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skygod

1966 World Cup semi-finals

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It has often been levelled against England that they played all of their matches at Wembley but I was unaware of the controversy underlying the fact.

It's fairly common knowledge that England beat Portugal at Wembley and went on to defeat, not without some controversy, West Germany in the final. West Germany, for their part, had beaten Russia in the semi-final at Goodison Park.  

But you seldom hear that the semi-final venues could have been the other way around! The official FA handbook for the competition stated that the winners of quarter-finals one and three - England and Portugal - would play at Goodison. However, the FIFA rules merely said that semi-final venues would be announced closer to the matches when the teams were decided.

Once the semi-final pairings were known on Saturday 23 July, the FIFA organising committee decided that the England match should be played at the ground with the bigger capacity and producing the higher revenue. It's widely assumed that Sir Stanley Rous, the English president of FIFA, had a hand in England playing at Wembley but Brian Glanville in his History of the World Cup states that the opposite was true and Rous was outvoted on the committee.

There was a lot of unhappy people, not least the fans in Liverpool and the Portuguese FA who complained on the Monday, which FIFA immediately rejected.

However, the scheduled 3 PM kick-off time for the Tuesday match was moved to 7.30 so the Portuguese had more time to travel from Merseyside to London by coach on the day of the match.

The extra day before the semi-final might even have helped Bobby Charlton overcome a doubt over a stiff neck to play and, of course, score both England's goals.

Little surprise that many Liverpudlians boycotted the Russia - West Germany match on the Monday, the attendance being almost 20,000 fewer than at the Brazil v. Portugal group match on the same ground, where Portugal had also played their quarter-final against North Korea and presumably felt relatively "at home". 

It's unimaginable today that there could be such confusion over the venue and kick-off time of a World Cup semi-final but this was in the days before mass global TV audiences and revenues, and the decision to play the England match at Wembley seems to have been driven by FIFA's greed for higher gate receipts. 

 

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