In 1966 England were hosts. They defeated the Portugal of Eusebio by 2-1 at Wembley to reach the final against West Germany which also ended in triumph, of course.
Unbelievably, in these days of the clamouring need for goal-line technology and video assistance, it was not until after 23 minutes that French referee Pierre Schwinte blew his whistle to penalise the first foul after Martin Peters pushed into Eusebio.
No substitutes in those days for us in the media to note. Bobby Charlton scored after half an hour and then 10 minutes from the end. Eusebio pulled one back from a penalty two minutes later, the first goal England had conceded in the finals. At the end of 90 minutes England were into the final for the first time.
Maybe those finals marked the end of an age of comparative sporting innocence. World Cup Willie was a first commercial mascot, the tournament film was the first in colour (I scripted most of the previous World Cup histories and they are all grainy black-and-white).
England captain Bobby Moore and his wife Tina were football’s first celebrity couple. No disrespect to England’s 1958 captain Billy Wright and his singer wife Joy Beverley but Bobby and Tina Moore were the couple of the moment, in tune with the mood of the Swinging Sixties.
In those days the World Cup, even in England, barely made it on to the front pages of even the page-lite English newspapers which featured none of the over-blown sports supplements of later years. No chance of the front pages being taken over in their entirety by enormous photo-montage images of Geoff Hurst and Roger Hunt.
Football was England’s No1 sport but not the greedy social near-monopoly it would become. No laptops or tablets or mobile phones and television coverage was in black and white. Football’s great leap forward was accomplished only after the 1970 World Cup when the advent of colour television offered a mesmerically-alluring new window into the action on the pitch.
By 1990 the mood had changed. Football had become almost a dirty word. The ravages of hooligan violence had scarred the sporting landscape across the 1970s and 1980s, culminating in the tragedies of Heysel and Hillsborough (and not only those).
Security worries led FIFA and the Italian hosts deliberately to seal off England and their fans in a first round group on the island of Sardinia.
England burst out, thanks to the football of Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne and their team-mates and the management of Bobby Robson. His enthusiasm and love of the game connected with the fans and public back home, reaching over and above the battering he had received in the papers for most of his four-year reign.
When Robson walked in to sit down for a press conference he would scan the faces so that, when the blinding TV lights were turned on, he knew precisely where his media antagonists were seated.
In 1990, unlike 1966, England did not progress from semi-final to final. In the fan-unfriendly bowl which was the Stadio delle Alpi i and my media colleagues saw them go behind on the hour when defender Paul Parker deflected a shot from Andy Brehme into his own goal. Lineker equalised 10 minutes from the end to earn extra-time which led, inexorably, to a 4-3 defeat on penalties.
England flew home, after the third-place defeat by Italy, to a heroes’ welcome at Luton Airport.
None of us, sitting in the media tribune in Turin that night, thought we would have to wait a further 28 years to see England walk out again in the semi-finals of a World Cup.
Yet, at last, here they are . . . and so, still, are some of us.
MOSCOW, July 9, 2018 - A hat-trick is in sight. This writer attended both England’s first and second World Cup semi-finals. Now a third is just around the Moscow corner. The gaps between them of 24 and now 28 years – each time a generation – present a fascinating contrast on different worlds and not only of association football itself.