John Connelly was in the England squad for the 1966 World Cup but was dropped after only one match, missing the final. The former Burnley and Blackburn Rovers winger tells what it was like...
AS he met up with his former England team-mates once more last week, John Connelly could perhaps have been forgiven for feeling a little bitter about 1966 and Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who denied him a chance to play in the World Cup final.
But there is no resentment, and never has been.
Connelly has always known there was a good reason why England triumphed in 1966 – because of Ramsey.
Even at the lowest moment of his career, when Ramsey told him he had lost his place in the starting line-up, the former Burnley and Blackburn Rovers winger had nothing but respect for his manager.
Connelly had arrived at the 1966 World Cup in fine form, impressing in the warm-up matches and earning his place in the team for the opening game against Uruguay.
But he hit the woodwork twice, England were held to a 0-0 draw and that was it. For him, the World Cup ended there.
“Uruguay didn’t come out at all in that game, it was horrendous really,” he recalled of England’s first group match.
“They would mark in zones and there was nowhere to go.
“I had scored two or three on the tour to Scandinavia before the tournament and things were going well for me.
“But I hit the crossbar and the upright. For the second one, Jimmy Greaves pulled the ball back from the by-line and I just got on to it and hit the near post.
“There’s inches between success and failure, and you do sometimes think about, ‘What if?’.
Then came the news that Connelly did not want to hear, but feared may be coming.
He insists, though, that the perception that he failed to adapt to the ‘Wingless Wonders’ system was never quite true.
“People talked about the Wingless Wonders but I was never an out-and-out winger and I was very comfortable playing in a 4-3-3,” said Connelly.
“You could come inside more and that was how you would score more goals.
“I did have a feeling I might be left out because they had the panels in the press, and they were saying that they might leave certain people out and brings others in.
“Alf came up to me and said, ‘I’m leaving you out’.
“I said, ‘You’ve always been fair to me’. He said, ‘I’m not being fair with you, but it’s something I’ve got to do’.
“I was terribly disappointed, because there were no subs in those days so once you were out of the team you were out of it.
“But Alf was the best manager I ever worked with. He was superb as a tactician and he was great in man management.
“The preparation for the World Cup was spot on and things were disciplined.
"Even the biggest names were always wary around him.
“I have met Fabio Capello, although not for long enough to know properly, but he does remind me of Alf in some ways.
“Winning the World Cup was all due to Alf.”
Connelly hoped he may get a recall before the tournament was over, but his watching brief continued all the way to the final against West Germany.
“There was always a chance that someone got injured,” he said.
“Bally (Alan Ball) was left out at the same time as me, but he got back in and became a little hero. Alf never made many changes, though.
“We were all sat in the stand for the final, kicking every ball.
"Of course I would have loved to have been on the pitch, even just as a substitute.
“It was brilliant to win the World Cup and the atmosphere was fantastic, but people do remember the team but not the squad. I accept that.
“I sometimes wonder if it would have been better to have come in for the second game, rather than playing that first one against Uruguay.”
Connelly had joined Manchester United by the time of that World Cup, but had been a Burnley player four years earlier when he travelled to the 1962 tournament in Chile but did not play.
Blackburn Rovers winger Bryan Douglas was preferred.
“I was told afterwards that they felt the South American style was more suited to Bryan,” says Connelly.
The 1966 squad meet up every 12 months - as they did last week in Hertfordshire - and for many years the fact that only the 11 who played in the final received winners’ medals was a subject of conversation.
Connelly, though, finally received his honour from Gordon Brown last June.
“It had been disappointing because they were giving them to the laundry woman, the tea lady and Uncle Tom Cobley, but some of the people who played a game didn’t have one,” he said.
“It was delayed 43 years but it is nice to have it, and I treasure it.
“It’s good to meet up with the players again.
“We played golf and had a laugh about the old times. I still feel part of it.
“I have no regrets. I had a good career. I was very lucky.”