When I searched for the all but one of the photographs I’ve used to illustrate this portrait of England in 1966 I got a very long way down the display of found images before finding one that wasn’t of the England team in the 1966 World Cup Final. Thinking I might find more variety from a “Britain in 1966” search I got more or less the same. As if the football was the only thing that happened that year. Confusing, because I was there and it wasn’t.
I watched the match on our black and white TV out in Maghull, the new town on the edge of Liverpool where I mostly grew up, and it was great. Went out and played football in the street at half time imagining myself to be Roger Hunt, as usual. The only Liverpool player in the team. An exciting day then, in a good year of football, Beatles, being 12 years old and living in what was feeling like a good place in a good country.
But as time has passed our collective memory has changed into just one image of that year. The one of Bobby Moore. Winning the World Cup. The main thing that appears to have happened here, in said collective memory, since we won the Second World War. Which has become our collective problem. Both events being repeatedly used by the less than bright of our number, including politicians, the gutter press and a great many not even born by 1966, to evoke a mythical golden age they scream, drink and plot about reviving.
Well maybe all that’s about to come to an end, or at least diminish. Because tonight the England team of today might win something. The first tournament they’ll have won since the blessed 1966.
And I hope they do win. Because they seem like a good bunch of people who work well together and just might beat this magnificent Italy team. But also and mainly so we can collectively let go of looking back to a mythical golden age all the time as our preferred version of the future. We’re a different country now, after all, from the one symbolised by Bobby Moore and the boys in these old photographs. And we do things differently now, or we could.
If only we could let go of 1966 and all that. It’s high time.
And if the title of this piece sounds naggingly familiar to you that’s because I’ve borrowed it from the title of a wonderful book I first read around the time I’m talking about, called “1066 And All That: A Memorable History of England, Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember, Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Kings and 2 Genuine Dates.” A 1930 version of England’s history as “top nation” that contains barely a word of factual truth.
Unfortunately there was never an update to 1966. The real end of the top nation’s history.
Well worth a read though.