Low-grade World Cup fever is affecting billions of people around the globe right now, and it's only going to get worse in the run-up to next year's tournament in Brazil — a spectacle that might be one of the most chaotic and woefully under-planned FIFA events in history. Yippee! Hardly immune to this particular fever, LIFE.com journeyed into LIFE magazine's archives in search of a way to celebrate what might be characterized as fútbol delirium — and discovered some photographic gems from 1966, when England won it all, on English soil.

England! Imagine that.

The pictures we found, made by the late Art Rickerby, never ran in LIFE magazine, but they provide a unique look at the planet's greatest quadrennial instep-centric sporting event during a fascinating period in the Cup's history. We also chatted with Alexi Lalas about the photos, and got some insights from a former pro footballer on the profound appeal of the "beautiful game." So there's that, too.

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[See the gallery, "Britannia Rules the Pitch: Rare Photos From the 1966 World Cup."]

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly (and occasionally more frequent) feature for The Stacks.

Photo Credit: Art Rickerby—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images