What was the first World Cup you can recall watching?
That was 1958, Sweden against Brazil, and watching a young footballer play for Brazil who was 17 years of age. I was the same age as him and I said to myself ‘I’d love to do that, to play in a World Cup finals’ and that was the start of a dream, to see that 17-year-old boy score two goals for Brazil in that game, a fella called Pele. At the same time, I was playing professional football for Fulham. All my friends from where I was born in Notting Hill were good boxers, good cricketers but none of them turned out to be top-class footballers, except me. To play for a side like Fulham in my early career and then come to somewhere like Tottenham and play in front of 60,000 was a dream come true. To think about it now, so many years later, I lived that dream I had when I was 17, watching Pele.
Who were the stars you remember from that tournament?
For England, the likes of Johnny Haynes, who was brilliant, Tom Finney, Derek Kevan, a big centre-forward who played for West Brom. I played against him two years later, he hit me and it felt like I’d broken in half! Wales did well in Sweden as well and you think about the likes of Ivor Allchurch, Len Allchurch and the great John Charles, he was one of my big heroes, and of course Cliff Jones. When a World Cup came around every four years, you were suddenly watching all these great players from all over the world. We didn’t have Sky, it was BBC, ITV and it was in black and white. It wasn’t until 1967 that colour TV came in. You could see players from all over the world, players you had never even heard of before. As a young lad I used to sit and watch every game being played, writing down all these names and thinking one day, you never know, I might play against them, which I did. I remember the Brazilian side, players like Pele and Garrincha, the ‘Little Bird’, he was so quick. He had a little jink and bang, he was off and running. They were wonderful to watch, fantastic.
Below: Alan celebrates his goal against Germany with Martin Peters in Mexico, 1970
Have you ever been to a World Cup match as a supporter?
I went to the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and watched England against America. I was in the USA when they held the tournament in 1994, but I was there to do a few lectures to the American people to teach them all about ‘soccer’. The first one I did was at the Chicago Hilton and the organisers set-up a big podium, just like you can imagine for when the President makes a speech. I walked in and there were 2,000 people in there! I started to meet a few people and I said to one fella ‘I’m Alan Mullery, I played in the 1970 World Cup – that’s me on the screen up there’. He said me ‘gee, you’ve changed.’ I thought at that point I’d better have a chat, just to bounce a few things off him. I asked him if he was looking forward to the World Cup, all the razzamatazz that Americans do so well. I said ‘Maradona will be here’ and he replied ‘what, she’s turning up?’ I thought ‘I’m fighting a losing battle here…’. Anyway, I got up and spoke and they seemed to like it!
If there was one World Cup game you could have gone to, which one would it be and why?
Well, I was there - England against Brazil in 1970. I’ve heard people say that it was the most brilliant game to watch, football played how it should be played. It wasn’t played at a great pace because of the heat in Mexico, 100 degrees in the shade, but it was played by so many fantastic players. We missed some good chances and then Brazil scored and we ended up losing 1-0. I spoke to Pele after the game and we became good friends. He told me that the only team they feared in Mexico was England. That was a great compliment. So I can say there was one game - and I was lucky enough to be in it!
Have you ever represented your country at the World Cup?
Yes, as I say, that one in 1970. In 1966, Sir Alf (Ramsey) picked a squad of 40 initially and I was in that 40 but he then picked a final squad of 22 and I missed out to that George Clooney lookalike, Nobby Stiles! He was the man in my way at the time.
What are the best memories you have of your own country at the World Cup?
It has to be 1966, watching at home, extremely disappointed that I didn’t get in the final 22 but watching the final on the day was incredible. It was a final you wouldn’t believe as well. England did so well to get to the final only to go 1-0 down, equalise with that quick thinking from Bobby Moore to Geoff Hurst, then went 2-1 up with Martin Peters, then West Germany scored right at the end to take it into extra time. Then the goal that hit the underside of the crossbar for 3-2 – I thought it was about two feet over the line. Of course, we then had that great commentary by Kenneth Wolstenholme, Bobby Moore’s pass to Geoff Hurst, that wonderful finish and ‘they think it’s all over, it is now…’ No-one who watched that game will forget it.
What has been the best match you’ve ever seen at the Finals?
I would go back to 1958, Pele, Brazil against Sweden. How did a 17-year-old look that good among all those great players? It was in Sweden as well, so they had the home advantage. Pele went on to play in four World Cups, what a career. But watching him that day really inspired me to want to play for my country and play in the World Cup.
And what has been the best goal?
I’d go with that Geoff Hurst hat-trick goal in 1966, the clincher for 4-2.The funny thing in that game was that Jack Charlton was telling Bobby Moore to hit Row Z! But knowing Mooro, he was such a cultured footballer, did a little dummy and hit a beautiful ball down the line and there was Geoff running with it from five yards inside the German half to smash the ball into the top corner. What a goal to win the World Cup.
Who do you think will have a big impact at the 2014 World Cup?
There is a team who I believe will have an influence and, if they play as a team, will have a big chance of winning it – and that’s Belgium. I’ve seen so many good Belgian players in this country, including the lads here at Spurs, and they’ve got all these players together at the same time. If they click they will take a lot of beating.
Which two teams do you fancy to make it to the final, and who will win the trophy?
I think there will be one South American side, either Argentina or Brazil and one European, and I’ll go for Belgium. To win it, possibly Belgium but if Brazil get into the final they will be incredibly difficult to beat.