World Cup Part 1: England v Argentina, 1966

JAMIE GARWOOD opens our World Cup series by looking at a game in 1966 that had a huge impact on the future of refereeing

Antonio Rattín will be remembered as the man who got dismissed in the World Cup quarter-final for Argentina versus England as the hosts headed for glory in 1966. The match-up between these two countries was the first knockout tournament game between the pair, but merely the first chapter in a long history of on-pitch combat.

Their paths crossed again in 1986, 1998 and 2002 with each game as memorable as the last. From Maradona’s Hand of God to Michael Owen’s goal; from David Beckham’s red card and subsequent vilification to his resurrection four years later in the Far East.

The match-up at Wembley in 1966 showed to the world the ugliness of the beautiful game. Four years previously the World Cup bore witness to the Battle of Santiago between hosts Chile, and Italy. Referee Ken Aston marshalled proceedings as best he could in a violent and turbulent atmosphere and four years later West German referee Rudolf Kreitlein took charge. However, within 30 minutes all hell broke loose.

Reports from England players, namely George Cohen, suggest that Rattín was trying to run the game by striking up a dialogue with the referee, a concept which was alien to the European official. Kreitlein, by all accounts, had had enough of the one-way conversation and wanted a quieter outing.  Rattín eventually left the field, after much persuasion, charged with ‘violence of the tongue’ which can be picked up in any language. Yet in a very physical encounter, England were more guilty of fouls, committing 33 to Argentina’s 19. Argentina were a technically proficient side and might well have eliminated England had they had their full quota on the pitch, but the game was settled by a Geoff Hurst header in the second-half; his first World Cup goal but certainly not his last.

Rattín was escorted from the pitch by the aforementioned Ken Aston, by 1966 in charge of the tournament’s referees. In those days the used a notepad to record any infractions but no disciplinary cards to signal offences not only to the guilty player but to the paying public. On his drive home from Wembley Aston noticed how the colours on traffic lights were universal; a system of codes that everyone could understand. Green is okay, you can drive. Amber or orange is telling the driver to be cautious and Red is stop, do not move beyond this point. Aston got home and in discussion with his wife, Hilda, constructed coloured cards that could fit in his top pocket to be administered when necessary.

Embed from Getty Images

Aston’s idea, and position as one of the most respected officials in the world, paved the way for the introduction of yellow cards for minor/technical offences/persistent infringements, and red cards for serious foul play, at the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico.

Oddly, the three other England v Argentina clashes at the World Cup have all had moments of controversy. 1986 was the Hand of God goal by Diego Maradona which had it been spotted correctly by the officials would have been cautioned as flagrant cheating. In 1998, David Beckham was sent off for his petulant kick out at Diego Simeone, a dismissal which perhaps cost England’s underrated team the chance to progress.

Then in 2002, David Beckham converted a penalty after Mauricio Pochettino fouled Michael Owen, a foul many deem now to be a dive by the England striker. The referee on that occasion was Pierluigi Collina, arguably the greatest referee ever. Even the best are guilty of getting it wrong.

The symbolism of this match is its butterfly effect. Had Rattín not been dismissed Argentina might have won. England would have been eliminated, the final would not have happened, Geoff Hurst would not have his hat-trick, Nobby never would have jigged round Wembley, Bobby Moore wouldn’t have wiped his hands before shaking hands with the Queen, some people may not have ever got on the pitch and we would perhaps still be seeking our first international major footballing trophy. Cricket or rugby union may even be the national sport and football would have kept its amateurish roots ingrained; a grassroots game played by workers, not millionaires.

To quote another Doris Day song, she whose Que Sera has been adopted by the terraces: Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.

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