Hillsborough, Sheffield, Switzerland and the 1966 World Cup
A shorter article drawn from more detailed research about the impact of the 1966 World Cup in Sheffield

During summer 1966 global attention turned to the Sheffield as the “Steel City” played host to a number of FIFA World Cup matches held at Hillsborough.  New research on the tournament in Sheffield has highlighted the role of Sheffield Wednesday and Hillsborough in hosting the World Cup. 

Sheffield was named as one of the possible venues to host the World Cup at an August 1960 meeting in Rome as England was selected ahead of Germany as the host nation.  The selection of Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground as a host venue was confirmed in 1963 and despite its South Yorkshire location, due to the arrangement of the group stages and regional pairing arrangements, matches at Wednesday would take place as part of the Midlands group alongside Villa Park.  Financial investment saw improvements at Hillsborough which included the installation of a scoreboard, and new Leppings Lane stand saw the ground hailed as the “Wembley of the North”.

The developments at Hillsborough mirrored efforts elsewhere in the city to promote a modern Sheffield that combined industrial heritage and post-war progress, spanning the Park Hill housing developments, a cultural programme that would entertain visitors to the city, tours of the steelworks and exhibitions showcasing Sheffield’s metal manufacturing prowess.

Ultimately, the football matches at Hillsborough would bring mixed success as a sporting showcase and opportunity to showcase Sheffield. Local press reports following the first game held at Hillsborough, a 5-0 West Germany victory over Switzerland, argued the tournament provided “a ticket to Europe for Sheffield”:

“Perhaps for the first time in the history of Sheffield, the city completely lost its parochialism last night. Going to the World Cup match and witnessing the fantastic street scenes afterwards was like taking a ticket to Europe for the evening … many of the banners were those of towns which proclaimed greetings to England and Sheffield. “Fritzlar greets Sheffield” proclaimed one German banner … For the Sheffielders in the crowd it was an evening of great entertainment. And some of the Wednesday fans even started an Owls chant so as not to be outdone…It was a night for Sheffield to remember. It was the night Sheffield came alive. It was the night Sheffield went into Europe. It was the night Sheffield became Europe. And in the memories of many Swiss and Germans, the name of Sheffield will always have many happy associations.”

The local support rallied behind underdogs Switzerland as they looked for the Swiss to be “to Sheffield what North Korea are to Middlesbrough” with the majority of the crowd supporting the underdogs in each of their “home” games at Hillsborough with one newspaper headline declaring the “Gallant Swiss win the Hearts of Hillsborough”. The games at Sheffield, however, lacked the excitement of unlikely triumphs such as the famous North Korea defeat of Italy in Middlesbrough, as the other matches at Hillsborough resulted in the “home” Swiss team completing the tournament without a single point following defeats by Spain and Argentina. The final match to take place in Sheffield brought the clash of two former World Champions, Uruguay and West Germany, with the Germans triumphing 5–0 in a bad tempered affair described as an “afternoon of ripe melodrama” which saw two Uruguayan players dismissed and the team's ill-discipline roundly criticised in the press. 

The full research, entitled “Northernness, Sheffield and the 1966 World Cup: The “Steel City” on Display”, can be found in the International Journal of Regional and Local Historyhttps://doi.org/10.1080/20514530.2017.1400717

Tosh can be contacted at t.warwick@leedsbeckett.ac.uk

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