I wonder whether my husband, Alan, and I are the only Pittsburghers who were in the old Wembley Stadium in London on that most hallowed day in English history — July 30, 1966 — when England won the World Cup by beating West Germany in the final.
We were Londoners then and shared in the huge excitement felt by everyone in England, the host country, as our team won game after game and edged nearer to the final.
My mother and I visited a couple of our dear old aunties the weekend of the quarter-final. To our amazement they asked, no, told us, very sweetly, that after tea we would all watch The Match. They’d rented a television (their first) for the games and were as fanatical as everyone else.
Our family watched the semifinal on our own television, and my husband claims that when England scored, I tossed our baby son in the air. (I definitely don’t remember that, but anyway, I must have caught him.)
The television view of the game then was far different from what it is now. In 1966 the picture was small, black and white and sometimes blurred. We enjoyed every minute. But there’s still no thrill like being part of the crowd at a special match.
Eusébio, a graceful, brilliant, handsome player from Portugal, was one of the heroes of the earlier rounds, leading his team to victory over the remarkable North Korea team after being down 0-3. I was sad to learn that he died six months ago.
North Korea beat Italy, and we were thrilled when an Italian colleague of Alan’s sold us his tickets to the final. England beat Portugal in the semi and went to the final against West Germany, and we were there! It was a thrilling match, tied up until, in extra time, England scored a goal that has been fiercely argued ever since. The ball hit the crossbar at the top of the goal and bounced down behind the goal line. West Germany claimed it didn’t. But of course it did! I saw it! We won!
Alan was a lifelong fan of football, or “soccer” as we soon learned to call it here. He inherited the love from his father, who, on the last day of his life, named every member of the team from his hometown, Barnsley, which won the FA Cup (England’s top sporting trophy) in 1912. Alan played at school and college, coached youth soccer for several years, passed his soccer nuttiness on to his sons and now is glued to the current competition.
I regret that when I was at school there was no girls soccer, (we played field hockey, a much more violent game), so I began my association as a soccer mom, helping to set up the first soccer program in the small Connecticut town we’d emigrated to. I served the children’s game in various capacities for many years.
I love the game. I admire the courage and skill of players, the discipline and unselfishness they learn, the physical fitness the game engenders, the fact that athletes of all sizes can play and succeed. The way that a referee’s decisions are accepted, perhaps after intense argument, is how I wish nations would accept disagreements — instead of going to war. “Some you win, some you lose” isn’t a bad philosophy.
There have been many wonderful soccer memories in my life, not just of kicks and goals but moments of beauty. We were at Pelé’s final game in the United Sates, when, during the concluding ceremonies, he walked across the field to meet a small child who seemed to have gotten lost, picked him up and held him gently through the presentations.
I love the exultation of victory, the pride I’ve felt for my children and grandchildren when they’ve won and even greater pride when they’ve played well but been able to accept defeat with grace. (Yes, parents of young soccer nuts — this will happen!) And I will never forget the U.S. and Iranian teams, when they were drawn to play against one another in the 1998 Cup in France. It was a tense time in world affairs, and the media made much of the conflict that might ensue. But the Iranian team members presented flowers to the U.S. players, and both teams showed respect and friendship to one another in the pregame ceremonies. (It was a good match but, alas, Iran won.)
My family has given me many great soccer memories over the years, including son David on the 1981 Mt. Lebanon squad, which won PIAA, and the Colorado high school team he coached to win that state’s championship in 2012. Now some of our grandchildren are enjoying playing the game and becoming very skilled.
When we came to America in 1970, we soon realized that there were very few adults here who’d played soccer. Boys grew up throwing and catching balls, not kicking them. That’s probably why many of the first North American players to break into the world’s favorite sport at the very highest level were goalkeepers. The amazing performance by the U.S. goalie, Tim Howard, in the game against Belgium was a great example. The United States lost that game in overtime, but proved that in just a couple of generations, we have gone from soccer neophytes to the top ranks of soccer nations. America also dominates the world of women’s soccer, which gives me particular pleasure.
It’s been a wonderful World Cup so far.
Hazel Cope (email@example.com) is a London native and retired nurse who has lived in Mt. Lebanon since 1980. After the World Cup ends, she will be cheering for granddaughter Emily Cope’s under-16 soccer team, which has qualified for the Elite Teams National Championship in Richmond, Virginia.