Fifty years ago today I watched England face Brazil in the Mexico 1970 World Cup. The game had everything: that save by Gordon Banks, that tackle by Bobby Moore, that miss by Jeff Astle, that goal by Jairzinho, and the iconic image of Moore and Pelé swapping shirts. But what has happened to the England players in the decades since then?
Sadly, six are now dead, as is manager Alf Ramsey. Bobby Moore died of cancer in 1993 aged just 51. Ramsey died in 1999 with several illnesses, aged 79. Substitute Jeff Astle died in 2002 aged 59, after which an inquiry showed that repeatedly heading heavy footballs could lead to fatal brain damage.
Brian Labone collapsed and died outside his home in 2006 aged 66. Alan Ball died after a heart attack a year later aged 61. Two more England heroes died in 2019: Gordon Banks of cancer aged 81, and Martin Peters after several years with Alzheimer’s disease aged 76.
As well as those who played against Brazil, two of the unused substitutes died in April 2020: Peter Bonetti aged 78 after a long illness, and Norman Hunter a week later aged 76 after contracting coronavirus.
Of the other England players who faced Brazil fifty years ago, Bobby Charlton is now 82, Alan Mullery and Geoff Hurst are 78, Francis Lee is 76, Tommy Wright and Terry Cooper are 75, substitute Colin Bell is 74, and unused substitute Allan Clarke is a youthful 73.
Here is how all of their lives played out after that famous game. My favourite piece of trivia: Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, and Geoff Hurst all went on to play in the League of Ireland.
England’s defence faced a stunning Brazilian forward line of Tostao and the world’s best player Pelé, with Jairzinho on the right and Rivelino on the left, and substitute Roberto replacing Tostao for the last twenty minutes. Jairzinho scored the only goal of the game, on his way to scoring in every game in the tournament.
32-year-old goalie Gordon Banks of Stoke had a great game, making a spectacular save from a Pelé header. He lost an eye in a car crash two years later, after playing 73 times for England. He went on to play for Fort Lauderdale Strikers in Florida and played once for Saint Patrick’s Athletic in the League of Ireland. He managed non-league Telford United before becoming an after-dinner speaker. He died of cancer in 2019 aged 81.
25-year-old right-back Tommy Wright of Everton faced Brazil’s Rivelino and Paulo Cesar during the game. He played eleven times for England before an injury in 1974 caused him to hang up his boots. He went on to work in the Garston docks in Liverpool.
The England centre-halves faced the magic of Pelé and Tostao. 30-year-old Brian Labone had a good game. He stayed at Everton for his entire career, debuting in 1958 and retiring a year after the Mexico World Cup. He played 26 times for England, before working as a guide for guests and visitors at Everton. He collapsed and died outside his home in 2006 aged 66.
29-year-old captain Bobby Moore of West Ham made two superb tackles against Tostao and Jairzinho. He played for England 108 times before moving to Fulham in 1974 where he played alongside Alan Mullery. He played in America before managing Oxford, Eastern AA in Hong Kong, and Southend. He died of cancer in 1993 aged just 51.
25-year-old left-back Terry Cooper of Leeds faced Brazil’s Jairzinho during the game, one of his twenty caps for England. He left Leeds in 1975 and played for Middlesbrough and Doncaster, played for and managed Bristol City and Rovers, and managed Birmingham and Exeter. He ended his career as Southampton’s chief European scout.
England’s midfielders faced dynamic opponents in Brazilian playmaker Clodoaldo with Jairzinho on his right and Paul Cesar and Rivelino on his left.
25-year-old right midfielder Alan Ball of Everton nearly scored twice against Brazil. He played 72 times for England and moved to Arsenal during the early seventies and Southampton during the late seventies. He went on to manage eight clubs including Southampton and Manchester City. He died after a heart attack in 2007 aged 61.
28-year-old central midfielder Alan Mullery of Tottenham man-marked Pelé against Brazil. After Banks made that save against Pelé, Mullery cheekily asked Banks why he didn’t catch it. He played 35 times for England before moving to Fulham two years later, where he played alongside Bobby Moore. He went on to manage Brighton, Charlton, Crystal Palace, QPR, ATM in Malaysia, and Barnet.
32-year-old Bobby Charlton of Manchester United shored up the midfield before being substituted in the second half. He scored 49 goals in 106 games for England. He moved to Preston in 1974, and two years later I saw him play for Waterford against my local club Bohs in the League of Ireland. He went on to manage Preston before becoming a director and football ambassador at Manchester United.
26-year-old left midfielder Martin Peters of Tottenham started well but faded against Brazil. He scored twenty goals in 67 games for England. He went on to play for Norwich and Sheffield United who he also managed. He worked in insurance before working in hospitality with Spurs and his previous club West Ham. He died in 2019 aged 76, after living for several years with Alzheimer’s disease.
England’s forwards faced a sometimes erratic Brazilian defence. Felix was in goal, protected by central defenders Brito and Wilson Piazzo. Captain Carlos Alberto was right-back and Everaldo was left-back.
26-year-old Francis Lee of Manchester City had a good first half before being substituted. He scored ten times in 27 games for England. He moved to Derby four years later, where he had a famous fist fight with Norman Hunter of Leeds. He went on to be a millionaire in paper recycling and took over Manchester City in 1994.
28-year-old Geoff Hurst of West Ham scored 24 goals in 49 games for England, including his famous hat trick in the 1966 World Cup final, but failed to make the same impact against Brazil. He moved to Stoke and West Bromwich Albion, before winding down his career with Cork Celtic in the League of Ireland and Seattle Sounders in America. He managed Telford, Chelsea, and Kuwait SC before working in insurance.
24-year-old midfielder Colin Bell of Manchester City replaced a tiring Bobby Charlton in the second half against Brazil. He played 48 times for England. He stayed with City throughout the seventies, including a two-year gap from playing following a serious knee injury. He played briefly for San Jose Earthquakes before retiring.
28-year-old Jeff Astle of West Bromwich Albion replaced Francis Lee during the second half against Brazil. He played five times for England. He left West Brom in 1974 and wound down his career playing for several non-league teams. He was a regular singer in Baddiel and Skinner’s Fantasy Football show. He died in 2002 aged 59, due to brain damage caused by repeatedly heading heavy footballs.
29-year-old Peter Bonetti stayed on the bench for the game, but played in the quarter-finals as West Germany knocked England out. He played seven games for England and spent the seventies in goal with Chelsea. He went on to be a postman in Scotland and died in 2020 aged 78 after a long illness.
As a nine-year-old child, I was upset that neither of the two Leeds substitutes came on, but 26-year-old defender Norman Hunter came on as a late sub against West Germany. He played 28 times for England and moved from Leeds to Bristol and Barnsley in the late seventies. He went on to manage Barnsley and Rotherham before becoming a radio pundit. He died of coronavirus aged 76 in 2020.
23-year-old striker Allan Clarke of Leeds also stayed on the bench against Brazil, but he scored on his debut in the next game to beat Czechoslovakia. He scored ten goals in 19 games for England, and moved from Leeds to Barnsley in the late seventies before managing Barnsley, Leeds, Scunthorpe, and Lincoln. He later worked as a salesman. I remain convinced that he would have scored the chance that substitute Jeff Astle missed against Brazil!
50-year-old manager Alf Ramsey had already led England to win the World Cup in 1966. He was fired when England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, and he went on to work with Birmingham City and Greek club Panathinaikos. He retired in 1980 to play golf and watch Westerns. He died in 1999 with several illnesses, aged 79.