Private chefs, tantrums, and wads of cash: when the 1966 World Cup teams stayed in Welwyn Garden City

PUBLISHED: 13:17 08 June 2018

The West German team with Homestead Court receptionist Marlies Bley. Is this the blonde that the Argentinians were rumoured to be distracted by? Picture: WHT

The West German team with Homestead Court receptionist Marlies Bley. Is this the blonde that the Argentinians were rumoured to be distracted by? Picture: WHT

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As England's World Cup team settles into their base camp in Russia, we look back at the hotel antics of the visiting teams in Welwyn Garden City in 1966.

The West German team had practice sessions in Stevenage. Here, Wolfgang Overath is in goal. Picture: WHTThe West German team had practice sessions in Stevenage. Here, Wolfgang Overath is in goal. Picture: WHT

The French, West German and Argentinian football teams were billeted at the Homestead Court Hotel in Welwyn Garden City in the run-up to England’s legendary World Cup performance.

Back in 1966, the Welwyn Times and Hatfield Herald (WTHH, precursor to the Welwyn Hatfield Times) got all the gossip from the hotel manager the moment the players left.

Argentinian team captain Antonio Rattín caused an uproar at that year’s England fixture for refusing to leave the pitch when he was sent off, instead choosing to sit on the red carpet - that was only for Her Majesty’s feet - and crumpling an England flag before being escorted off the pitch.

But the not-so-charming behaviour continued when they got back to their hotel.

Was this you? Welwyn Garden City kids look for players to sign their autograph books. Picture: WHTWas this you? Welwyn Garden City kids look for players to sign their autograph books. Picture: WHT

They were not impressed when they realised that their Welwyn Garden City abode was not in central London, as they thought.

They argued for half an hour outside the three-star establishment about whether to stay, but hotel manager Mr Brian Jennings remained cool as a cucumber.

The WTHH reported: “Finally, when Mr Jennings told them he was not particularly concerned whether they stayed or not, they decided to come in.”

Ever vigilant against fake news, the WTHH also clarified that “A report in a national newspaper that they only came to the decision after seeing a blonde in the hotel was completely untrue.”

The West German team had practice sessions in Stevenage. Hans Tilkowski lets a goal in. Picture: WHTThe West German team had practice sessions in Stevenage. Hans Tilkowski lets a goal in. Picture: WHT

(In archive photographs, Homestead Court’s blonde receptionist Marlies Bley can be seen joking around with Hans Tilkowski, Helmut Haller, and other members of the West German team.)

The Argentinian team proceeded to arrive two and a half hours late to a reception in London later that evening.

They loved their shopping, as the WTHH reported they “seemed to have no idea of the value of money”, carrying up to £1,000 (£13,000 in today’s money) and left the hotel with a whopping three more tons of luggage than they arrived with.

But the West German team were eager to please, showering hotel staff with gifts of 10 match tickets and coach transportation to the match, plus an electric razor for Mr Jennings.

The West German team warming up for their practice sessions in Stevenage. Picture: WHTThe West German team warming up for their practice sessions in Stevenage. Picture: WHT

The charm offensive didn’t compromise Mr Jenning’s food standards, however.

The West Germans had brought their own chef, “but he used materials which Mr Jennings said he would not allow in the hotel”.

Knowledge of what foodstuffs a Welwyn Garden City hotelier could not contemplate under his roof is lost to history.

The team were joined by German goalie Bert Trautmann, who had just retired from Manchester City and was now doing their paperwork.

Paul Michaelis of Sherrards Park Road asks the Argentinian team for autographs. Picture: WHTPaul Michaelis of Sherrards Park Road asks the Argentinian team for autographs. Picture: WHT

The Germans loved their practice ground in Stevenage but were concerned it was a little too close to public view.

But they tempted fate too far when they started chatting with the newspaper’s photographer Denis Williams.

“Most of the party made it plain they were confident of victory,” said the paper.

The French team were enormously popular in the town, and loved the English food.

They took word of the skills of the hotel chef, Mr R.Hindson, back to the French newspapers, and promised Homestead Court that they would return for future matches.

By the time the teams had left, a frazzled Mr Jennings spoke of the “nervous strain” that the teams had been under during their stay, sounding very much like he was talking about his staff.

Today, Homestead Court is still in business in the Best Western hotel chain.

The international footballing visit was one of the more exciting events in the town for some time.

Other headlines from these numbers include “Cows die in blaze” and “Hatfield canoeist makes best time”.

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