The Argentina vs England 1966 World Cup quarter-final in front of 90,584 spectators at Wembley is one of the most enduring matches in the history of soccer.
While England’s extra-time victory over West Germany effectively sealed by Geoff Hurst’s controversial goal is perhaps the most abiding memory of the 1966 World Cup finals, there was another significant controversy moment earlier in the tournament.
That was the dismissal of Argentina’s captain, Antonio Rattin, in the quarter-final match versus England football team.
England, the host nation, experienced an unconvincing but efficient group stage. Their opening game of the 1966 World Cup tournament had seen a somewhat dismal 0-0 draw with Uruguay followed by successive 2-0 wins over Mexico and France. The England players had reached the quarter-final stage for the third time in their history.
They had fallen to South American teams on the previous two occasions: Uruguay in 1954 and Brazil in 1962. For the third time of asking, they faced opposition from the same continent in the shape of Argentina. The South Americans had an almost identical record to England: a goalless draw and two wins, although defender Jorge Albrecht had been sent off against West Germany.
Argentina vs England 1966 World Cup Quarter-Final Squads
The 1966 World Cup quarter-final tie was played on a warm sunny afternoon at Wembley Stadium in front of 90,584 fans.
This was the second time that England and Argentina had met. The previous meeting was four years earlier in the group stage where England beat the Argentine boys 3-1 in a group stage match during the 1962 tournament.
Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, and Ray Wilson were the only English players to line up both games. For Argentina, Antonio Roma, Antonio Rattin, and Silvio Marzolina were in the starting line-up four years earlier.
The 1966 teams lined up as follows:
Argentina (4-4-2): Antonio Roma, Roberto Ferreiro, Roberto Perfumo, Rafael Albrecht, Silvio Marzolina, Alberto Gonzalez, Antonio Rattin, Joege Solari, Ermindo Onega, Luis Artime, Oscar Mas.
England (4-3-3): Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Jack Charlton, Bobby Moore, Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles, Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters, Alan Ball, Geoff Hurst, Roger Hunt.
Referee: Rudolf Kreitlein (West Germany)
For the first time in the tournament, England lined up without a winger in the side. There were two changes in the line-up. Alan Ball replaced Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan, and Geoff Hurst took the place of the injured Jimmy Greaves.
The game began rather tensely, with fouls on both sides. Nobby Stiles hacked down Roberto Ferreiro and escaped punishment. Still, within half an hour, four of the Argentines had found their way into the referee’s notebook – Antonio Rattin and Roberto Perfumo for fouls, Jorge Solari for kicking the ball away at a free-kick, and Luis Artime for a trivial foul.
There were few clear goalscoring chances, with the Argentines playing a defensive game, biding their time for the opportunity to strike, and England seemingly unable to make significant headway.
On 36 minutes came the incident that defined the match and probably also decided the ultimate fate of the World Cup trophy. Following the booking of Luis Artime, the Argentine skipper approached the referee apparently with the innocent intention of asking for an interpreter to be brought on.
However, Rudolf Kreitlein interpreted the approach somewhat differently and raised his arm, pointing to the dressing rooms (these were the days before red and yellow cards).
Uproar ensued as Antonio Rattin refused to walk. Then, for what seemed like an eternity, the play was stopped. Officials from both football teams came on the soccer pitch. As time passed, the possibility of the live match being abandoned was raised by commentators.
The abiding memory is of the giant muscular Antonio Rattin towering over the balding Rudolf Kreitlein, the two locked eyeball to eyeball, neither flinching.
Delayed Football Match
How long this lasted depends on which newspaper you consult: anything from 7 to 11 minutes before Argentina’s Antonio Rattin was eventually persuaded to leave the football field and slowly shuffled off.
An anti-climax followed, with the match generally at a stalemate and few chances created at either end.
The decisive (indeed the only) winning goal of the match came in the second half. Within 13 minutes from time, Geoff Hurst glanced home a long cross from the left by Martin Peters to give England victory and a place in the semi-finals for the first time in their history.
Reading through the reports in the popular press, there is a general sense of relief that England had won, despite the controversial events that had preceded the victory.
There are also three further elements to the coverage: sensational headlines and a certain level of xenophobia aimed at Argentina; widespread criticism of referee Kreitlein’s performance; and perhaps most surprisingly, a degree of sympathy for the plight of the losers.
Stoking The Fire
If the events on the football field were not enough, the comments of England manager Alf Ramsey only stoked the fires further. The People’s front-page headline said it all: “Animals! Says Ramsey”, and indeed this is the phrase that has endured as the description of the events.
It refers to a relatively long quote from Alf Ramsey to the press after the game, “We have still to produce our best football. It will come against the right type of opposition, the team who come out to play football, not act as animals,” (The People, 24 July 1966).
The News of the World used the exact quote, but further down the front page: “Animals! – that’s how Argentines acted, says Ramsey.” (24 July 1966) The following Monday’s Daily Mirror, in true xenophobic style, led its story on the sports pages with “Latin Lunatics plunge Soccer into chaos.”
After the game, Alf Ramsey’s actions, both his ‘Animals’ quote and his intervention to physically prevent George Cohen exchanging shirts with an opposition player, appear to be those of a man pushed to his limits. Yet, in reality, although there had been some brutal fouls from the Argentines in the opening 15 minutes or so, what followed was essentially a tense, defensive game from both sides.
Alf Ramsey had heaped pressure on himself by predicting that England would win the World Cup tournament. The match with Argentina was perhaps the closest his dream came to ending, and thus his reactions probably reflect this situation more than the reality of the events.
Overall the Mirror newspaper seems to have been the worst offender in its treatment of Argentina. Journalist Peter Wilson (‘The Man They Can’t Gag’) rather excitedly wrote, “This is sporting anarchy. Soccer in chaos, warfare for national aggrandizement run riot.” The “South American bandits” should, in his view, be banned from international football for four years.
Other clichés came from the News of the World. Argentina was “The Wild Bulls of the Pampas” and “Argentinian butchers.”
Meanwhile, the Mirror informed its readers that Antonio Rattin was “a burly millionaire forest owner,” and therefore, presumably, a man who could not be trusted.
Referee Rudolf Kreitlein did not get off lightly. Peter Wilson in the Mirror fudged the issue: “I am not prepared to discuss whether German referee Rudolf Kreitlein was or was not too whistle happy.”
However, others were more open in their criticism. Frank Butler in the News of the World noted, “I blame much criticism on the shoulders of the referee … Herr Kreitlein was too fussy, too dictatorial and notebook-happy.”
The People’s Maurice Smith added, “It looked as if Herr Kreitlein was out to do more name logging than any juvenile train-spotter.”
Over in the Daily Express, which provided the most balanced coverage of the four titles, Norman Giller wrote a telling piece on the referee, quoting him as saying, “The look on Antonio Rattin’s face was quite enough to tell me what he was saying and meaning.
I do not speak Spanish, but the look told me everything.” However, the most surprising element is undoubtedly the implied sympathy for Argentina.
Maurice Smith (The People) was the clearest on this: “I felt sorry for these perplexed Argentina … they scarcely deserved this.” Others, except for the Mirror, expressed their sympathy in terms of criticism of the referee.
But, as outlined above, Eric Cooper in the Express was somewhat more subtle, raising two crucial questions that perhaps could have come from the Argentines themselves:
- Why were an Englishman and a German selected to referee two of the quarter-finals when their countries were still involved?
- Why did England play their semi-final match against Portugal at Wembley on Tuesday in contradiction to the principle laid down at the time of the draw last January that the qualifiers from these quarter-finals would play at Everton on Monday?
Hard Done By
Several of the other teams from Latin countries felt hard done by in the 1966 tournament. In a group match, Italy was dismissed with ease, falling to North Korea. Brazil felt that Pelé was kicked out of the tournament, having received no protection from the referees.
Argentina and Uruguay met with disciplinary problems, having men sent off in the tournament.
A conspiracy theory developed, particularly within South American countries, based on these two questions. What was the outcome? Argentina was fined 1,000 Swiss Francs (around £83) by FIFA and three players suspended from international soccer: Antonio Rattin (for four matches), Roberto Ferreiro, and Ermindo Onega (three games each).
England, of course, went on to win the World Cup trophy. Argentina returned home to a hero’s welcome. President Juan Carlos Ongania of Argentina welcomed them, and a popular daily newspaper compared what happened in England with their possession of the Falkland Islands:
“First they stole the Malvinas, and now the World Cup from us.” Their actions at the end of the match might have been uncivilized, but “if we are animals, they are thieves.”
Meanwhile, this World Cup match will forever be associated with Alf Ramsey’s ‘Animals’ quote and Antonio Rattin’s dismissal.
Argentina vs England Five World Cup Matches
Argentina vs England has now met five times at the World Cup. The record is 3 wins for England and two matches for Argentina. Each World Cup match has had its moments. Between the national football teams of the two countries, as well as their respective fans, this is now a very competitive sports rivalry.
The rivalry was not helped by Great Britain attacking Argentina over the Falkland Islands. Each game has been intense with memorable moments, such as Maradona’s hand of God goal, the best World Cup goal in history, Antonio Rattín, and David Beckham sending off and an edgy penalty shoot-out to see who progressed in the tournament.
I’m sure all football fans from all continents are hoping to see Argentina vs England rivalry once again in Qatar 2022.
Rhett is an Australian-born, globe trotter who is a UEFA ‘A’ Licence Soccer Coach. With his family, he has traveled and coached soccer in more than 30 countries, while attending World Cups, European Championships, and some of the biggest local derbies in the world!