LIVERPOOL legend Ian Callaghan will raise a glass to absent friends when he sees England in their first grand final in 55 years tonight.
Callaghan is one of only nine survivors out Alf Ramsey’s 22-man squad that won the World Cup in 1966.
The 79-year-old did not play in the 4-2 win in extra time against West Germany at Wembley Stadium, but played his part at the beginning of the tournament.
The longest-serving player in the Reds has long been waiting for a new generation of English stars to end his country’s long wait for success.
« That brings back memories of 1966, of course, » said Callaghan, who was in the 1966 Played group stage against France. “I will raise a glass to you and hopefully a celebratory glass to the players who will win us the Euro 2020.
“ The guys from 1966 were a tight-knit group. We were 22 players always together and to this day they are always with me. I feel like this current roster is a bit like that.
« When you consider that we had to put up with this Covid thing for so long and until recently there weren’t really any crowds at games, it’s just great to look forward to something like that. «
The path to England’s two big finals was remarkably similar, with two wins and one draw in the group stage and no goals conceded to the semi-finals.
Callaghan added: » You got better with every game and that dynamic is so important in a tournament. We started a little slowly in 1966, but we still won and that builds your confidence. When you’ve reached this stage, just look forward to it.
« We haven’t had the best times against the Germans since 1966, so a few demons were cast out to beat them.
» The final is going to be very tight, very tight. The Italians never reveal much. But this English team believes in themselves and they have always said they can make it to the final. Now you have the last step – the biggest of them all – but you can definitely take it.
« I just hope there won’t be a penalty shoot-out. I saw Italy win the semi-finals and I was so sorry for Spaniard Dani Olmo who shot his shot over the bar and it is horrible that he will be more remembered for that than his excellent performance at Final.
« I don’t want that to happen to anyone in the final, especially England, because none of their players deserve to have that over themselves.
» Harry Kane showed that at the 2018 World Cup he can score goals on the big stage and he does it again. He’s a great goalscorer and while he wasn’t very much in some games, he comes with the stuff.
« Raheem Sterling had a very good tournament but you could pull all the guys off and it’s the same. They play as a team, as a squad. «
Callaghan says the build-up of anticipation and anticipation reflected 1966, but on a much larger scale.
» We were based in London then, but you has a sense of the excitement across the country, ”he added. “Everyone’s talking about it, and it’s all over TV and in the newspapers. You can’t escape him.
« Before the 1966 finale, we passed Golders Green without a fuss and looked around the clothing stores. Back then it was a different time without social media, but just like now, we knew everyone was desperately hoping we’d win. «
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