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Memories of being a ten year old when the World Cup came to Middlesbrough

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  1. 1. 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,
  2. 2. 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...