One Saturday in July 1966, Geoff Hurst put the ball in the net three times and people still ask him about it. OK, it was the World Cup Final and Hurst’s three goals helped England win the World Cup for the one and only time. The moment has been immortalised in Kenneth Wolstenholme’s commentary as Hurst scored for the third time, “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over [Hurst scores]. It is now.” Fifty-two years on, I wondered if Hurst found it strange that he was still remembered for that one game of football: “The short answer is yes,” he replied. “As I said to someone the other day, ‘It’s a weird kind of fame that you’re known for something that happened 50 years ago.’ I am still pleasantly surprised that from time to time people stop me in the street, want to talk to me or shake [my] hand. Or have a selfie with [me] – the modern way, not autographs anymore. I find it amusing and entertaining that people still want to talk to me.” While winning the World Cup was a team effort built on the brilliant goalkeeping of Gordon Banks, the leadership of Bobby Moore and the different skills of the Charlton brothers, the fact remains that Hurst’s three goals made him the match winner, and he is remembered as such. “It is, as you say, remarkable looking back 50 years. But it was a fairly big thing and a fairly special thing and that we haven’t done it since makes it more special. And of course, the hat-trick on top of everything else, which hasn’t been achieved since and is unlikely to be.
“I think the England team scored 11 goals,” he continues, “in all the matches to win it. Spain won it in 2010 scoring just eight goals. We’re not seeing a 4-2 anymore. It’s more the 1-1s, the penalties, 2-1. So it’s becoming more difficult for anyone to consider scoring three. Of course if you go back to 1958, the Frenchman, Just Fontaine – he scored 13 goals alone. That is more on his own than we scored to win it in ’66.”
He added that his father once told him that the time to worry would be when no one recognised him or wanted to speak to him. What he particularly enjoys is when people share their memories with him of how his big day impacted them. “Most times when I do a function, there will be someone in the group with a story to tell. Last week it was a guy whose 14th birthday was on the day [of the 1966 World Cup final] and his father took him to see the World Cup final. And I said, what an amazing birthday present that was.”
Then there was a woman to whose wedding Hurst was an (unwelcome?) guest: “I met a woman who got married on the day. As the vicar was trying to wed this woman to her new husband, the service was continually interrupted with interjections of scores from the game at Wembley. ‘Do you take this man to be…’ the vicar was asking. ‘Hang on a minute, Germany have equalised.’ That was highly amusing. It shows just how significant the day was, which you are not aware of at the time.”
There are stories of the England squad going out shopping or for a walk on the morning of the final – a far cry from the fortresses in which the 2018 England team will live during this year’s World Cup. Hurst enjoys explaining how ‘normal’ his life was: “People are amazed when I say that after the World Cup final I went home and cut the grass and cleaned my car. People probably thought we were on a month’s celebrations enjoying ourselves. It was 30th July and I think clubs started training a week later and we were playing Chelsea in two weeks. So there was no time to sit back, enjoy it and relax.”
Why, I wondered, had England never managed to repeat the success? He warmed to the question: “I think we were close. In 1996, in the Euros, I think we had a very good team and were close. Had we won that then we wouldn’t be talking in these terms. But that said we didn’t win it. It’s very difficult to say why and I can only make a number of assumptions. You could talk about the players today having closer relationships with the clubs and clubs not wanting to release the players. The players with the top clubs might feel now that the Champions’ League is bigger than playing for their country, which I totally disagree with. I think sometimes we’ve had a poor selection of managers, and how they’ve gone about things.”
From questioning the choice of manager, and the approach of some managers, he used Steven Gerrard as an example: “Take the selection of Steven Gerrard, one of the best players we have had in the country for 10 or 15 years and an outstanding player for club and country. But when he played for England on many occasions – and he said this himself – he did not play in his best position, which is fundamentally flawed. You must play your best players for England in their best position.”He also referred to a TV programme in which Rio Ferdinand, and Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, spoke about their experience of playing for England and being careful where they sat at meal times when they were with England, not wanting to give away any club secrets to teammates who would soon become rivals in club football. Hurst clearly found that attitude hard to understand: “No question, one [of] the key things for any World Cup team being successful is the teamwork and camaraderie in the camp. I still think that a strong part of being successful for that month [is] that the team is together. It’s boring. You are away from your wives and you need to get on with each other.”
Geoff Hurst has been there and done it and 50 years on he still talks a lot of sense.
Next issue – which modern players impress Geoff Hurst.