The 1960s - Sport
Created | Updated Nov 26, 2008
When looking back at great sporting moments from any period - particularly across an entire decade - it can be easy to end up with little more than a series of scores: who won what, where and over whom. But there is more to the story of sport in the 1960s than just win-loss columns. As you would expect in such a turbulent decade, this was a time when sport and politics were at times inseparable. It also brought one of the defining moments of English sport.
That Beautiful Game
Mention the term 'sport in the 1960s' to most English people and one event immediately springs to mind: the 1966 World Cup. Almost everyone knows that tournament gave England its only truly great triumph - a 4-2 win over West Germany - but there was more to that tournament than just the scoreline of the final.
There was the controversial goal that put the hosts in the lead during extra-time which may or may not have actually crossed the line; your opinion probably depending on your nationality. That moment lives on today with 'dodgy' goals referred to in certain quarters as 'Wembley goals'. There was the bruising quarter-final between England and Argentina, after which the England manager labelled the opposition players as 'animals'. And there was the agonising moment when the trophy went missing - to be found in a south-London garden by a dog named Pickles.
The '60s was also the decade when footballers' salaries started to rise. In 1961 the maximum wage for players was set at £20 a week. That cap was abolished and the following year the England captain, Johnny Haynes, who played for Fulham, was earning £100 every week.
The Olympics were held in Rome in 1960, when a young boxer named Cassius Clay won the light heavyweight gold medal. Abebe Bikila won the marathon - running barefoot - to become the first black African Olympic champion. US television coverage helped bring the Olympiad to a global audience, albeit on delay in America itself. The Rome Games were the last to feature South Africa for 32 years, as the IOC banned the country over apartheid. The Olympics went to Asia for the first time in Tokyo in 1964, while the Mexico City Games four years later were the first to be held in Latin America.
It was at those Games that sport and politics combined in an enduring image from the 60s, when US athletes Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos raised their arms in the Black Power salute after receiving their medals. They were swiftly booted out of the Olympic village for their actions. Race relations had been in sharp focus in the lead-up to the Games, with talk of a boycott from African-American athletes demanding equality with whites in sporting opportunities. Those threats were later abandoned, as was an IOC plan to invite South Africa to Mexico. International pressure forced the offer to be rescinded.
Some see there having been a thaw in the Cold War during this time - at least on the sports fields. In contrast to the Stalin years, some athletes were allowed from the early '60s to perform merely against their own physical limits, without also carrying the burden of needing to assert ideological supremacy with their results. Sporting showdowns between the Soviets or East Germany and the USA or UK still had political implications, but so too did those between the USSR and their Communist satellites. A famous example of this rivalry, often more heated than clashes between the superpowers, came at the end of the decade. The USSR was beaten in the 1969 ice hockey world championships in Stockholm by Czechoslovakia, just one year after the Soviet repression of an uprising in that country. The upset win was seen in some quarters as a splendid reversal of fortunes. For others, of course, it was just a game.
This was also the decade cricket became open to the world. In 1965, the Imperial Cricket Conference changed its name to the International Cricket Conference, allowing membership from non-Commonwealth countries for the first time. The body has grown from seven members at the time to today's tally of ten full members with 79 associate or affiliate nations. Formula One racing began its long drive to its current level of technology as changes to car and engine design ushered in a new age on the track. Sponsorship money also started to come rolling in during the 1960s and national colours were replaced on cars by those of the team backers. It is said only one team has retained its original colours to this day - the famous red of Ferrari. The sport produced four British world champions: Jim Clarke (1963, 1965), Graham Hill (1962, 1968), John Surtees (1964) and Jackie Stewart (1969).
Tennis was widely appreciated as well, especially in 1961, when the women's final at Wimbledon was an all-British affair, with Angela Mortimer beating Christine Truman 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 in a close and exciting match. In heavyweight boxing, Henry Cooper became one of the very few men to put Cassius Clay on the deck during a fight in 1963, despite Clay having the overall victory after the referee called a halt in the fifth round.
The decade saw the first regular rugby Tests with southern hemisphere teams. The matches were largely dominated by the Australians, South Africans and New Zealanders, but are perhaps best remembered for the anti-apartheid protests that followed the Springboks wherever they went. Unlike now, there was little to cheer about for English rugby fans in the 60s. To the west, however, there was far more cause for optimism. From 1969 and on through the 70s, Welsh rugby basked in its golden age.
And finally, being the 1960s, moments of deep consequence jostled for attention with the weird and wonderful. In 1960 for instance, American basketball scoring machine Wilt Chamberlain managed to miss all 10 of his free throw attempts in a match his team still managed to win. In 1961 Tottenham Hotspur became the first team to win the double, a week after betting companies were legalised in Britain. A lack of snowfall in the lead-up to the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck meant 25,000 tons of snow had to be carried down from the Alps. In 1966 the glossy magazine Sports Illustrated, famed for its swimsuit editions, featured a man on the cover for the first time. And in 1967 the first Superbowl was held. By all accounts, the match was free from wardrobe malfunctions. Those were the days.