Mention 1966 in England and you will awaken fond memories of England beating West Germany in a gripping 120-minute final to win the soccer World Cup. Mention it in Germany and you will be told that England profited from one of the greatest referee errors in soccer history.
The match has gone down in history not just because it was the only time England won a major tournament in the game it invented, but because of a goal that triggered a 50-year controversy.
It was scored by England striker Geoff Hurst, now Sir Geoff Hurst, in the 101st minute during extra time. The ball hit the crossbar and bounced in the goal mouth before German defender Wolfgang Weber headed it clear. The Swiss referee wasn’t sure whether the ball had crossed the goal line so he consulted the linesman, who said it had. As a result, England took the lead 3-2. The team scored another goal in the final seconds to win the match 4-2.
Berlin daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, a sister publication of Handelsblatt, interviewed Mr. Weber, now 71. He said he knew right away it wasn’t a goal and recalled being furious at the England players who immediately threw up their arms and cheered.
He ran over to England midfielder Bobby Charlton, now Sir Bobby Charlton, and tried to push his arms down. “I told him: ‘Stop it! What are you doing?’ I had seen clearly that the ball hadn’t gone in.”
He added: “The English were evidently taught early on to raise their arms as quickly as possible to influence the referee.” Indeed, the referee, Gottfried Dienst, at first ruled it wasn’t a goal but then changed his mind after consulting with Russian linesman Tofiq Bahramov. They had to communicate in sign language because Mr. B?hramov only spoke Russian and Azerbaijani.
Rules stipulated by football’s world governing body FIFA state that the whole of the ball must cross the line for it to be a goal. Mr. Weber had one of the best views in the stadium because he was close to the goal. He said it bounced onto the line, not over the line. “I said at the time what even scientists from Oxford University confirm today: The ball was not in the goal,” he said.
Not so fast, Herr Weber!
Indeed, scientists at the Department of Engineering Science at Oxford analysed video sequences of the goal and applied what they called “plane projective homographies to compute an overhead view of the action from a sequence of disparate image pairs,” according to a paper published in 1996 that concluded the ball was 6 centimeters from being a goal and suggested, prematurely, that the controversy was over.
Not so fast. British media in January 2016 reported that new analysis conducted by Britain’s Sky Sports group of pay TV channels proved the ball did cross the line. Mr. Weber remains adamant. He even said the fourth England goal was also “irregular” because a few spectators were already running onto the pitch and entering the German penalty area when it happened.
The “Wembley Goal” has added a frisson to matches between the arch rivals ever since. In the intervening 50 years, World Cup and European Championship encounters have gone Germany’s way, several times in agonising penalty shootouts that prompted forrmer England striker Gary Lineker to redefine soccer: “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans win.”
Gary Lineker proven right too often
But before every tournament, there are always tentative hopes that England could do better this time. These are especially high this year after the team’s impressive 10 wins in the 10 qualifying matches for the European Championship in France in June. It also has a strong line-up of young talent — and is buoyed by surprisingly lackluster performances by reigning four-times World Cup Champion Germany over the last year. But those hopes are tinged with the weary experience of disappointment. Mr. Lineker, now a sports broadcaster, has been proven right too often.
There have been countless similarly controversial goals in the last half-century. Yet FIFA has only just approved the testing of video technology to help referees.
Mr. Weber, meanwhile, is willing to let bygones be bygones. “Don’t get me wrong: England was a worthy world champion, a great team which won a great final,” he said. “But we made it pretty hard for them.”
He added: “It doesn’t matter; it’s over and we get on great with the England players, apart from one.” Asked who that was, he said: “Geoff Hurst, the supposed goalscorer.” Mr. Hurst, he said, still claims today that the ball was in. “You can understand that in a way; he sees himself as a hat trick scorer in a World Cup final and he still wants to be feted for it,” Mr. Weber said. “But there comes a point where it’s enough.”
Germany had its revenge in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when a shot by England midfielder Frank Lampard came off the bar, landed a foot or more over the line, but wasn’t allowed. Germany went on to easily beat an unimpressive England 4-1, subjecting it to its worst ever defeat in a World Cup match.
“Do you want to know if I feel satisfaction? No. Lampard’s shot was too clear for that,” Mr. Weber said. “The ball was a meter inside the goal. Even Bahramov would have probably spotted that.”
Translation and additional research by Handelsblatt Global Edition, where this English version appeared first. Sven Goldmann and Markus Hesselmann also contributed to "1966 And Not All That" edited by Mark Perryman and published by Repeater Books.