How Goodison Park Lost a World Cup Semi-Final

There were eight stadiums used in four different regions across the country for the 1966 World Cup. These were Goodison Park, Old Trafford, Ayresome Park, Roker Park, Hillsborough, Villa Park, White City Stadium and Wembley. Wembley, unsurprisingly, was the home ground of England and was due to hold the Final. England, of course, went on to win the tournament and sent the country into a frenzy of celebration. However, when Goodison Park had its privilege of hosting England’s semi-final taken from them, it is understandable that the victory was tainted for some from within Liverpool.

The No.2 ground

Goodison was given the accolade of being the ‘No. 2 ground’ for the World Cup in 1966. Meaning that only Wembley would host more games, and that should England reach the semi-final, Goodison would host the game. This was a huge accolade for Goodison Park and the city of Liverpool. Goodison was the second biggest stadium, behind only Wembley, with an average of 54,000 fans at each game in the tournament. This was due to its redevelopment where there was ‘an almost complete transformation’ before the tournament.

Be that as it may, the decision was taken by FIFA that the England vs. Portugal semi-final should be held at Wembley instead of Goodison Park. This led to outrage across Merseyside with fans complaining that they had been betrayed. Goodison had never officially been awarded England’s semi-final, rather the winner of quarter final one and quarter final three. And this turned out to be England against Portugal. Yet, even this was never officially announced. In the World Cup handbook, it said that the hosts of the semi-final games would be announced closer to the match when the teams were decided. The decision was taken by FIFA for Wembley to host England’s semi-final as it would attract a bigger crowd than the other game, West Germany vs. USSR. This proved true as over fifty thousand more fans spectated the Wembley match than the Goodison tie.

A boycott on Merseyside

These statistics do not consider the many fans that did not want to attend the game, as they felt let down. Indeed, many of those who had already pre-purchased tickets chose not to attend. 62,000 fans attended the Goodison Park game of Portugal against Brazil in the group stages of the competition, but only 43,000 attended the semi-final. This proves to be an unusual statistic, it is fair to assume that ordinarily the semi-final would attract a bigger crowd than a group game, due to the larger magnitude of the match. It should be noted that the group game featured Pelé and Eusébio, two of the best-known footballers of the time which may be a reason for the large crowds. Anyhow, Merseysiders felt let down and many voiced their anger by boycotting the semi-final.

Those who did attend protested the decision made by FIFA. There were homemade banners reading “Down With FIFA”, “England Fix Insults Liverpool” and “England Snubs Liverpool”. John Moores, Everton’s Chairman, commented that he had been led to believe that should England reach the semi-final they would host the game,  and John Hughson denotes that this helped to stoke this fury amongst fans.

What should have been a period of celebration for English and Merseyside football ended rather sourly. Harry Catterick had delivered Everton the FA Cup that year, and Liverpool won the First Division. The prospect of a World Cup Semi-Final involving the England team taking place at Goodison Park would have made Merseyside very proud, and particularly Everton supporters. However, what could have been a crowning moment for football in Liverpool was slightly tarnished. Whether the fault lies with FIFA or the English FA is irrelevant as the disappointment felt across Merseyside was palpable, nationwide.

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