We all know England and Argentina have always had a strained relationship both in and out of football. Many feel that the war in the Falklands in the early 80s was the event that heightened the rivalry between them sporting wise along with the following Hand of God incident but the mutual loathing had existed long before that match in 1986. A shame really considering it was the English that had introduced the game to Argentina in the 1860s with a Scot, Alexander Watson, starting the Argentine Football Association some years later.
Argentina was also the first team apart from Scotland to play England at Wembley so what happened to cool the relationship? Well, their quarter final clash in 1966 may have been the beginning of the start of a hostile relationship between the sides football wise that continues to this day. To get to this stage England had won their group despite an initial slow start as hosts with Argentina coming through a tough group as runner up with eventual finalist West Germany winning the group.
From the start, the game was a hack-fest with three Argentine players booked in the early stages yet English players also retaliating were not reprimanded by the West German ref. The game reached flashpoint when the Argentine captain Antonio Rattin was given a second yellow some 35 minutes in to the game for what would be deemed by the referee as ‘violence of the tongue’ following one of his players being hacked down. This was strange considering Rattin spoke no English, the ref spoke no Spanish and Rattin was seen to be pointing to his captain’s armband and trying to call for the interpreter so he could complain about the tackle by the book.
To say Rattin took the red card well would be rather inaccurat. The towering Boca Junior midfielder claimed that this was another example of Latin American sides being deliberately eliminated from the tournament by an English-German conspiracy. He may have had a point as Uruguay claimed the same thing after their controversial loss to West Germany in another quarter final. What exacerbated this claim was the chief of referees, an Englishman, coming on to the pitch to calm down Rattin and get him off the pitch. Eventually police came on to the pitch and escorted Rattin off.
Rattin wasn’t done though. After being taken off the pitch and out of the care of police he decided (as a final insult perhaps) to petulantly sit on the red carpet reserved only for the Queen to walk on next to the pitch rather than walk around to the players’ entrance. This had the crowd of almost 90,000 now hit a new level of decibels of booing and abuse.
The police came back and escorted Ratting around to the tunnel with the crowd throwing all manner of missiles. Ratting thought this was great and every now and then picked up any kind of food that he couldn’t get in Argentina such as chocolate bars. He was to say years later that you couldn’t get Mars Bars and the like in Argentina so was taking the opportunity to try some back in the change rooms if they were being thrown at him.You couldn’t say he wasn’t open to new experiences.
England eventually won the game 1-0 thanks to a Geoff Hurst goal that (to make matters even worse) seemed to include a very lucky offside decision, which had the Argentinean press labeling the whole match ‘el robo del siglo’ (the theft of the century). After the game England coach Alf Ramsey told his players to not swap shirts ‘with those animals’ because of their supposed roughhouse tactics including pulling underarm – a Kevin Muscat special some years later. Some English players admitted in interviews years later years that if not for their decision to go the hack Argentina may well have beaten them as they were a superior side than them at the time. History shows, of course, England going all the way through to victory in the final.
The hostilities continued with the sides facing each other only three times in the next 20 years. Argentina finally got their revenge in 1986 when Diego Maradona’s magic and help from an alleged higher power knocked England out at the same stage. The antipathy still continues today but this moment in 1966 was where it all literally kicked off for one of the big rivalries in World Cup Football.