They think it's all over again!

It all started of course with Pickles.

Saturday, 30th July 2016, 12:05 am
England's Geoff Hurst cracks a shot past German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski to score the final goal of the World Cup Final against West Germany at Wembley

The black and white collie that sniffed out the world’s most coveted piece of silverware, stolen by a mystery thief, at the bottom of a garden hedge.

Three months later Pickles would be slurping out of a bowl at Kensington’s plush Royal Garden Hotel, as nearby England’s players toasted this country’s greatest sporting success – unprecedented and, 50 years on, unmatched.

Back then the 16-team tournament was greeted with giddy fanfare but in stark contrast to the modern era, tickets were relatively easy to come by, particularly in the early stages when fans could still grab seats on the day.

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England captain Bobby Moore displays the World Cup trophy whilst being carried by his England colleagues after their 4-2 win against West Germany.

Alf Ramsey’s men also started slowly, grinding out a grim 0-0 draw against Uruguay which left supporters jeering at Wembley and journalists sceptical, with one newspaper headline sneering: ‘Ramsey still thinks his side can win’.

“The Uruguayans came with a blanket defence and just hoped to get a breakaway,” England full-back George Cohen said.

“It was a boring game and we didn’t get a very good press afterwards but Alf was very calm about it.

“He said, ‘We haven’t lost this game. We are still well in the competition’ and he was absolutely right.”

England Captain Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy, followed by hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt

England picked up, beating both Mexico and France 2-0 to finish top of Group One and set up a mouthwatering quarter-final meeting with Argentina.

And it was then that home advantage began to tell.

First, Argentina’s bus got lost en route to a training session at Lilleshall and then the team were denied a mandatory practice at Wembley, conveniently bumped off by a night of greyhound racing.

Another to lose his place was England striker Jimmy Greaves, their most highly-regarded goalscorer, who had struggled for form in the group stages.

England captain Bobby Moore displays the World Cup trophy whilst being carried by his England colleagues after their 4-2 win against West Germany.

When Greaves suffered a knock against the French, Ramsey showed no hesitation in replacing him with the lesser-known Geoff Hurst.

“Jimmy was one of the greatest names in our game at the time and there he was sitting on the bench,” Cohen said.

“But Geoff’s performances proved that what we needed was what we got.”

Hurst scored the winner, a flicked header across the goalkeeper, as Argentina captain Antonio Rattin was controversially sent off and Ramsey ended the match blocking his players from swapping shirts with the opposition, whom he later derided as acting “like animals”.

England Captain Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet Trophy, followed by hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt

The semi-final win over Portugal was more straightforward, Bobby Charlton’s double putting the hosts out of sight before tournament top scorer Eusebio added a late consolation with the last of his nine goals in the tournament.

England now felt unstoppable and it was no surprise when on July 30, 96,924 people attended the final against West Germany which drew a British television audience of 32.3 million.

“There are lots of things that stick in my mind,” Cohen said of the match.

“The amount of people that came out and supported us before we got into the stadium was tremendous – you couldn’t actually get to the gate to go through on the coach. It rather surprised me.

“I remember there was one banner saying ‘Nobby Stiles for Prime Minister’ and he stood a chance didn’t he?”

England were also one of the fittest teams in the tournament.

While other sides maintained a more lacklustre approach to preparation, Ramsey had banned his squad from drinking alcohol two months prior to the competition’s start.

“When Alan Ball got picked after a few games, he said, ‘If you want the shirt back, you will have to tear it off my back’,” Hurst said.

“He was one of the most passionate players and you need that. As well as the individual ability, that team spirit and togetherness is as important an ingredient to any country winning the World Cup.”

Ball was named man of the match in the final as goals from Hurst and Martin Peters meant England led 2-1 until Wolfgang Weber snatched an 89th-minute equaliser, forcing the match to extra-time.

Eleven minutes in Hurst restored England’s lead, his swivel followed by a shot which cannoned down off the underside of the crossbar and, according to an Azerbaijani linesman, crossed the line for one of the game’s most hotly-disputed goals.

England’s most famous, however, was yet to come as Hurst tore away on the counter-attack, with impatient fans running onto the pitch in expectation of the final whistle.

Hurst carried on, blasting a shot high into the net for his third and England’s fourth to secure victory, as BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme bellowed, ‘They think it’s all over…it is now!’

“People ask what it is like to win a World Cup and the first emotion is relief,” Hurst, who received a knighthood in 1998, said.

“People still talk to us all, they tell you they were there and tell you their stories, so you never stop enjoying it. The enjoyment is phenomenal.

“In your own profession it puts you in a different stratosphere if you are one of 11 people who have won it.

“You wait for that moment when the final whistle goes and it’s just, ‘We’ve done it, we’ve got through’.”

Fifty years on, England’s wait continues.