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How British politics might have been different If Gordon Banks had not had a bug before the 1970 West Germany match

June 13th, 2014

Check out this great counter-factual by UKPR’s Anthony Wells

The opening of the 2014 World Cup is a good peg to hang one of the great counter-factuals of politics and football written and created by YouGov’s Anthony Wells and the man who runs UKPollingReport.

The basic premise is that the outcome of the 1970 General Election, when the Tories were returned to power, could have been different if England had not been knocked out in the Quarter Final by West Germany.

This is how it starts:-

“The Conservative victory in the 1970 election was far from inevitable. The Tories entered the campaign trailing Labour in the opinion polls. Prime Minister Harold Wilson didn’t need to call an election until April 1971, but he feared that the tide was turning away from the Labour Party and, with decimalisation happening in January 1971, delay would have left him without room for maneouvre. Despite warnings against going to the country in June 1970, not least because the election would fall in the middle of the football World Cup, in the end he insisted on the date of 17th June.

England entered the 1970 World Cup as defending champions and, if anything, with a stronger squad than in 1966. After meeting Brazil in the first round Pele famously said to Bobby Moore that he would see him again in the final. It was not to be. In the event England’s goalkeeper Gordon Banks was taken ill on the coach journey to their quarter-final match against West Germany. Banks was replaced by Peter Bonetti – but to no avail. Bonetti dived over a lacklustre shot from Franz Beckenbauer and Seeler headed in a second goal while Bonetti was off
his line.

Germany scored a third goal in extra time and England were out of the World Cup. Three days later Labour lost the general election. There have been various explanations for Labour’s defeat. Wilson blamed the BBC, others blamed unexpectedly low balance of trade figures, others the knock-on effect of England’s defeat – in the words of one cabinet minster “the bug in Banks tummy”.

It could have been so different…

Read the archived version of Anthony’s work here.

Mike Smithson