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The Latin American Conspiracy at the 1966 World Cup! (Published for Box to Box Magazine)

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

Many people know a great deal about the 1966 World Cup. With the image of Bobby Moore, the trophy at Wembley, Geoff Hurst's infamous goal and the line of “They think it’s all over, it is now”.

Despite the nostalgia attached to the 1966 World Cup, not everyone has such a rosy view of the tournament. Many Latin American teams believed that the officiating in the tournament was overly kind toward to European nations. This had led to resentment from many Latin teams toward England’s famous victory.

The notion that the tournament officiating was not up to scratch came from one of the poster boys of the competition. Pelé did not enjoy the tournament and he vowed to never play in the World Cup again and only play for his club team Santos after a string of bad challenges he received in all his games (a vow he eventually broke four years later).

The Bulgarian boss, Brazil’s first group opposition, said that their rough handling of Pelé would be a tactic he expected other teams to use. This proved true, Pelé was injured after the first game, missing the second and spent much of the third being booted – without reprise from the officials – meaning his and Brazil’s tournament ended abruptly. The officials that oversaw Brazil’s games were all European, two English and a West German. If the aim had been to remove the greatest player of the planet from the tournament, it worked. Pelé's international ‘retirement’ was blamed on football changing from ‘an art’ to ‘an actual war’. Although he did not follow through with his threat, much like Messi’s ‘retirement’ in 2017, it does say a lot about his opinion of refereeing that summer.

Countless examples have been listed from the South American teams stating that the English organisers were deliberately interrupting their plans and schedules for an advantage on the pitch. The main issue was around refereeing. In the quarter-final, Uruguay had two men sent off, their captain for a bad tackle who then also slapped one of the German players on his way off the pitch. The second player was also sent off for another bad tackle, he then kicked the referee on his way off the pitch leading to a six-game ban.

There were South American officials ready to referee this game. However, when selecting the officials for the quarter-final, both had been told to meet at 19:00. They both arrived to the news that they were late and the awarding of referees to each game was done without them, leaving an Englishman to oversee the Uruguay game.

It appeared that any advantage that the English could get, they would take. Each nation participating in the game was only allowed two photographers, yet England were permitted fourteen at every game. Due to many foreign fans not being able to fly over to watch the games this seriously hampered with how they could report the matches to people back home. Causing one journalist from Jornal do Brasil to say, “The greed and lack of organisation of the English is evident everywhere”. One journalist from Mexico said he would “go to the Queen, if necessary” to stop the unfair treatment of foreign journalists who were staying in university accommodation.

When England faced Argentina in the quarter-final, it was a West German who was officiating following the Latin American referees being ‘late’ for the meeting. Argentine captain Antonio Rattín was sent off shortly after the awarding of a harsh free-kick against his side. Despite the referee not being able to speak his language, he had enough of his complaining towards him and sent him off. The game was then delayed for eight minutes when he refused to leave the pitch stating he needed an interpreter. The Argentina captain said the “referee played with an England shirt on”.

When the game ended, England manager Alf Ramsey stopped one his players swapping shirts with the 'animal' Argentinian player. The event continued with several Argentinians attacking the referee, spitting at the FIFA vice-president, urinating on a chair and throwing it in the England dressing room, attacking the team bus and squeezing an orange segment in someone’s face. The Argentinian FA spokesman said their actions were 'provoked by the referee'. In Italy it was reported as a scandal with 'too much favouritism for the English team'.

Tempers were so high toward FIFA and England that the Argentinian FA began discussions to leave FIFA and host their own competition. When their squad returned home they were greeted as heroes.

It was generally believed by the host nation that England's World Cup win was received positively all around the world. Yet in Bolivia a report said England has tarnished their reputation for chivalry and fair play in return for a football trophy. England refused to comment in the hope that the story would dissipate. However, Patrick Fairweather, from the foreign office in Rome, wrote a 'good way to damage international relations is to have a really big sporting competition'.

Some of those poor decisions are still available to view today, many who saw them at the time would have realised they were overly harsh. However, England went on to win the tournament and much of this has vanished into history. Only once the footage is viewed again, in conjunction with the reams of anti-English opinion following the tournament, it becomes clear that there must have been some truth in the accusations. It could be true that South American teams simply underperformed that tournament, but that seems all too convenient.


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