In keeping with the triviality of a major birthday milestone I thought I would seek out and identify things that turned 50 in 2016 or for which 1966 was a significant year and how these related to me, if at all.
First on the list is England winning the World Cup in football, or as Americans call it. Soccer.
I have never been much of a football fan. Yes, I played it at school, in a defensive position but really it was never something that represented a significant interest or pursuit.
However, England winning the game in 1966 was an event of some significance and the British “England Winners” stamp of 1966 has a particularly interesting story.
England were hosts to the football World Cup in 1966, and, as England happened to win beating out Germany in the final. A set of three stamps was issued ahead of the event. The 1966 World Cup is the only trophy the England football team had ever won. Even today the win remains England’s greatest ever achievement in international football. Fifty years later and the national side are still trying to get their hands on their second piece of major silverware.
1966 was a much smaller tournament than the modern-day World Cup. Only 16 teams competed. Not all of the games were televised.
The plan was for all of the games in England’s group to be staged at Wembley stadium.
However, France v Uruguay was due to be staged on a Friday. This clashed with the regular Greyhound Meeting. So the World Cup game had to be moved because Greyhound racing was deemed more valuable as an event.
FIFA’s original plan was that the 15 nations from Africa and the Middle East would take part but in a segregated set of rounds. Three winners would play in a group with the winners of the Asia/Oceania contest for one spot at the finals. Angry at not having a direct route guaranteeing an African team at the finals – African nations collectively withdrew in protest.
After England won on July 30, the Post Office decided to commemorate the victory with the issue of a special stamp, and simply re-issued the existing four-penny stamp inscribed “ENGLAND WINNERS” added to the plain white area at the top.
A common misconception is that this stamp was an overprint on an existing stamp whereas in fact this was an entirely new printing. The stamp went on sale on 18 August. The Post Office had made it known that this new stamp would be issued in smaller numbers than the normal issue. This resulted in excitement and speculation.
When the London Trafalgar Square post office put them on sale, they sold out quickly, and word spread. Queues at virtually every post office in England (but not in Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland). None of the other British teams made it through qualification. Demand for the stamps exceeded supply and quickly exhausted stock at most post offices.
Scarcity kicked in and extreme prices started to be asked – and paid. Within days, people were paying forty-five times over face value per stamp. Sheets were reputedly even quoted on the London Stock Exchange!
Many people, viewing their investment as of great value, held out longer. Many collectors who would normally have kept a single example for their collection bought multiples or sheets. People soon realized that these stamps were not as scarce as they thought and the prices started to fall. Incredibly, even a forgery of the stamp exists!
I remember having both but finding the ENGLAND WINNERS version hard to find in a genuinely used – hardly any surprise when you realise the history.
You can now pick them up for about the cost of posting a letter.
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