This month we’ve nabbed you an interview with former West Ham and England legend Sir Geoffrey Hurst, best known for his cup final treble in England’s world cup win against West Germany. Sir Geoff also spearheaded West Ham’s attack on the way to FA Cup glory in 1964, and to their only ever UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup the following season.
After a hairy journey over to Gibraltar, courtesy of our recent spate of dramatic weather, Sir Geoff thankfully arrived in one piece, ready to answer some questions ahead of an event to celebrate Chesterton’s 10th Anniversary for which I was dressed accordingly.
“You’re dressed up! Are you going out afterwards?”
“Maybe, we’ll see what happens after this!” I replied, very accidentally hitting on Sir Geoff.
I will get the hang of these interviews soon, I promise.
This isn’t Geoff’s first time in Gibraltar; around 10 years ago he dropped by for a fleeting visit while on a cruise, and after a fun and candid interviewer with the multitalented sportsman, we hope it won’t be his last.
It was recently the 25th anniversary of the passing of club legend Bobby Moore, for which West Ham unveiled a commemorative mural at London Stadium in February. Sir Geoff said of his fondest memories of Bobby: “The initial memory is he’s the best player I’ve ever played with in my 20 year career at West Ham. He was a complex man with dry wit who liked a drink at the right time – he used to say lager was his petrol. The last thing he’d put on before he walked out onto the field was his shorts. He’d have a warmup in his shirt and socks, boots tied up, and he’d pick his shorts off the peg at the last moment, still with the crease in them. He was a fantastic Captain, a credit to the club and to England; a great leader, great taker of responsibility. He was technically very good at being able to read defensive situations. He was a very hard worker, very dedicated. He wanted to be the best; you knew that the bigger the game, the better he’d play.”
In the last game before the quarter final, Jimmy Greaves damaged his shin and as a result was replaced by Hurst. But how did he feel about it?
“Fate plays a big part in your life. I wouldn’t have played had he not been injured. It was about my 5th or 6th game for England – crazy.” And what about Greaves? “Jimmy was a funny guy and a great player. Of course it was a big blow but he wouldn’t put it all down to not playing – he had other incidents in his family life and during that period of time was ill with jaundice. He wasn’t at his peak. It was a big enough decision when Jimmy was fit actually keeping me in the team; between 16 and 20 years of age at Chelsea, an ordinary team back then, he played 169 games and scored 132 goals. He went on to Spurs: 360 games, 260 goals. An absolute genius at the art of scoring goals.”
On his World Cup win
The final moments of the game will stay with Sir Geoff, friends, family, and the players for as long as time goes on. West Ham had 3 players in the final; the captain and 2 goal scorers which is phenomenal for a small East London club.
“We’re leading 3-2 against Germany with seconds to go. The Germans pushed their centre half up front (Willi Schulz) to be in the forward position, just knocking the ball into our penalty area – we’re hanging on 3-2, World Cup final, can you imagine? We were already drawn 2-2 at normal time, we’re hanging on again – what was to be the last cross of the afternoon. It was actually knocked in by Willi Schulz himself who found himself in the right wing.
“The ball bounced around about the penalty spot, a very dangerous position. Who read this and anticipated the trajectory of the ball? Moore. He was absolutely brilliant at reading the game; he had a great gift even as a kid, before he became a great player. He was born with it. He sensed where the ball was going to drop, and what does Bobby do? In the penalty area, in a World Cup Final? He chests the ball down. Big, tough, Jack Charlton, his lead centre back partner said in his Northern accent: ‘Bobby, please keep the ball out of the ground.’ … Or words to that effect. Perhaps a little more strongly and direct, but you get the message.
“Moore then completely ignores him, threatens to knock it to George on the right back, the 2 German players open up, he walks through them like a Sunday afternoon, saw me running away, gave me a great ball, got inside the German half, a few more strides… I clearly remember what I was thinking at that time, because it was such a big day. I heard a call from one of my teammates (Alan Ball) just after that, on the right wing; a high-pitched voice in my ear squealed: ‘Hursty! Hursty, gimme the ball!’ – as you can imagine, that call disrupted the German defence. But I said to myself, ‘sod you Bally, I’m on a hat-trick!’ That ginger-haired bugger, God rest him, never forgave me for as long as he lived. I sadly miss him. One of our great players, and Man of the Match of the final, was Bally.
“I got to the edge of the box, and succinctly remember thinking, ‘I’m tired, the game is almost over, I’m now going to whack this ball with everything I’ve got left in the final seconds’, and I’m thinking this as it goes beyond the bar, beyond the stand, into the crowd, and by the time the ball boy gets it back to the keeper Tilkowski, surely the game has got to be over. As you all know, I miss-hit it and it fell in.
Why has England seemingly been underperforming?
“I think there is an argument with the Champions league that it’s more important for them to do well at the clubs. It’s becoming more difficult. It was difficult in our time but it’s becoming increasingly harder for clubs to release their players. In a recent friendly game 3 or 4 of the top players didn’t turn up, and that was only a friendly, which is unusual in itself. It’s not particularly good if you don’t want to play for your country.
There was a spell where I don’t think a couple of the managers have been particularly good, for me, hearing things behind the scenes. Another issue for me, a big issue, is positioning. You must play your best players from their clubs, like Steven Gerard, in their best positions. At one stage he was playing wide on the left, which I found unforgiveable and just extraordinary.
German World Cup; I was out there for the whole of the month. The wives also all flew out to watch their husbands very closely – which to me is a very detrimental step. George Cohen summarised this quite brilliantly in his smart, posh accent: “When you go to war, you don’t take your wives with you.”
A lot of English fans talk to me privately and the fans can see where there’s an effort, a passion, when you play for your local club or you play for any club or you play for England, and sometimes they accuse some England players of not showing their passion. Alan Ball is one of the most, if not the most passionate player to represent his country. Whether it means as much today in the current climate, I don’t know. It’s hard to put your finger on it. What is hard to accept and understand and even fathom is how we played against Iceland. It was a weird game. My wife remarked to me after I watched it on the television with her: “I’ve seen you watch football on television since you retired now for 30 or 40 years, and I’ve never seen you of an afternoon in our home screaming and shouting as much as during that match.” Just an indescribable game. Our own team talked about it; we found it astounding that a group of players with such ability could collectively perform like that. We couldn’t have beaten bleedin’ Iceland, the frozen food store.
So, difficult question. For me it’s still the most important thing for this country for us to be successful in a World Cup competition. It’s important for any national team to be successful in any sport they’re competing in.”
Before we parted ways, I proffered some quick-fire questions.
Who was the best goalkeeper you ever faced?
Best player you ever played against?
If you hadn’t become a footballer, what would you have chosen as a career?
Something in maths or science.
Who was your hero growing up?
My father (the late Charlie Hurst, an English footballer who played as a centre half for various clubs including Bristol Rovers, Oldham Athletic and Rochdale).
What was your most embarrassing moment in football?
I don’t know about embarrassing, but the worst was Gordon Banks saving that penalty.
What manager would you most like to play under now?
Jürgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola.
How do you feel about being the only person to ever score a hat-trick in a World Cup final?
It wasn’t as big at the time, but nobody has done it since so…
At that point, Geoff asked me if the interview was over. To my chagrin, I replied, “It is now!”