A Ball's Bearing
After England's disappointing 1-1 tie with Switzerland on June 8 in the first round of soccer's European Championship, spoon-bending psychic Uri Geller suggested that team members rub the ball England used in its 1966 World Cup final victory over West Germany for good luck. Some players did, which apparently helped, because England beat Scotland 2-0 last Saturday to advance to the quarterfinal.
And so, after three decades, the ball (being kissed by England's Geoff Hurst, hero of the '66 game, in inset photo) is back in play. It had been all but forgotten until early this year, when English soccer officials and media decided to track the ball down for the celebration of the 30th anniversary of England's only Cup championship.
The ball turned up in the cellar of J�rgen Haller, 34, an insurance salesman in Augsburg, Germany, whose father, Helmut, played on the '66 West German team. When the title game at London's Wembley Stadium ended, he grabbed the ball, got some signatures on it (Pel�'s among them) and gave it to J�rgen for his fifth birthday.
"My first thought was, Sure, I'll give the ball back, I don't need it," says J�rgen. "But then there were so many journalists chasing us with helicopters." After courting offers from media outlets, J�rgen sold the ball to London's Daily Mirror for an undisclosed amount. The rest of the English press promptly roasted him for being greedy and labeled his father a thief. "I didn't steal the ball," says Helmut. "I was the last one to have my foot on it when the match ended."
While the British press lambasted the Mailers (one London Observer headline referring to J�rgen read HALLER HAS GOT ONLY ONE BALL), the German media recalled that the ball had been involved in the most hotly disputed goal in German soccer history. Early in overtime of the 1966 Cup final, England took a 3-2 lead on a shot by Hurst that was ruled a goal, though replays show that the ball hit the upright and bounced away. England went on to a 4-2 win and to this day the phrase "Wembley Tor" (Wembley goal) is used in everyday German to mean "illegitimate" or "unfairly gotten."