Argentina vs England 1966 World Cup quarter-final 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 earlier in the tournament. That was the dismissal of Argentina’s captain, Antonio Rattin, in the quarter-final match with England.
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. Thus England 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 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 90,000 fans.
The 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 came on the soccer pitch. As time passed, the possibility of the 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.
How long this lasted depends on which newspaper you consult: anything from 7 to 11 minutes before Antonio Rattin was eventually persuaded to leave the field of play 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) goal of the match came 13 minutes from time when 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 soccer 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 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 South Americans … 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: 1. Why were an Englishman and a German selected to referee two of the quarter-finals when their countries were still involved? 2. Why did England play their semi-final match against Portugal at Wembley on Tuesday in contradiction of 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 Latin countries felt hard done by in 1966. 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 found 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.