1966: Sacred Heart School, relegation and the World Cup
I wasn’t the most popular boy at Sacred Heart School as the academic year came
to a close in 1966. I was the goalkeeper in the school team and although our
season had started well with a derby victory over Archibald School from the
other side of Ayresome Street, we weren’t to win again. And when Pallister Park
and Beechwood schools put a total of twelve goals past us in our two final games,
I was largely to blame.
What made things worse was that the Boro, despite the arrival of new manager
Stan Anderson, were also struggling that season and the possibility of relegation
to the third division, somewhere the Boro had never been, loomed large. A late
run, which included away victories at Leyton Orient and Norwich, appeared to
have saved us. But in the final match at Ninian Park, and despite centre half
Dickie Rooks taking the game by the scruff of the neck and scoring a hat trick,
Cardiff scored five, moved a point above us, and we were down.
That was in May. A few weeks later the finals of the 1966 World Cup began. The
two grounds chosen to host the north-east group were Roker Park and St James
Park. But an unedifying disagreement over ground improvements between
Newcastle and the owner of the ground, led to Newcastle losing the right to stage
games. Ayresome Park was substituted instead.
So while the Boro were slipping lamely out of the second division, the ground
was being furiously improved with the provision of a new stand in the Bob End
(previously open to the elements) and additional seating. Of course, we already
had a pitch acclaimed as second only to Wembley’s. But there was much made of
the fact that a third division club was hosting three world cup games, including
matches played by Chile, Russia and the much fancied Italy. Italy made a big hit
in the town hosting various receptions as they sought to woo the local support.
My mother was a Labour Councillor and she came home from one such event in
the Town Hall burdened with about twenty impressive key rings, lavishingly
engraved with “Federazione Italiana Di Calcio.” My friends began to forgive me
for the Pallister Park and Beechwood debacles.
Of course there was a fourth team in the north-east qualifying group: North
Korea. And very dismissive we all were about them. Chile had Sanchez, their star
captain. Italy had Rivera and Fachetti, and the USSR had the great Lev Yashin,
the oldest player in the tournament. But we knew nothing of North Korea and
didn’t really want to. That was until a man called Pak Doo Ik endeared himself to
the town by scoring the only goal to defeat Italy, thus knocking the Italians out
and sending them home in disgrace. North Korea were the first team from
outside Europe or South America to qualify from the group stages of a World
Cup. It would be 44 years before that happened again when Morocco followed in
the Korean’s footsteps.
For us ten year olds there was a lot of hanging around the ground and grabbing
indecipherable autographs. But my memories of the matches themselves were
all from TV. Although I lived just a couple of hundred yards from Ayresome Park,
there was little question of going to a game. My recollection is that tickets cost
5s6d (about 27pence when it was just a shilling (5pence) to get in the Boys End
to see the Boro). Such a sum was beyond my parents and, as far as I can recall,
beyond the parents of all my friends. And although the newly upgraded
Ayresome Park had a capacity of 40,000, many others seemingly voted with their
wallets. There were only 17,000 there to see the North Koreans in their greatest
sporting moment. To be fair, matches weren't staggered in the way they are in
modern World Cups, and while North Korea were pulling off such an unlikely
victory at Ayresome Park, Portugal and the great Eusabio were on TV, knocking
the holders Brazil out of the tournament. England meanwhile had beaten France
the night before to qualify for a quarter final with Argentina. Thoughts were
turning to the possibility, the wonderful possibility, that England might win the
Cup. After all, we had Jimmy Greaves...