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1966 AND ALL THAT

03-05-2007

Here's the deal. The Stirrer costs you nothing but your time. You log on, and sometimes we bring you a heady punchbowl of news and comment. Then, once a week, we bring you a truly wonderful column by Laurence Inman. Enjoy.

I guess that many people about my age will have stifled an inward sigh on hearing of the death of Alan Ball last week.

I was sixteen when the World Cup Final took place on July 30th 1966. (Not June, as many journalists seem to think! Check it, you lazy hacks!) It was a Saturday. All football matches kicked off at three o’clock on Saturday afternoon in those days. This was before millionaire opportunists got their filthy hands on everything.

On the following Friday Revolver, the Beatles’ best work, appeared. Soon after that Dylan released Blonde On Blonde. Two months previously The Beach Boys had startled the world with Pet Sounds.

But the focus of all good feeling and youthful energy that summer was the grinding contest which held the nation’s attention on Wembley’s turf. And without the non-stop running of young Alan Ball, who knows what the result would have been ?

He was just twenty-one and looked and sounded even younger. I’m sure this is what made last week’s news so sad. He was the baby of the side, just as George Harrison was the youngest Beatle, and although Lennon’s death came as a shock it was George’s which hit me harder.

In a way, you expected Lennon to go dramatically, but not George. And you wouldn’t have predicted that Bobby Moore and Alan Ball would be the first of the ’66 team to die.

It’s always a mistake to meet your heroes. I met one of my sporting idols once, and not as a fan. It was in the make-up room at Granada studios in Manchester. It was a bit of a disappointment, even more so for me. I’m sure that if a youngster today met one of the pampered billionaires they worship (from a distance, on the other side of their gated ranches, or as they sweep past in their blacked-out hummers) he or she would feel equally let down.

But with Ball you felt that he was just as he appeared: still youthful, fizzing with enthusiasm and joy for the game.

I know, of course, that I’m not mourning Alan Ball so much as that time. I’ve been in mourning for 1966 since 1st January 1967. Of course, I accept that the words ‘spectacles’ and rose-tinted’ will be clamouring for attention right now in any reader’s mind, but I’m telling you, life was better in those days. In every department.

A pint of beer cost 1/8d, which meant you could buy six for a ten bob note, easily sufficient for any young buck to get drunk enough to talk (or rather slur) to a girl. And it tasted of beer. Tomatoes tasted of tomatoes, butter of butter and girls of girls.

People were calmer. Happier and, at the same time, more serious somehow. The idea that could make hobbies of overeating and shouting obscene drivel into little phones in public would have been greeted with disbelief.

Grief for the past is never more intense for me these days than when I see the remains of the Rover works in Longbridge. Fifty years ago the population of a sizeable town could be seen milling around that place.

A horn (The Bull) blew at exactly five o’clock every afternoon and tens of thousands of people drove, cycled, ran and walked out all at the same time. All night you could hear the clanging of the press-hammers going in the stamp shop, where my dad worked.

He bought a new telly so that he could watch the World Cup without having to crouch six inches from the screen. On the day of the final, our front room was crowded with aunts, uncles, cousins, my Nan and us.

I say ‘us’ but I wasn’t there. I went to Droitwich to spend the afternoon with my girlfriend. I saw only three people all day: her, the driver of the 144 Midland Red and the conductor. The whole country left us alone to do whatever we wanted. It’s only a game after all.

She dumped me two months later because I was always nagging her to read my poetry. But it didn’t matter. I met another young girl shortly afterwards. There were plenty of them about.

Goodnight then, Alan Ball. You’ve given us a reminder that Time really means it.

Golden lads and girls all must

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

But not just yet, eh ?

Next week: the greatest football match ever.

The Stirrer's too young to remember 1966 - so was life really better then?

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