Henry Winter, who has followed a few (all) of those years, has spent three decades as a paid journalist and chronicler of Generation Live on Sky Sports, my term for modern football. Taking his eye away from the Premier League - you may have read his missives in first the Daily Telegraph and today The Times - Henry has written a 400-page sigh about the England team. The cover of Fifty Years of Hurt has one of the three lions on the shirt crying.
His book is subtitled 'Why We Never Stop Believing', a sort of Waiting for Godot where Godot is the World Cup. Can England win it? Yes. How likely is that chance? Well, there will always be a chance, especially with 'Mr Hopeful' Hodgson in charge, with Gary Neville as a coach and young geldings running in white or red shirts.
England begin the other major international quadrennial tournament, Euro 2016 en France, on June 11, the weekend of the Queen's ninetieth birthday celebrations. The Queen was a mere forty years old when Bobby Moore wiped his hands to shake that of the monarch to receive the Jules Rimet Trophy in '66. Moore is now immortalised in bronze with a statue outside the new stadium, while inside high-net-worth individuals ('The Rich') can eat in the Bobby Moore Suite.
Henry's book goes througmh the years, from Jackie Charlton to Wayne Rooney, to explain and describe the pull of playing for the England football team, in times of triumph and disaster, of press barracking and missed spot-kicks. Only one Englishman has won the World Cup as manager, and he did it by instilling his players with confidence. He also had to leave out the star player, Jimmy Greaves, and had to cope with player ill-discipline and meddling from the suits above; Alf Ramsay, as he was then, said he would resign if forced to drop Nobby Stiles after a nasty challenge in the game against France.
John Barnes reckons 'we've lost time, we've fallen behind' by only now getting around to teaching technical skills to players, although a few pages later Jack Charlton marvels at the long ball, or direct pass, from Bobby Moore that led to Geoff Hurst's hat-trick goal at Wembley.
Gary Lineker condemns the way young kids would play on full-sized pitches; 'we never learned playing out from the back,' he says. Those who make mistakes for England are pilloried: managers are mocked, players and their families are targeted by the press and fans turn on them. Henry used to get an obscene message every morning on Twitter at 10am, proving that the press has its critics too. His breed are told to write stories that provoke as well as inspire.
Henry contextualises the great moments and players among the 1200 who have played for the England team, such as Gordon Banks's save from Pele and the photo of Pele and Bobby Moore which should be hung in every school to denote respect. Paul Gascoigne (not Gazza, Gascoigne) is called 'football unplugged'; Michael Owen has a great anecdote about Gascoigne coming around to his house and staying for hours. Michael met Paul as an England player having grown up idolising him. The best players stand as avatars for what the Dream Team should have, which is why Bobby Moore is a statue outside Wembley and Paul Gascoigne was subject of a successful documentary in 2015.
Owen's goal against Argentina in St Etienne is described by the man himself ('Keep running, keep running!'), while Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, who speaks of being 'nervous and excited' in an England shirt, also speak sensibly to Henry. More than one interviewee talks about the 'too much too young' culture, or the 'Washbag generation' with expensive cars and accessories, 'Roy of the Range Rovers'. Ian Wright adds that players get into the England team too easily now if they have a few good games, and are financially rewarded as well. John Barnes says that the mollycoddling at the top clubs makes England try to make the conditions similarly perfect, a zero-sum game. Jermaine Jenas compares the David Beckham circus with travelling with The Beatles, such was the captain's fame abroad.
Mark Wright calls 'the bond the 1990 World Cup side had for each other...There were captains all over the field.' Even Glenn Hoddle is called a better coach than Venables by Ian Wright, even though Hoddle had high standards from the elite players. Wright was sad he was not able to play in Euro '96 and take the penalty Gareth Southgate famously missed in the semi-final. Will England ever break the Curse of Gazza's Tears? After he was too emotional to take one in Turin, England have won one shootout (against Spain in 1996) in a major tournament.
Chris Waddle makes the point that only English players had their reputations ruined by their penalty misses. Baresi and Baggio missed them in the 1994 World Cup Final but nobody ever focuses on that. Waddle, who played in Marseilles and is now a top pundit, should be feted, not fated to be remembered for his miss in 1990. (And if you like that wordplay, there's one on every page of Henry's book!)
Henry's focus is looking to the future learning the lessons of the past. After Sven and Fabio, and despite Steve and Glenn, Roy Hodgson's successor must be English, or the £120m St George's Park which educates coaches will be wasted. Will he be 'Anglo' like Roberto Martinez, or someone who has done their badges in England, like Brad Friedel?
At Euro 2016 and in Russia in 2018, will England's players venture out of their hotel rooms like normal folk abroad? The players who didn't go to visit Nelson Mandela in 2010 had their reasons, but there is no excuse not to visit the Arboretum, a memorial for fallen soldiers near St George's Park.
Henry puts together a formula for success, as evidenced by 1966, 1990 and under Terry Venables the Euro '96 team: 'Courage and talent, well-organized by a manager,' coupled with a five-point plan as an appendix, including a change of anthem. The book should find its way to the 2018 World Cup squad and become a canonical text, til we have built Jerusalem and gone out there and won it again.
Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England, Football and Why We Never Stop Believing is out now in hardback and digitally, published by Transworld.Suggest a correction