The north east of England was the home of Group 4 at the 1966 World Cup, with Italy, Chile, North Korea and the Soviet Union playing their matches between Sunderland’s Roker Park and Middlesbrough’s Ayresome Park grounds. Away from the TV cameras and much of the hype around England’s first major international tournament, the Wear and the Tees provided the backdrop for the most intriguing subplots of the summer.
As the group stage entered its final round, the USSR was already assured of their place in the quarter finals, having beaten North Korea on Teesside and then Italy at Roker Park on the 16th July. The Azzurri’s shock defeat to the Koreans on 19th July meant that this game was essentially a dead rubber for the Sbornaya, with top-spot already in their hands.
This gave coach Nikolai Morozov the opportunity to experiment, and he changed nine of his starting 11. The side’s motivation, according to the head of their delegation Leonid Nikonov, was to claim a place in the team for the knock-out stages.
Chile, with a point in the group following their 1-1 draw with the Asian underdogs, however, still had the opportunity to progress if they could win and score two goals. Captain Leonel Sanchez kept his place on the wing while striker Guillermo Yavar came in for Alberto Fouilloux.
The Italians were the main attraction and only their matches drew the football-loving people of our region in great numbers – with a disappointing crowd of just over 16,000 turning up for this 7.30pm Wednesday kick-off.
The star of the show was undoubtably 22-year-old Ukrainian left winger Valeriy Porkuyan (sometimes written as Porkujan), one of the squad players drafted in for this match and who made his senior international debut at our former home ground.
He was a late addition to the squad, and his form for Dynamo Kyiv was decisive in his inclusion, as he later recalled:
There were 22 players who could be picked to be in the squad and the coaching staff had already decided on 20. I managed to score quite a few goals for Dynamo Kyiv and as a result I received a telegram, telling me to “fly to Moscow immediately”.
The youngster only played eight times for the Soviet Union, and half of his four international goals came in this game. The first came just before the half-hour mark when he found himself free on the left of the penalty area in front of the newly-roofed Fulwell End and hammered the ball into the roof of the net. There was little that Juan Olivares in the Chilean goal could have done to stop it.
The Soviet Union’s Georgian ‘keeper Anzor Kavazashvili, however, had a less than stellar introduction to the competition, unable to cope with Sanchez’s powerful crosses and set pieces.
Chile gave a good account of themselves, with Ruben Marco and Ignacio Prieto dominating the midfield and, despite picking up a groin strain in the first minute, it was Marcos who pounced on one of Kavazashvili’s flapping efforts to equalise for the South Americans only four minutes after they had fallen behind.
As much as they tried, Luis Alamos’ side could not find the winner – Honorino Landa having the best opportunity with 20 minutes left of the second half. Pushing high up the pitch in the closing stages, they left themselves vulnerable to direct play, and the game was put to bed with five minutes remaining when Porkuyan ran onto a long goal kick and lobbed the ball into the net at the Roker End.
The 2-1 victory for the USSR sent North Korea into the last eight as runners up in the group, where they would play Eusebio’s Portugal in Liverpool in one of the all-time great World Cup matches.
Chile returned to Newcastle and packed their bags for an early train to London before their flight back to Santiago. The Soviets headed back to their base in Durham in readiness for their next game.
Porkuyan would score again in that quarter-final match at Roker Park as the Soviets beat Hungary and rounded off his tournament with a late consolation goal in their semi-final defeat to West Germany at Goodison Park.
‘Porky’ wouldn't score again for the USSR, but continued to play top-flight football for another decade with Dynamo, Odessa, and Dnipro - and was an unused squad member in the 1970 World Cup in Brazil. His long association with FC Chornomorets Odessa continued into his 70s, with two stints as head coach in the 1980s and 1990s and as a member of the backroom staff in the 2000s.
Speaking to Reuters ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he remembered his time in England fondly, but also the sense of disappointment back in the USSR on their return:
Back then Soviet citizens went abroad very rarely and I think we thought of ourselves as being in a privileged position to spend a month in England. When we were preparing to go back home, we were able to walk around London, which was a very clean, beautiful and comfortable city.
...When we got back to Moscow, no delegates met us and no one told us that we had done well. We went straight back to our training camp. Fourth place would have been seen as not the greatest of results as everyone was expecting much more.
Like many of his countrymen, he now faces an uncertain future as the Putin’s army continues its war of imperial aggression in the east and south of Ukraine. We hope Porkuyan and his family are keeping safe and this calamity facing our continent ends soon.