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World Cup 1966: a classic collection

It is probably no surprise that much of the best writing about England's history in the World Cup has been focused on the personalities of the 1966 finals. 

The Sports Bookshelf has picked out five titles as recommended reading -- three autobiographies and three independent studies.

Naturally, autobiographies tend to be written from a subjective viewpoint but a couple from members of the victorious 1966 England team are worthwhile reads.

Geoff Hurst's 1966 and All That published in hardback in 2005 with a paperback released the following spring, delivers an engaging account of how it felt to be a forward with only seven international caps, chosen ahead of the prolific Jimmy Greaves, who suddenly found himself a national hero.

Forthright in his views, particularly about manager Alf Ramsey, Hurst is also strong on period detail, recreating the atmosphere of Britain in the 1960s.

Nobby Stiles also offers something more than rose-tinted memories in his 2004 memoir After the Ball - My Autobiography a bitter-sweet recounting of a life that saw him fall from footballing 'royalty' as the jigging, gap-toothed anti-hero of the 1966 team to a life struggling to make ends meet on the fringes of the game.

It is a story that is pretty bleak at times but which offers some powerful insights and a good deal of dark humour.

Acclaimed sportswriter Jim Lawton, who helped Stiles assemble his memories for After The Ball, was also the collaborator with Sir Bobby Charlton on a two-volume autobiography published in 2007-08, hailed as "unmissable", "unstoppable" and "compelling" by its reviewers and widely regarded as a tour de force.

Volume Two: My England Years covers the 1966 tournament in considerable detail, with some noteworthy observations on the ruthless nature of manager Ramsey and the cold objectivity that left even players of Charlton's stature feeling a constant need to prove themselves in the build-up to the finals.

Charlton's knowledge and authority, combined with Lawton's ability to draw out his subject and add colour, depth and context to his memories, makes for a work of considerable merit.

Leo McKinstry wrote an exceptional work on the Charlton brothers, entitled Jack and Bobby: A story of brothers in conflict which cast light on the deep animosity between the two stars of 1966 of which few were aware at the time.

But it is McKinstry's study of Sir Alf Ramsey that wins this site's recommendation.

Sir Alf, subtitled as "a major reappraisal of the life and times of England's greatest football manager" is as comprehensive as that description, tracing Ramsey's roots, his career as a player and his life after football, when his reputation tended to diminish rather than grow, even though no subsequent England manager has been able to match his success.

McKinstry is a painstaking researcher, prepared to conduct extensive interviews and unearth countless stories, with a willingness to check their authenticity that not every author shares.  Republished in paperback only last month, Sir Alf is a balanced account that seeks not to judge Ramsey but nonetheless offers a sympathetic account that may so some way towards restoring Ramsey to his proper standing in English football history.

Finally, mention should be made of Jeff Powell's portrait of Bobby Moore published a decade ago.  While undoubtedly coloured by his friendship with and affection for Moore, the former Daily Mail football correspondent presents an eloquent account of the career of the man who still holds the distinction of being the only England captain to lift football's most coveted trophy.

Click on these links to order any of the titles:

1966 and All That: My Autobiography
Nobby Stiles: After the Ball - My Autobiography
My England Years: The Autobiography
Jack and Bobby: A story of brothers in conflict
Sir Alf: A Major Reappraisal of the Life and Times of England's Greatest Football Manager
Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero

For more books on football and the World Cup, visit The Sports Bookshelf Shop.

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