SIR GEOFF HURST - one of survivors of the '66 team - sends a message to inspire ...

SIR GEOFF HURST - one of survivors of the '66 team - sends a message to inspire ...
SIR GEOFF HURST - one of survivors of the '66 team - sends a message to inspire ...

Tomorrow night soccer legend Sir Geoff Hurst will take a coveted seat at Wembley to witness, he very much hopes, England’s first major football tournament victory in 55 years.

He tells me he had originally planned to watch the Euro 20 final against Italy with a cup of tea and a chocolate Hobnob in front of the telly at his Gloucestershire home. Anxiously perched on the edge of his seat, just like the rest of us.

But a few minutes into our interview to mark the occasion, his mobile is ringing. It is the FA with a surprise invitation for Sir Geoff and his wife of 57 years, Lady Judith, to watch the match as guests of the chairman.

It is the hottest ticket in town. His face spontaneously breaks into that familiar, toothy smile which in 1966 lit up the pitch after England’s historic 4-2 triumph over West Germany to win the World Cup.

‘I can’t wait. I wonder who I’ll be sitting next to?’ says Sir Geoff, 79, who to this day remains the only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. ‘Maybe the Queen!’

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Tomorrow night soccer legend Sir Geoff Hurst (pictured in 1966) will take a coveted seat at Wembley to witness, he very much hopes, England’s first major football tournament victory in 55 years

Tomorrow night soccer legend Sir Geoff Hurst (pictured in 1966) will take a coveted seat at Wembley to witness, he very much hopes, England’s first major football tournament victory in 55 years

Her Majesty is not expected to attend, but would surely remember 1966 as clearly as Sir Geoff, for it was she — dressed in golden yellow — who presented the trophy to legendary England captain Bobby Moore.

This year it will be UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin who will present the Euro trophy to the winners, but Prince William — as president of the Football Association — will almost certainly play a part in the ceremony. Either celebrating or, God forbid, consoling the other Harry (Kane).

So an exciting night is in store for Sir Geoff, possibly an historic one for England, but also one tinged with sadness.

For he would give anything to have his old teammates by his side to enjoy this moment with him, but of that legendary winning side, only four of the players are still alive. Sir Geoff, Sir Bobby Charlton, 83, Roger Hunt MBE, 82, and George Cohen MBE, 81.

Bobby Moore died from cancer in 1993 aged just 51. Alan Ball from a heart attack in 2007, aged 61. They lost three last year when Nobby Stiles died aged 78 from prostate cancer and advanced dementia, Norman Hunter succumbed to coronavirus, aged 76, and Jack Charlton, who had been diagnosed with lymphoma and dementia, died aged 85.

In 2019, goalkeeper Gordon Banks died aged 81, after revealing he was battling kidney cancer for a second time. Martin Peters also died aged 76 in the same year after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

‘The camaraderie between us was so strong that for 25 years after the World Cup we all met up every year with our wives for a golf day followed by a big dinner,’ he says. ‘It petered out when there weren’t enough of us left. I’ll be 80 this December, so I’m one of the lucky ones, a winner in life’s genetic lottery, and I’ll miss them all.

Geoff (picturede) tells me he had originally planned to watch the Euro 20 final against Italy with a cup of tea and a chocolate Hobnob in front of the telly at his Gloucestershire home

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Geoff (picturede) tells me he had originally planned to watch the Euro 20 final against Italy with a cup of tea and a chocolate Hobnob in front of the telly at his Gloucestershire home

‘But everything about this talented young England squad reminds me of that hard-nosed bunch of professionals we were back in 1966. I see that same camaraderie and determination.’

Sir Geoff knows exactly how the England team will be feeling when captain Harry Kane leads his men out tomorrow night, as the glorious old memories come flooding back, thick and fast.

The nervous walk through the tunnel, the roar of the crowd, the rousing national anthem, the first thwack of boot against leather, the ref’s final whistle just seconds after Sir Geoff blasted his third goal into the back of the net in the final moments of extra time.

‘I remember seeing the whistle in the ref’s mouth and thinking, “The game is almost finished,” ’ he recalls. ‘I thought, “I’m now going to hit this ball with everything I have got left.” (Are you listening, Harry?) 

That final goal was immortalised by BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme, who — noticing fans spilling on to the pitch — said: ‘They think it’s all over . . . it is now! It’s four!’

‘I think we have a very good chance of winning against Italy. We couldn’t be in a better position, says Sir Geoff, who was a striker for West Ham for many years. ‘There is some amazing, young talent in this squad.

‘Team spirit is fundamental to success, and, boy, do they have it. There are no egos, no club rivalries, no sulking over being left on the bench. The discipline, determination, attitude and camaraderie is just phenomenal. But it all comes from the man at the top, and what Gareth Southgate has achieved with these players is just remarkable, honing them into a unit. He is, without a doubt in my mind, the best England manager since Sir Alf Ramsey.’

High praise indeed but, before he goes on, Sir Geoff must call ‘My Lady Judith’ with the news of their invitation. ‘Hello darling, Geoffrey here,’ he chirps into his mobile. ‘How would you like to go to Wembley to watch the final? With me. No thanks? Hee, hee, I thought you’d say that.’

Lady Judith never really embraced the celebrity ‘WAG’ lifestyle — not that it really existed back then anyway. ‘My wife has always been very proud of me, but is a private person, full-stop,’ he says. His plus one instead will be his 15-year-old soccer-mad grandson, George. ‘Judith never wanted celebrity. We come from the medieval times, the Ice Age. That’s her personality. There were no WAGs back in 1966. It was a completely different world.’

It certainly was. Back then, Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Labour was in power, The Beatles were in the charts and footballers earned peanuts compared with today’s multi-millionaire stars. With the exception of George Best, they led pretty tame lives.

A few minutes into our interview to mark the occasion, his mobile is ringing. It is the FA with a surprise invitation for Sir Geoff and his wife of 57 years, Lady Judith, to watch the match as guests of the chairman

A few minutes into our interview to mark the occasion, his mobile is ringing. It is the FA with a surprise invitation for Sir Geoff and his wife of 57 years, Lady Judith, to watch the match as guests of the chairman

‘When I married Judith in 1964, our honeymoon was one night in an East London motel,’ says Sir Geoff, who started his footballing career as a 15-year-old apprentice with West Ham and met his future wife at school.

‘Our first home was a semi-detached chalet bungalow with a garage in Hornchurch, Essex, and I paid £5,050, with a huge £3,600 mortgage.

‘My salary, after doing well for England, moved up to the huge figure of £7,000 a year and after the World Cup to £10,000.

‘My first car was a used Ford Anglia and I paid £460 for it, but after the World Cup I had really moved up in style and bought a brand new, grey Austin 1100 for 1,000 quid.

‘We always felt comfortable but never wealthy, and I say that without a trace of bitterness when I look at today’s players.’

In 1966, footballers had only just cottoned on to the fact that a fillet steak or fry-up a couple of hours before a big match was not as digestible as fish or pasta. They liked a pint too, though not with the pre-match lunch, naturally.

‘There were no diet plans, no medical advice,’ he says. ‘None of all that.

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