickets expecting to see England play: “Come to think of it, ‘fickle’ is surely too feeble a description. Try ‘outrageous’ or – let’s get real – breach of contract.” He continues, “Still disgusted, 50 years on, I wish I’d been among the fans who held up a banner protesting at this callous breach. They weren’t just asked to take down their banner; they were marched down the tunnel by the stewards … we have ways of making you walk.”

In fact there were two banners as is made clear from the Guardian report of the match. From the photographs it appears that a group of four young men unfurled a banner stating “England Fix Insu£ts ‘Pool’” (the £ sign replacing the letter ‘l’ confirming the belief this was about money). When they attempted to carry the banner around the perimeter of the pitch they were removed from the ground. A second banner, “Down with FIFA, England for the Cup”, appears to have been displayed more discretely and was immediately taken down after the first group were ejected.

Disappointment on Merseyside was such that the match attracted the smallest gate of the five World Cup matches held at Goodison: just 38,273 attended. In comparison, the Portugal vs. Brazil group fixture was attended by 58,479 fans.

The match itself was extremely uninspiring. The Times called it “a battle of dreadnought and heavy armour.” The newspaper created controversy by harking back to World War Two in its report (the 1966 tournament took place just 21 years after the war ended) referring to the USSR team showing “something of the Stalingrad spirit.”

The Soviet team were hampered by an early injury to Sabo who played on although not fully fit. Haller gave Germany the lead on 43 minutes and almost immediately afterwards Chislenko, the USSR forward, was sent off. The second half continued in similar manner, the Germans roared on by 15,000 supporters with the locals showing their support for USSR. It was all over when Franz Beckenbauer netted from 25 yards to give West Germany a 2-0 lead and although Prokujan scored a late consolation goal the Germans were into the final, The closing stages were marked by chants of “England, England, England” from the locals.

So West Germany progressed to the final for the second time, having won the tournament in 1954, with their opponents to be decided at Wembley the following evening.

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