On Monday afternoon, news broke that the Brazil versus England FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final has been shifted to Kolkata from Guwahati after the North-Eastern city experienced heavy downpour for the last few days, leading to the turf being deemed ineligible for action.
The announcement, made at the eleventh hour, brought back memories from a distant past when the British busked in the glory of their greatest moment in the beautiful game.
The 1966 World Cup, as the tournament progressed, was labelled as a rivalry between the football forces of Latin America and Europe with Africa boycotting the competition. The shoddy arrangements were criticized unequivocally by the foreign media but with time, controversial refereeing took the center-stage. In England’s 2-0 victory over France, the first goal was a clear offside while Argentina were not allowed to train ahead of their quarter-final against the hosts due to “greyhound racing” at the venue.
While home support propelled Gordon Banks and co. to the semis, they were poised to face an upbeat Portugal who were fresh from winning one of the most memorable matches in the history of the World Cup. A little-known North Korean unit ended up becoming the surprise package of the tournament and made their way to the last eight after beating Italy 1-0. They seemed all set to stun the footballing world again, taking a lead of 3-0 against the in-form Portuguese. However, the legendary Eusebio stepped up, scoring four as the Europeans eked out a 5-3 win.
The stage was now all set for the mega semi-final clash at Everton’s home-ground Goodison Park where Portugal had settled down well.
At this very juncture FIFA took a controversial decision, which, even though projected as a revenue maximizing exercise, ended up favouring the hosts. Stanley Rous, the then FIFA general secretary, decided to shift the fixture to Wembley. The governing body had the power to shift the game anytime and so it didn’t flout any rule, but its wish to organize the marquee clash at the bigger venue turned out to be a major boon for Bobby Moore and his colleagues.
Portugal couldn’t even manage to get train tickets for their players and had to travel by coach to London, missing their pre-match practice after a tiring win against the Asian side. Alf Ramsey’s men on the other hand, were fresh and pulled off a superb performance in the tie to win 2-1, ending the debutant’s dream run.
Once Geoff Hurst powered his nation to their first World Cup title four days later not much was talked about how the shift in venue affected the Portuguese who hadn't forgotten how they were at the receiving end of FIFA's arbitrary decision.
Come Wednesday, England will once again be eyeing to earn a place in a World Cup final. A change of venue must bring back memories of ’66. The set-up is different this time though as they have been dragged to Kolkata which is a bastion of their opponents Brazil.
It’s ironic that it was the British who introduced the game first in this part of the world but come Wednesday, they will not find many voices cheering for them despite the huge popularity of English Premier League (EPL) in the city.
1966 is a period not absent in the Bengali football fan’s memory with the vernacular media often reminding how the Bulgarians battered Pele in the first match which led to Brazil’s early exit. The venue change, in this case, will be a huge advantage for Paulinho’s side and it remains to be seen whether the British colts can book a berth for the summit clash.