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1966 – 50 years since England ruled the world

Hunt
  • Roger Hunt
  • Born: 20 July 1938, Cheshire, England
  • Club career: 1958-1969: Liverpool (404 appearances, 245 goals) 1969-1972: Bolton Wanderers (74 appearances, 24 goals)
  • International career: 1962-1969: England (34 appearances, 18 goals)

It’s 1966. England – managed by Alf Ramsey and featuring the likes of Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore and Gordon Banks – are heading for World Cup glory on home soil. Franz Beckenbauer and West Germany succumb in a blockbuster final. England lead 2-1 before Weber equalises in the dying moments to force extra time. Then up steps Geoff Hurst to bag his second and third goals and send the nation into raptures. Prolific Liverpool striker Roger Hunt is right in the thick of it. He plays in every game and scores three goals. 50 years later, the pride has never faded…

What’s your abiding memory of the tournament?

It seemed to go on for such a long time! We went abroad before the games and went down to London and stayed there for the rest of the time. It was just a relief when it was over because you never knew whether you were going to get picked. I was in and out of the team over the years and it wasn’t definite I’d be getting a game. You would go to bed and think ‘will I be playing?’ And then the numbers came out. Alf Ramsey told us what the numbers were. I was number 21 so I thought the first eleven he named would be the ones who played. The only thing I could do was to keep trying and do my best at all times. Fortunately I managed to stay in the team throughout the tournament.

Some big names didn’t feature…

If you weren’t picked for the team there were no substitutes back then, so even though you got to go along you wouldn’t play. It was devastating for some of the players. There were injuries. Jimmy Greaves would normally have been playing. I played the first three group games with Jimmy then he got his injury and he didn’t get a game afterwards. The injury cost him his place in the team.

And that meant there was a chance for Geoff Hurst to shine…

Geoff didn’t play in the group games. We’d had a tournament away and Geoff played in a couple of games and then they didn’t play him at the start of the World Cup, until Jimmy’s injury. With that squad nobody knew – except maybe Bobby Charlton and one or two more – that they were definitely going to play. I couldn’t be sure and just had to try very hard, like I always did.

It didn’t do your chances any harm when you were scoring in the group stage of the tournament…

That’s right, that helped. I scored the three goals [one against Mexico and both strikes in a 2-0 win over France] and then I was in the team.

The first game against Uruguay was a scoreless draw. What was the feeling among the players after such a slow start?

It was a disappointment. We expected to do better than that. As it turned out we got better as the tournament went on. And we didn’t concede any goals in the group.

What was life like in the camp? With the nation rooting for you, did you have to keep things light?

It was a good squad, really. A lot of us had been playing together for quite a while and knew each other well. Alf Ramsey was a very fair man. He didn’t say a lot but he would look after everyone. He worked very hard over that period and then he said to the press that we were going to win it. I don’t know whether that was a good thing – he had that on his back but as it turned out we did win it!

Did that prediction pile pressure on the players as well as him?

It might have done, I suppose. But it worked for us to think ‘if he believes we can win it, then we can win it.’ I think that’s what he had in mind when he said it.

Alf Ramsey is seen as something of a tactical innovator with his narrow ‘wingless wonders’ style of play. How did he compare to your Liverpool manager, the great Bill Shankly?

He was different. Alf Ramsey was very fair but he was stubborn. Bill Shankly was a very different person. Ramsey regularly came over to Liverpool and I often saw him with Bill Shankly. They got on very well, even though they were very different people.

You scored in the 1965 FA Cup Final win for Liverpool – a notoriously physical match. How much has the game changed since then?

That was a physical game. It’s changed a lot. It’s not just about the physical side though, it has speeded up a lot as well. Gerry Byrne dislocated his collarbone in that game quite early on. Nobody apart from Bill Shankly and the trainer knew the extent of the injury. We didn’t know he had dislocated his collarbone and he carried on right through to play the full game. For my goal he laid it on from the byline. He put the cross over that I headed into the net. Now you wouldn’t have that – he would have been taken off.

Of course the rewards are very different now as well, but was the dream of playing professionally always the most important thing?

Really I was just happy to be playing as a professional footballer and playing for a team like Liverpool. We had come up from the Second Division [equivalent to the modern day Championship] and we won the First Division twice and won the FA Cup, which had never been done before by Liverpool and is still something they talk about. For me, it was just a fantastic time of my life.

50 years after the World Cup win did you think you’d still be talked about as a member of the last England side to lift a trophy?

No, not at all. Once your career is over you think that will be it – but people still talk about it and want to talk about it.

It wasn’t all Liverpool and England for you. How special was it to end your playing days at Bolton? And how do you reflect on your career?

Bolton Wanderers were my team that I used to support and I still do support. I played with Gordon Taylor who is still a big mate of mine – and the boss at the PFA of course. Nat Lofthouse was my hero and he was the manager at Bolton when I started there. He signed me. I had two and a half years at Bolton after my time at Liverpool. I just think I’ve been very fortunate in my career and I’ve had a fantastic time. I still love football. I’m on the Football Pools panel and we still get to be involved in the game and talk about football every week.