Throwback Thursday: The New English Football Season Kicks Off (August 20th, 1966)

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Football returns to England this weekend. For some, it’s the end of a long and gloomy purgatory full of cookouts and sunshine and other horrible things that distract us from the football. The Premier League and the Football League are back, and soon we’ll be back to bracingly cold weather and dodgy pies and beer. (Or if you’re in North America, waking up at Oh-God-Thirty in the morning and slurping coffee. And possibly beer.) A life lived to the rhythms of English football is a life well-lived.

To celebrate the first matchday of the 2015-16 season, we take a look back at another season opener— West Ham vs Chelsea, August 1966.

The opening clash at Upton Park featured four players from the England squad who won the World Cup the month before, including West Ham stalwarts captain Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst, the latter of whom scored the famous hat trick in the final against West Germany. Chelsea boasted reserve England keeper Peter Bonetti, who, as you’ll see in the video, put in a Man of the Match performance.

Though it was supposed to be a day of celebration, both for the start of the new season and for West Ham’s returning World Cup winners, Chelsea managed to ruin the party. The Blues took the lead in the first half when John Hollins scored off a free kick. West Ham fought back and leveled the score in the second half thanks to midfielder Ronnie Boyce. But it wasn’t enough to secure a result, and Chelsea’s Charlie Cooke netted the gamewinner from outside the box. West Ham tried their hardest to get at least a point out of the match, but Bonetti was having none of it.

The Hammers succumbed to Chelsea 2-1, their first stumble in what turned out to be a difficult season for the club. They finished the 1966-67 campaign in 16th place, only seven points clear of the relegation zone. Chelsea did better that season, earning a comfortable 9th place finish.

But on that bright afternoon in East London, neither team knew what the season had in store for them. Either team could have won the league. Either team could’ve been sent down to the second division. That’s part of the beauty of English football. For all the season previews and predictions you’ve read so far, no one really knows what’s going to happen. For all we know, Arsenal could get relegated while Aston Villa qualifies for the Champions League (that’s not going to happen). We might be able to make some very educated guesses about what the table will look like in May, but, in the end, that’s all they are—guesses.

Right now, today, the new Premier League season is just a horizon-less expanse of possibility. Anything can happen. This is the night before Christmas, and the presents are already under the tree but they’re still wrapped. Anything could be in those boxes. We’ll get to open them soon enough, but for right now, the house is quiet and still and the gifts are sitting there, undisturbed.

This Saturday, the ball starts rolling and the clock starts ticking.

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