SLIDESHOW - RETRO: When the World Cup came to Sheffield

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The World Cup kicks off tomorrow. Colin Drury looks at when the tournament was played to Sheffield...

IT is the planet’s greatest single sporting show - whatever optimistic organisers of the Tour de France keep telling us.

World Cup 1966'West Germany v Switzerland at Hillsborough - 12th July 1966

World Cup 1966'West Germany v Switzerland at Hillsborough - 12th July 1966

The World Cup kicks off in Brazil tomorrow.

Over the next month, 32 nations will play 64 games watched by an estimated 3.5 billion people - roughly half the entire world’s population. By the end, even those who would never normally so much as look at a football will probably find themselves debating the merits of the Ivorian left back.

Now to mark arrival of this four yearly carnival Midweek Retro remembers 1966 - when the tournament came right here to Sheffield.

England were chosen as host nation that year and Hillsborough was one of seven grounds across the country which staged games. Four matches were played there including three first round ties featuring heavyweights West Germany, Argentina and Spain, and a quarter final.

World Cup 1966: A row of World Cup flags set up outside the Midland Station, Sheffield 4th July 1966

World Cup 1966: A row of World Cup flags set up outside the Midland Station, Sheffield 4th July 1966

“It wasn’t quite the multi-billion pound event it is now but it was still brilliant to have it here,” remembers Chris Hobbs, an amateur historian of Crookes who attended a trio of the matches. “It was great for fans who could go and watch these exotic internationals from far flung lands but it was also great for the city.

“I was only 13 but there was such a buzz about the place. There were flags everywhere and I remember Penistone Road was spruced up. I was too young to go out on an evening at that point but I’m pretty sure the pubs would have done a roaring trade.”

They did, indeed.

The world was a less PC, yet somehow more innocent, place back then. Sheffield tourism boss Eddie Holland had no qualms telling BBC news that entertainment for foreign visitors would include nightly “girly show” at The Lyceum.

Yet many things were surprisingly similar to how such an event might be marked today. The city was decorated with flags and flowers, a German clock and mini-funfair were installed in Fitzalan Square, and - but of course - bars were encouraged to stay open later.

“Plans are in place for a nightclub in City Hall,” noted Mr Holland before the tournament kicked off. “We are going to decorate the city with flowers and have illuminations up and have banners and bands playing.

“I would like to see the shops stay open until 10 o’clock or midnight. We shall have umbrellas and tables in the street so people can dine out.

“Other things that would be worth while would be a beer garden in the garden next to the Town Hall. But above all late night drinking in the hotels and existing bars and restaurants.”

On the playing field itself, games held here included three group B clashes in which West German walloped Switzerland 5-0, Spain beat Switzerland 2-1, and Argentina defeated (pattern emerging here) Switzerland 2-0. A quarter-final saw West Germany beat Uruguay 4-0.

They were the first competitive internationals in the city since October 1962 when France draw 1-1 with England in a European Nations Cup qualifying match (which itself was England’s last competitive game in Sheffield).

“I rather hoped Switzerland would do well in the World Cup because they were based in the city but they were lightweights really,” remembers 60-year-old Chris, who is behind popular local history website chrishobbs.com and who has written three books on Sheffield’s Victorian and Edwardian past. “I remember I went and watched them train at Abbeydale Park in Totley - got their autographs and everything.

“It would have been terrific if England had won the bid for the 2018 World Cup and games had been played here again but I suppose it wasn’t to be. We can only hope that one day, Sheffield - the birth place of football, after all - does get the tournament once more.”

NOT EVERYTHING WENT RIGHT...

THE World Cup brought something of a carnival atmosphere to Sheffield in 1966. But not everyone enjoyed it as much as they might.

* Switzerland were based in the city, staying at the new £1 million Hallam Tower hotel in Broomhill. Possibly, however, they enjoyed Sheffield’s nightlife a little too much. Two players were dropped after staying out beyond a curfew the evening before a match, while the team lost all three of their games.

* An Overseas Visitors Lounge, set up especially in Cutlers Hall to serve hot food and drink until 2am, had a somewhat limited impact. Not a single tourist ordered the grill dinner after 10pm, reported this paper. Supervisior Jessie Cox noted: “It makes you wonder if all the effort was worth while.”

* If there’s one thing a football fan enjoys more than success, it’s the opportunity to moan. It didn’t matter that England would eventually win the World Cup, the team were still booed during their first match at Wembley when they could only muster a 0-0 draw with Uruguay.

GAMES AT A GLANCE

Group B ties

July 12: West Germany 5 - 0 Switzerland (Att: 36,000)

July 15: Spain 2 - 1 Switzerland (Att: 32,000)

July 19: Argentina 2 - 0 Switzerland (Att: 32,000)

Quarter-final

July 23: West Germany 4 - 0 Uruguay (Att: 34,000)