1966 Gets the Monday Night Football Treatment

by | Jan 6, 2016

Why watch Sky Sports give the 1966 World Cup Final the “Monday Night Football treatment”? To hear pundit Jamie Carragher pronounce “Germans,” natch. One preview of the romantically-named Ford MNF: 1966 Special said Sky would use “all the latest technology to analyse the greatest day in English football history.” So, was it over the line? Well, consider the alternative and you’ll realise that they could not but “confirm” Geoff Hurst’s second goal. Anything else would be near-treason…and a huge boost to BT Sport’s audience and the presenter Ed Chamberlin’s sheepish heralding of the verdict suggested he knew this.

Rather than overdub their own Martin Tyler, Sky used the hugely-overshadowed ITV commentary by Hugh Johns, the station’s main match caller pre-Brian Moore. So there was no “Alan Ball, running himself DAFT” or “people…on the pitch” thinking it was “all over.” Instead, Johns initially identified Hurst as Peters and declared that Hurst “might make it three…he has.” Whether Johns meant Hurst was about to “make it three” for himself or momentarily forgot the score (or knew too that his second goal hadn’t crossed the line) we’ll never know.

It wasn’t quite the full MNF treatment promised. Hopes for a direct MNF equivalent were dashed by the programme being only 90 minutes.  So the match coverage itself was extended highlights only (on narrow screen too which required some viewing adjustments). And Chamberlin introduced proceedings in the past tense throughout. This was a pity, but wholly understandable. It was probably too much to ask of non-actors, even those who ad-lib large parts of their on-screen roles alongside developing events. It would have been interesting, though, to hear an attempt at contemporary thoughts on West Germany’s late equaliser.

It rendered the exercise less meaningful than it might have been. And Sky were almost certainly hamstrung by budgetary concerns from paying for footage of the teams’ previous matches in the tournament, a key part of any MNF pre-amble. This also delayed Carragher’s first “Germans” reference. Nevertheless, it was an interesting and at times very enjoyable programme, and not only because the game itself was a cracker. Indeed, the “over-the-line” controversy has often overshadowed how much England deserved the victory, over both 90 and 120 minutes. More so than the stats (40 goal attempts to 37, yikes!) suggest.

Johns inadvertently revealed just how much commentaries, and co-commentaries especially, have advanced in the subsequent half-century, something we must continually remind ourselves, when Jonathan Pearce or Robbie Savage are on air. This was four years before Johns excused a particularly baffling piece of World Cup 1970 commentary as sounding “Irish.” Chamberlin appeared to promise us commentary from Johns and “Welsh manager David Bowie.” However, David Bowen’s analysis was more minimalism than ‘Space Oddity’ (although, to be fair, with quieter periods of the game cut, many of Bowen’s contributions probably were too). Indeed, we only heard from him twice. He called England’s display in the first period of extra-time “the best 15 minutes I’ve seen them play in the whole match.” And Bowen/Bowie also backed Johns’ withering assessment of West German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski: “He looks most uncertain.”

Yet England were taken to extra-time largely because of Tilkowski’s fine shot-stopping, which you would never have discovered from Johns’ incessant goalkeeping assassination of the Borussia Dortmund custodian. Hurst let Tilkowski ‘know he’s around’ with a ‘robust’ early challenge. Tilkowski had cleanly punched one cross and was flattened attempting to clear the next, seconds later (full-back play was not among the game’s many qualities). “More the way he fell,” Johns claimed, as a prostrate Tilkowski received treatment. “Fisting that ball…looking a little dodgy,” he added. (Kids, if you think goalkeepers are over-protected these days, it is only over-compensation for the physical abuse they used to take – when old-timers claim that “Nat Lofthouse used to score 30 goalkeepers a season,” they are only half-joking).

Johns, though, was only guilty of a commentary misconception that lasted into the 1990s, that “continental” goalkeepers’ fondness for punching rather than catching was a weakness. There remains, at the very least, a debate about the relative wisdoms of punching or catching crosses. But once the “dodgy keeper” narrative was established, Johns maintained it. Was this just simplistic commentary and pro-England bias? It might be in bad taste to call it some sort of hangover from World War Two, only 21 years finished in 1966. But, for whatever reason, Johns’ assessment of Tilkowski’s display was inexcusably inaccurate.

After Tilkowski made a fine, flying save from a fine, flying early Peters effort, Johns claimed he “should have got his hands on it. When Tilkowski makes a slightly ungainly but excellent full-stretch stop from a Hurst header, Johns cites it as proof that “Hans Tilkowski is very certainly having a jittery afternoon in the German goal.” And Johns’ take on Tilkowski denying Roger Hunt from the rebound was “I don’t think Tilkowski made that save.” Presumably he thought a defender made the vital block? No. But it wasn’t athletic recovery and pinpoint positioning. “The ball just hit him.” Worse, when Gordon Banks mispunched a Wolfgang Overath shot straight to Lothar Emmerich it was “a tremendous save.”

In contrast, Carragher’s half-time analysis was insightful and informative, the only disappointments being its time-limit and Gary Neville’s unavailability. “Germans” was about his seventh word and he gave it the full Stan Boardman treatment. (Kids: Boardman was a Liverpool comic from 1970s Granada TV series The Comedians, which also made a TV star of Bernard Manning, among many other sins. It would be unfair to say that much of Boardman’s act centred on his broad scouse pronunciation of “Germans.” But only because it was his f***ing act. Like an unfunny John Bishop. Yes, that bad).

Carragher expertly explained Ray Wilson’s dross header which gave Helmut Haller West Germany’s 12th-minute opener (Blackpool’s left-back was “worried” by the sight of Overath “out of the corner of his eye” and misdirected his attempted clearance) although he couldn’t add to the oft-told tale of England’s equaliser, legendarily credited to a West Ham training ground move. He let a little bias creep in by calling Banks “the greatest goalkeeper in the world,” which, in 1966, would have had Lev Yashin aficionados seething. And his suggestion that he used to call England’s number 21 “Sir Roger Hunt” seemed unlikely conduct for a childhood Evertonian. But, still, he left us wanting more.

Johns added spurious penalty calls to his second-half commentary repertoire, regularly stating with complete conviction that England players had been “pushed down” in the box. He was back at Tilkowski soon enough, though.
“In fact, nobody touched him,” he declared as Tilkowski kicked the ball out so he could receive medical attention having been demonstrably flattened by another Hurst “reducer” (copyright: Martin Keown). Later, Johns didn’t “think Hurst got anywhere near him” when Hurst very definitely did. “F**k off,” I yelled, as I may have at the time, had I been watching ITV and not been five-and-a-half months old.

England were on top, though, as a confused Johns credited a Bobby Charlton shot with “shaving the far post by a fraction of an inch.” Martin Peters’ goal was wholly deserved, even if Johns’ claims of “Alf Ramsey looking happier” were comprehensively undermined by the accompanying footage, in which the England boss looked as miserable as he had when the cameras pointed at him in the first half. Indeed, the only spells of German pressure came when England were holding on to leads at the end of normal and extra-time. The referee, Switzerland’s Gottfried Dienst was “certainly not making a lot of friends among the England fans” as he gave a set of late free-kicks to Germany, one of which produced the equaliser.

So it was a shame not to hear Carragher at full-time. If a modern game had turned against a superior England in such a manner, would the studio pundits have backed England to “go and win it again” as legend has Ramsey saying? Or would they claim that the “momentum” was with the Germans? I suspect the latter. Extra-time was a doozy, though. No playing for penalties for the simple reason that there were no penalties for which to play, just an energy-sapping replay to avoid. End-to-end, all-out attack it was, then. And no golden goal, either, which was very, VERY much just as well.

Ultimately, Hurst’s second goal was the one incident to genuinely get the “full MNF treatment.” Yet I noted during the actual match coverage that the ball “looks suspiciously more over the line” than it ever did before. So Sky’s technology saying “goal” was predictable, even if suggesting so much daylight between ball and line was pushing it. Still, every conceivable camera angle was analysed properly, including proof that Azerbaijan linesman Tofiq Bahramov had a clear and adequate view, even if he wasn’t quite ‘in-line.’ It was a shame that Carragher regurgitated the old canard about how “important” Hunt’s reaction was, claiming the goal rather than making sure himself. And his repeated reference to the “Russian” linesman could usefully have been corrected. But he was terrific on West Germany’s equaliser, highlighting England’s defensive panic which meant half the outfield players formed a defensive wall for a free-kick 35 yards out.

Had either Johns or Bowen/Bowie spotted Karl-Heinz Schnellinger’s “handball” as Emmerich’s free-kick pinballed across the box, we might have had more “full MNF treatment.” But they didn’t. Thus we were denied technological ‘confirmation’ that Schnellinger threw the ball to Wolfgang Weber when ALL previous footage clearly showed it hitting his back. After Hurst “made it three,” Johns could barely be heard above the celebratory din. So there was no “it is only twelve inches high…and it means England are World Champions,” as the Beeb’s Kenneth Wolstenholme said. Mind you, a Johns reference to “12 inches” was audible as the players collected their medals. So maybe these legendary Wolstenholme words were more scripted than spontaneous.

The post-match footage contained all the usual stuff, Nobby Stiles inventing “dad dancing” etc… But it ended with something I hadn’t remembered, Moore ‘presenting’ the Cup to Ramsey in front of the players’ tunnel. It was a poignant moment, described perfectly by Johns. Indeed, Johns’ commentary was, Tilkowski aside, a masterclass in perspective, emotion and appropriate understatement that could so usefully be attended by today’s crop of mic-men.  Johns was my favourite 1970s ITV commentators, voicing the Midlands section of The Big Match, the Sunday highlights programme on London Weekend Television. He was ITV’s “one-nothing” to David Coleman’s “one-nil” on the Beeb. He was the evocatively-distorted voice of foreign games. And internationals…calling England’s World Cup elimination in 1973 (“one-nothing Poland”).

For the 1966 final, his voice was more Radio Four, as if in deference to the national enormity of the occasion. But there were commentary gems a-plenty. “Willie Schulz…could be Germany’s World Cup Willie” (an appropriate tournament mascot when “willie” was not slang for penis). “Schellinger” had a “big left foot” (and, hopefully a big right one, or he’d have an awful limp). “The wet pitch, taking spin.” And the simple “oooh” when England’s goal was threatened, probably echoing the thoughts of a nation which hadn’t yet mastered the F-word.

Sky used its technology post-match to fine effect. Alan Ball was confirmed “man-of-the-match” as all the stats available showed he had, metaphorically at least, “run himself daft.”  Moore’s stats were another revelation, the centre-back making more passes than anyone else, and more accurately. His “touch map” partly-explained this huge involvement, although Carragher’s suggestion that Moore had been “everywhere” was undermined by Moore’s almost complete absence from the entire right flank. The programme heralded what will soon be an overload of commemorations of the final’s 50th anniversary. And while Carragher denied that the 1966 success had been a “burden” on subsequent England teams, including his own, 1966 reminiscences may soon be so. But, flawed though its process was, Ford MNF: 1966 Special was a worthwhile and entertaining exercise. And we now ‘know’ that, yes, the ball did cross the line. Cough.

You can follow Mark on Twitter by clicking here.

You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.

You can follow Twohundredpercent on Facebook by clicking here.