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England rugby squad invoke spirit of '66
November 19, 2003 14:58 IST
It was an age of fragile promise when London was briefly the centre of the universe and everything about England seemed fresh, exciting and vital.
Back in 1966 Time magazine ran a cover article on "Swinging London", Italian film maker Michelangelo Antonioni captured the fleeting moment in "Blow Up" and England won their first and only soccer World Cup.
Many of the young rebels and trendsetters of those far-off days have died or disappeared.
Others have been become part of the establishment they once defied or despised. Mick Jagger still sings and Michael Caine still acts although both are now knights of the realm. Meanwhile, England have subsequently failed to win a tournament of any international significance in any major sport.
The spirit of '66 is being invoked with increasing fervour by the hordes of white-shirted England rugby supporters who have invaded Sydney this week. Their team are only one match away from winning the World Cup, something beyond either their soccer or cricket counterparts in the past 37 years.
"I still remember the 1966 Cup final," England coach Clive Woodward said ahead of Saturday's rugby final against Australia. "I can name the team and the whole thing.
"We've got a chance of winning a world tournament and the last team to do that was in '66. I watched it at home at an airforce base with my Dad and I remember it very, very clearly."
Unsurprisingly none of Woodward's team was alive at the time and the coach himself was only eight. England have not even made a soccer World Cup final since beating West Germany 4-2 at Wembley although the cricketers have been marginally more successful.
England made the finals of the 1979, 1987 and 1992 World Cups, losing each time.
Under Woodward, England have become the world's top-ranked rugby union team. Part of that success has come from Woodward's determination and part of his drive comes from a spell living and working in Sydney.
"It's those things (like 1966) that drive you on," he said. "It's not just the football and the rugby, you want to see England do well.
"I just find it extremely frustrating, especially after living in Australia to see that we have got the talent.
"But this country is just fantastic about bringing out the best in that talent. We're probably more crazy about sport than the Australians. We just don't quite do it in the same way or take it as seriously, which is our fault."
The boys of 1966 had as captain the modest, handsome Bobby Moore, probably at that time the best defender in the world.
England's rugby side have the glowering giant Martin Johnson, if not the best lock in the world certainly the most feared.
Controversially the soccer side had left out the country's leading striker Jimmy Greaves but had Bobby Charlton in the midfield at the height of his powers and his towering brother Jackie at the heart of the defence.
The England rugby side possess Jonny Wilkinson at flyhalf, a match-winner with the boot.
Like Woodward, soccer manager Alf Ramsey had dedicated himself to winning the World Cup and, again like Woodward, he did not care how he achieved his goal.
Comparative failures in the major team sports should not obscure England's notable successes in individual sports, notably Steve Redgrave's five consecutive Olympic rowing gold medals and a host of track and field Olympic champions.
But a World Cup in soccer, rugby or cricket has eluded them since Moore held the Cup high in the July sunshine in Wembley stadium.
One link unites the two teams. In 1966 George Cohen played right back for England. On Saturday his nephew Ben is certain to start on the left wing.
"He's given me lots of advice," said Ben. "He's told me how to handle the pressure and make sure that I get time away from the sport. He won the World Cup with England in 1966. Hopefully I'll be able to do the same thing."