Martin Smith: A salute to Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton and the England 1966 World Cup winning team

Three years before Nobby Stiles skipped, toothless and knackered around Wembley with the World Cup, former Sheffield Wednesday ‘Golden Boy’ Albert Quixall had risked scandal by throwing the FA Cup into the air after Manchester United's victory over Leicester.

Monday, 2nd November 2020, 8:16 pm
Teammates Alan Ball, left, and Nobby Stiles celebrate after England's victory in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley, 30th July 1966. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Teammates Alan Ball, left, and Nobby Stiles celebrate after England's victory in the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley, 30th July 1966. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Luckily he caught it again.

Back in those days national events like the FA Cup Final, Ascot or any royal occasion had significance and a protocol.

Yes we were all modern and ‘with-it’ by then but we still knew our place.

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The world was changing, but, damn it, we were still British.

But by the mid 1960s people had a few quid in their pockets and a fresh twinkle in their eye after the rationing, shortages and industrial grind of the 1950s.

This was a generation largely spared the struggle of wartime sacrifice and tragedy, a generation determined to enjoy and explore the freedom so hard won by their parents.

Expressions of that freedom were everywhere.

In the ‘oooh’ in She Loves You, in every Ali shuffle and Jagger twitch and in Nobby’s toothless, socks-down World Cup winner’s jig in front of the whole world.

Because he felt like we all felt.

It’s easy to find YouTube footage of Stiles kicking players in the air from an era when every team had a hard man.

But according to England manager Alf Ramsey, Nobby could pass, tackle and read a game brilliantly and was one of five world class players in his team.

As was fellow World Cup winner Bobby Charlton.

But Charlton, the nation’s careworn older brother, had something else, everything else.

Was there ever a more fluid and balanced player with the ball at his feet?

A dropped shoulder, half a sidestep and the ability to hit a ball with either foot like no other.

To generations of football fans around the world he will always be England’s greatest football hero.

Now we learn that he faces his latter years with dementia as did his brother Jack and team mate Nobby.

You don’t have to be a footballer to suffer from dementia, millions around the world are afflicted by this cruellest of diseases.

But we now know that the repeated trauma of heading a ball - especially those rain-sodden cannonballs of the 50s and 60s - can cause huge damage.

So to Nobby and Bobby, Albert, Jack and all the others who helped define their times with their exuberance and talent we say thank you.

You lit up our world.