“1966 and all that….”

This post was contributed by James Fisk, graduate administrator at the School of Business, Economics and Informatics. On 31 May, James attended the Sport Business Centre’s event, ‘1966 and All That: A Cultural & Social Reflection on England’s World Cup Victory’.

The Queen presents the 1966 World Cup to England Captain, Bobby Moore (National Media Museum @Flickr Commons)

The Queen presents the 1966 World Cup to England Captain, Bobby Moore (National Media Museum @Flickr Commons)

As Europe looks forward in anticipation to this summer’s Euro 2016 tournament, Sports Management masters student Leslie Crang invited academics, students and fans to consider the enduring legacy of England’s biggest footballing victory, the 1966 World Cup.

The 30th July 2016 will represent 50 years since England won the biggest prize in international football, an event that captured the imagination of not only football fans, but of an entire nation, a nation for whom the next 50 years would see significant political and cultural transformation.

The event, held at Birkbeck’s Bloomsbury campus, traced the impact of the World Cup win and its influence on life since; from the rise of commercialism in football and its attendant celebrity culture, to the challenges of articulating national identity in the wake of decolonisation and significant social change.

The audience were also treated to an exploration of cultural artefacts from the win, such as the first ever football song ‘World Cup Willie’, whose eponymous cartoon Lion helped England supporters sing ‘He’s tough as a lion and never will give up’.

Speaking at the event, Director of the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, Sean Hamil said: “It’s a great chance to bring people together to talk about the win not only as a sporting event, but their own experiences of the cup and the way in which it has influenced their own lives and those around them.”

The shadow of 1966’s legacy

A diverse and engaged audience shared a wealth of differing experiences, from those that have grown up in the shadow of 1966’s legacy, to those who were there at the time. In an open discussion that benefitted from Birkbeck’s burgeoning international cohort, perspectives from Germany, India, Guyana and Nigeria enriched the lively debate and alluded to the global importance of the cup and its ability to influence domestic and international politics, society and identity.

With the EU ‘Brexit’ referendum due to take place on the 23rd June 2016, consideration was made to the potential impact of sport as a vehicle for resurgent nationalism and of its possible influence on the forthcoming referendum. Indeed, there has been some debate as to the influence of 1966’s victory on British politics and the cup’s ‘feel good’ factor; Labour’s win at the 1966 general election followed England’s triumphant victory over West Germany, whilst a loss four years later at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, also against West Germany, saw Labour lose the 1970 general election.

The final England group game will take place on the 20th June against Slovakia and, as the England team fight to keep themselves in Euro 2016, the nation will head to the polls three days later to decide its own European fate. Coincidence or not, the close proximity of the two major national events will undoubtedly play a role in shaping the future of England over the next 50 years.

The event served as precursor for a one-day academic symposium, hosted by Senate House Library on the 3rd June, exploring how England’s triumph in the 1966 World Cup marked a turning point for role of sport, and in which Leslie Crang presented his fascinating work. Birkbeck’s Sport Business Centre offers a wealth of courses exploring the world of sport.

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