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England invoke spirit of 1966

Sydney: It was an age of fragile promise when London was briefly the centre of the universe and everything about England seemed fresh, exciting and vital.

Back in 1966 Time magazine ran a cover article on “Swinging London”, Italian film maker Michelangelo Antonioni captured the fleeting moment in “Blow Up” and England won their first and only soccer World Cup.

Many of the young rebels and trend-setters of those far-off days have died or disappeared. Others have been become part of the establishment they once defied or despised. Mick Jagger still sings and Michael Caine still acts although both are now knights of the realm. Meanwhile, England have subsequently failed to win a tournament of any international significance in any major sport.

The spirit of ’66 is being invoked with increasing fervour by the hordes of white-shirted England rugby supporters who have invaded Sydney this week. Their team is only one match away from winning the World Cup, something beyond either their soccer or cricket counterparts in the past 37 years.

“I still remember the 1966 Cup final,” England coach Clive Woodward said ahead of Saturday’s rugby final against Australia. “I can name the team and the whole thing.

“We’ve got a chance of winning a world tournament and the last team to do that was in ’66. I watched it at home at an airforce base with my Dad and I remember it very, very clearly.”

Under Woodward, England have become the world’s top-ranked rugby union team. Part of that success has come from Woodward’s determination and part of his drive comes from a spell living and working in Sydney.

“It’s those things (like 1966) that drive you on,” he said. “It’s not just the football and the rugby, you want to see England do well.

The boys of 1966 had as captain the modest, handsome Bobby Moore, probably at that time the best defender in the world.

England’s rugby side have the glowering giant Martin Johnson, if not the best lock in the world certainly the most feared.

One link unites the two teams. In 1966 George Cohen played right back for England. On Saturday his nephew Ben is certain to start on the left wing. “He’s given me lots of advice,” said Ben.

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