Renowned footballer Sir Geoff Hurst MBE was just 24 when he scored the hat-trick which propelled England to a 4-2 win over Germany in the 1966 World Cup. England enjoyed a stunning victory and Hurst made sporting history.
At the time you take it for granted, and you are not aware of the magnitude of the occasion.
His remarkable three goals are still, some 52 years later, an unbroken World Cup record. Many of the England team which included Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, and Bobby Charlton became household names. Their success was immortalised by BBC sports commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme who, when fans surged on to the pitch as Hurst scored the final goal, memorably said: “They think it’s all over. It is now!” The phrase is now as much a part of our culture as the beautiful game itself.
Confident and down to earth, Hurst is helpful and unfailingly gracious as he talks about his iconic victory for what must be the umpteenth time. “I look back on what we achieved as a group with a great deal of pride”, says Hurst who is now 76.
Ironically, the world-famous striker wasn’t sure what he wanted to do as a teenager and almost chose another profession. “I wasn’t too bad academically and I wasn’t thinking of going into football particularly,” he says.
Cricket was just as much a passion for the then 15-year-old, but a family friend thought the lad from Essex had more talent kicking a ball rather than catching it and wrote to West Ham and Arsenal football scouts, asking if they would take a look at him. “West Ham responded first. I went for a trial, and they saw something in this very young, very green youngster, and took me on,” says Hurst.
West Ham was the making of Hurst. But not to begin with. Initially, he struggled in the position of midfielder. However when manager Ron Greenwood brilliantly moved him up to play as a striker, Hurst came into his own, excelling in the scoring position. “My career just rocketed. It was the start of three or four amazing years,” says Hurst who notched up 248 goals in 499 first team appearances.
Had Greenwood not selected me for centre forward, there is no way in the world I would have been the success I was.
Further success beckoned when Hurst was picked by England manager Alf Ramsey to represent his country in the World Cup against West Germany, as Jimmy Greaves was injured. It was a prescient decision, which as we all know, proved to be spectacularly successful.
Hurst continued as a star player and in 1975 was awarded an MBE. In those days, the football industry was simpler and footballers did not earn lottery-size salaries. As he grew older and his sporting career faded, Hurst took the big decision to move into business. A successful career in insurance followed for the next twenty years.
However, as another World Cup victory has eluded England over the subsequent decades, the country’s only win has grown in stature. In the nineties, the increasingly football-mad world came knocking again and in 1998, when he was 57, Hurst went to Buckingham Palace to receive a knighthood.
“I thought it was a wind-up when I first received the letter,” says Hurst modestly. “It was a great shock and a great honour.”
What does he think of football today?
Everything in football, every aspect has changed dramatically. It’s a global business and the publicity is a thousand times bigger. Though it is still a great game and I still enjoy it.
These days, Hurst uses his hero status to good effect. He is an ambassador for The Football Association and works with several charities including Alzheimer’s Society, alongside his old teammate, Gordon Banks OBE and together they fronted its United Against Dementia campaign.
It saw the football heroes urging the British public to come together and unite against dementia for the sake of urgently improving care, offering more support and understanding, and also finding a cure.
Earlier this year (2018), the two former England footballers were joint winners of the “Contribution to Charity Award” at the Churchill Awards. “I’ve had such a wonderful life, that to help other people who are having a bad time, is to do something right,” says the renowned former England goalkeeper. “And my brother had Alzheimer’s,” adds Banks who is 80.
The charity, which fights the corner of the 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK, is also important to both as three of their former England teammates Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson have also been affected by dementia.
As you might expect of former athletes, eating sensibly and staying fit and healthy is very important to both and though neither plays football any more, Hurst does go to the gym regularly. “It’s great for your health and for your life to have some kind of physical exercise,” says Hurst. “A thirty minute walk each day is a good starting point,” he adds.
These days Hurst lives in Cheltenham with his wife and childhood sweetheart, Judith. The couple have two daughters Charlotte and Joanne; their eldest daughter, Claire, died of a brain tumour seven years ago.
As retirees, he and his wife enjoy travelling, particularly to the States where some family members live. “Family are top of the list really. They are vital,” says Hurst and a big family get-together is planned for later in the year, near Atlanta.
The couple’s five grandchildren who range in age from 30 to one are a source of great joy. However, none of them kick a ball around as their grandfather did. “Funnily enough, we are not really a football family,” says Hurst.
Though his family might not be into football, Hurst is and will forever be remembered for his historic three goals. “That hattrick was fantastic,” says Banks. “It’s a hard thing to do anyway, but at international level in a World Cup final, it was really something extra special.”
By Nicola Venning
Alzheimer’s Society: United Against Dementia. For more information visit alzheimers.org.uk