Sir Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, Jack Charlton, George Cohen and Norman Hunter were all at Elland Road for a celebratory dinner to mark the upcoming 50th anniversary of England’s World Cup triumph.
It was an unashamed night of nostalgia, as those present took a stroll down memory lane to relive that glorious day at Wembley when the Three Lions roared and the country celebrated sitting atop the football world.
Since then, of course, it has been slim pickings for the national team. There was one semi-final appearance in Italia ’90 and then an equally thrilling run to the last four of the European Championships on home soil six years later. Those apart, though, it has been 50 years of hurt.
Contrast that with the record of the beaten finalists in 1966. As West Germany until 1990 and then Germany following reunification, they have lifted no less than three World Cups and three European Championships in the past 50 years.
Germany have also finished as runners-up three times in both the World Cup and Euros, while the semi-finals of the two tournaments have been reached a further five times since England’s solitary day of glory.
Such a contrasting record should shame the game in this country, especially as it is unlikely to be improved from a Three Lions perspective this summer in France with some at the FA having already hinted that a quarter-final appearance would be a decent performance by Roy Hodgson’s men.
Germany, meanwhile, will be looking to add the Euro 2016 title to the World Cup that was won in Brazil two years ago.
So, where did we go so wrong and how did the Germans get it so right? One man qualified to give his assessment is Huddersfield Town head coach David Wagner, who, after a 15-year playing career spent exclusively in his home country, moved into coaching at Hoffenheim and then Borussia Dortmund before heading to England last November.
“I think a lot is down to experience,” Wagner – who worked under good friend Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund, where he was in charge of the club’s second team – told The Yorkshire Post while chatting at the club’s Canalside training complex.
“If you have that experience of winning titles and being in finals, you are more confident. Sometimes, there is luck involved but experience counts for a lot.
“I think if you know what you have to do, you don’t feel the pressure. Everyone likes to win games, of course. But if you are 100 per cent sure of what you have to do then the pressure does not arrive. In Germany, they know what has to be done.”
Wagner’s point on past experience is valid. But it does no t solely account for the huge disparity at international level between two countries who go head-to-head tonight in Berlin as part of their preparations for Euro 2016.
Instead, all manner of theories abound as to why Germany enjoy continued success. These range from a strong domestic culture where clubs, who must be 51 per cent owned by supporters, are willing to work with the national Federation on coaching, through to youth development and the encouraging of a dynamic style of play.
There is also a collective vision within German football that is light years away from the ‘me first’ mindset of the Premier League, where success for the national team seems very much of secondary importance compared to the clubs’ own pursuit of glory.
Even when Germany has suffered a rare failure at the big tournaments – such as when crashing out of the group stages in Euros 2000 and 2004 – decisive action has been the order of the day, something that Wagner feels has massively helped his home country.
“In terms of the recent success, everything changed after Euro 2000,” said the 44-year-old about a tournament in which even a limited England led by Kevin Keegan beat the Germans.
“It was the key moment in developing the good, German youth players of today. Now, we have what we started 15 to 16 years ago.
“After the disappointment of Euro 2000, there was a will to create the youth academies and a will from every club to make sure there were enough good coaches with quality. That had to be a key part in our future.
“We had to make sure the quality was better, especially for the youth teams. Berti Vogts set all this out, he saw the managers and coaches as the key.
“This was one key point of his plans and I think we now have a lot of good, interesting players as well as managers and coaches.
“We also started the Bundesliga for Under-19s teams. Then, later a Bundesliga for Under-17s teams. That, along with the development of the Academies, was vital.
“My coaching career was a little bit different to normal. I was not really mainstream. After I hung up my boots, I started to study sports science and biology. I did this for five years.
“I dropped totally out of football in this time. I went to University, finished my diploma and then I came back to football and joined the normal manager career path that had been developed.
“I finished my UEFA Pro Licence in this first year as well and then started as Under-19s coach at Hoffenheim. Then, the second team coach and then I joined Dortmund.”
A clear, structured development plan was not just set in stone for coaches and managers but players, too. The upshot is the glass ceiling that can exist in England once a player reaches 18 or 19 being far less evident in Germany.
Where England’s budding talents – and they are there, as was proved by the Under-17s winning the European Championships two years ago – find their own path blocked by Premier League clubs preferring instead to bring in big-money signings from overseas, the likes of Manuel Neuer, Mesut Ozil and Sami Khedira made the seamless transition from youth football to the seniors thanks to the talent development programme pioneered by the German Federation.
Wagner finds this reluctance to give youth a chance puzzling. “In Germany,” he said, “if you get a problem with injuries and suspension so you are missing your right-back then you turn to the Academy and take the right-back.
“Very often, those youngsters use their chance. If you don’t try people, you don’t know what they can do.
“In England, it is different. Sometimes, you have to be brave as a manager. Also in Germany, the second team plays in a real competition. For example, my Dortmund second team played in the Bundesliga equivalent of League One.
“We played against massive clubs like Dynamo Dresden with crowds of 30,000 in the stadium. We played competition with the pressure of promotion and relegation. That experience for 18, 19, 20 year old players is invaluable and they get a big benefit from this.
“In England, it is different. The Under-21 teams only play against Under-21s teams. To be honest, all the games I have seen from my Under-21 team here is good quality. But the experience is not the same.”
A story of football dominance ...
TONIGHT’S friendly in Berlin pits perhaps the biggest under-achievers on the international stage against the most ruthlessly successful side in Europe.
England, with one World Cup and a couple of semi-finals to their name, have a wretched record at major tournaments, whereas Germany’s record reads like a roll-call of success.
First crowned world champions in 1954 as West Germany after defeating Hungary, who just a year earlier had so famously embarrassed the Three Lions at Wembley, they went on to lift football’s biggest prize a further three times.
Those successes in 1974 (beating the much-admired Holland side captained by Johan Cruyff), 1990 (Diego Maradona’s Argentina) and 2014 (Lionel Messi’s Argentina) mean only Brazil with five triumphs boast more.
Germany, though, have featured in more World Cup finals (eight) than any other country.
Their record in the European Championships is equally impressive with triumphs in 1972 (beating the Soviet Union), 1980 (Belgium) and 1996 (Czech Republic).
Germany were also runners-up in 1976, 1992 and 2008. Only Spain, with a win ratio of three from four appearances in the final, can match this tally of Euro successes.
Contrast that with England’s sole World Cup triumph and those semi-final defeats against West Germany in Italia ’90 and the reunified Germany six years later in Euro ’96 and it is a damning indictment on the country that famously claims to have introduced football to the world.