World football’s oldest governing body returned to its roots yesterday as the Football Association kicked off its 150th anniversary celebrations with many favourite sons and a few familiar old foes.
In a glitzy banqueting hall in a street near London’s Covent Garden, the site of the former Freemason’s Tavern where a group of enlightened gentlemen conceived the FA in 1863, England coach Roy Hodgson was joined at the launch of a year of special events by the great and good of English football.
Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and George Cohen revived memories of England’s win at the 1966 World Cup, while Peter Shilton, the country’s most-capped player, was flanked by England stalwarts Alan Shearer and Trevor Brooking.
Former Germany internationals Oliver Bierhoff and Lothar Matthaeus, who caused England fans plenty of disappointment during their careers, were among the overseas guests, although, thankfully for Shilton, there was no sign of Diego Maradona.
The Argentine’s infamous “hand of God” goal past Shilton at the 1986 World Cup finals failed to make a breathless 150-second video sprint through the organisation’s first 150 years, narrated by young Arsenal and England forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The FA’s recent woes, including its frosty relationship with world governing body Fifa and domestic racism rows, were, not surprisingly, overlooked but it did mark many key moments in the evolution of the “beautiful game” such as the original book of 13 rules, described as the “DNA of the modern game”.
A series of events, including home and away matches against Brazil and a one-off match against Scotland at Wembley in August, will culminate on the FA’s 150th birthday on 26 October, by which time England should know whether they have qualified for next year’s World Cup finals. “The first thing we have to do is qualify for the World Cup, that’s vitally important,” said Hodgson.