By 90Min
April 01, 2018

The fact that the World Cup has only been successfully defended on two occasions (Italy 1934/1938 and Brazil 1958/1962) should be evidence enough of the calibre of a side required to not only win the Jules Rimet, but to also retain it.

That was the task ahead of Sir Alf Ramsey's England side ahead of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Defending champions following their 4-2 triumph against West Germany four years prior, the Three Lions were among the favourites heading into the tournament, but as fate seems to dictate, football and revenge seem to go hand in hand. 

They say that the only thing harder than getting to the top is to actually stay there, which is a fact England learned the hard way on 14th June 1970. 

For all the joy and jubilation that surrounded England during their 1966 World Cup success, the 1970 edition was not short in drama for the national team even before the tournament began. 

Captain Bobby Moore was arrested in the build-up over the allegation of stealing a bracelet in the jewellery store of the Bogota hotel in Colombia, but would later be released four days after the incident with charges later dropped, while England's apparent displeasure of the World Cup being held in Mexico painted the holders as somewhat pantomime villains throughout their duration in North America.

Despite preparations being less than ideal, England somewhat toiled to second place in Group 3, as 1-0 wins against Romania and Czechoslovakia sandwiched a hugely memorable 1-0 defeat against pre-tournament favourites Brazil; a game remembered for 'that' Gordon Banks save from Pele and a brilliant team goal finished by Jairzinho.

England's confidence had been elevated following their clash against Brazil, with Alan Mullery stating that: "We'd gained a lot of respect from the Brazil game and we'd heard that they expected to play us again in the final."

As a result of the Brazil defeat however, England had to settle for the runners up spot in the group, setting up a harder quarter final against a familiar foe. West Germany had cantered to the top of Group 4 and had an immediate chance to exact revenge for that defeat at Wembley four years ago. 

In a tournament where little seemed to go right for Sir Alf Ramsey's side, the holders were dealt a huge blow the day before the game in Leon. Goalkeeper Gordon Banks was ruled out of the game with food poisoning, meaning that Chelsea's Peter 'The Cat' Bonetti was thrust into the spotlight - in one of only seven times he ever played for his country.

Image by Adam Barnish

Old protagonists for England remained such as skipper Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst, complementing new faces for the game at the Estadio Nou Camp, caped in a searing heat. West Germany meanwhile, had a side laced with the hurt of 1966 in the shape of Franz Beckenbauer and Uwe Seeler, setting up the 1966 World Cup final rematch.

England, donning a familiar red, started the better and took a deserved lead in the 31st minute, courtesy of Mullery's first international goal. The midfielder was picked out with a low cross from right back Keith Newton, before slotting the ball past a helpless Sepp Maier to take the goal advantage into half time.

Things went from good to great for England following the restart, managing to score a second a mere five minutes into the second period. Charlton was afforded too much time on the ball in West Germany's half, and he laid the ball off to a marauding Newton down the right flank. The full back, who caused the Germans problems throughout the game, delivered another low cross from the right, which Martin Peters managed to squeeze home at the far post.

"For an hour it was a joy to be out there," said Mullery, as England seemed to have finally arrived at the World Cup, playing their best football up to this point. Though, you should never right off Die Mannschaft.

(You may also be interested in World Cup Countdown: 12 Weeks to Go - How a Match Between Honduras and El Salvador Started a War)

As a result of England's second, Helmut Schnon made a tactical decision to bring on Jurgen Grabowski, the World Cup's most dangerous substitute, in place Reinhard Libuda. Mullery noted the importance of Grabowski's introduction into the game, stating: "He definitely changed things, coming on to run the bollocks off Terry Cooper who was very tired."

With the game nearing the 70th minute, West Germany had their route back into the game in a moment that stand-in Bonetti would want to forget. Franz Beckenbauer glided into the English penalty area, before his tame effort rolled underneath a hapless Bonetti to halve the deficit.

This goal brought about a second important substitution in the game, seeing an ageing Bobby Charlton replaced by Colin Bell, in a decision that many believed decided the game. Beckenbauer himself said: "In my own mind I was already on the plane home, but Ramsey made a tactical error in calling off Charlton."

By the 82nd minute, Schon's side were level - and it was no more than they had deserved. West Germany's pressure soon told as a hopeful ball in from Karl Heinz Schnellinger was audaciously headed with his back to goal by the captain Seeler, perfectly looping over a statuesque Bonetti to almost inevitably send the game into extra time.

For all the euphoria that existed following their extra time success in 1966, this time it would a taste somewhat bitter as Ramsey and England discovered the agony that exists when a game in extra time is lost. 


With West Germany now appearing to be the stronger of the two sides, it would be in the 108th minute that the final, damning blow was delivered. Substitute Grabowski dug out a deep cross towards the far, which was met by Hannes Lohr. He managed to head to ball back towards the six yard box, leaving the mercurial talent of Gerd Muller with the simple task of nodding home.

That proved to be the final act in what was a pulsating drama, as referee Angel Norberto Coerezza's whistle brought an end to not only the contest, but England's reign as World Cup holders. The jubilation for West Germany would be short lived, as they were knocked out by Italy in the semi final, eventually succumbing 4-3 in another game that was decided in extra time, before going on to beat Uruguay in the third place play-off. 

For England however, it brought an end to a tournament that had been in difficult, uncomfortable and not 1966. The damage felt in Blighty was not just limited to the footballing domain. England's quarter final exit was said to be a major reason behind Labour losing the 1970 General Election, four days after the game in Leon, dumping Harold Wilson out of No. 10 in the process.


Quite simply, the 1970 World Cup had been a wretched tournament for Sir Alf Ramsey's side, a far cry from four years prior. It was a sobering experience for the Three Lions in Mexico as everything that could go wrong seemed to do just that. It felt that during that World Cup, England were a long way from home, in more ways that one. 

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