Sir Geoff Hurst is thinking about absent friends. He has been doing a lot of that lately. “You get to that age,” the 82-year-old says with a wistful tone, all too painfully aware that many people don’t.

We are talking about lives, legacies and the passing of time. About how “30 years of hurt”, the years of the England men’s national team winning nothing, referenced in the song Three Lions, is now coming up to six decades — and how, of the 11 men in the team that beat West Germany on English football’s greatest day, Hurst, the hat-trick hero in that 1966 World Cup final, is now the only survivor.

For years, the boys of ’66 held reunions. “Each year a different player would host it,” he says. “We would play golf, the wives would go shopping and then in the evening we would all get together for a meal and it was great. It illustrated the camaraderie, the spirit and how close we all were.”

He recalls his sense of disbelief when the great Bobby Moore, the man who lifted the Jules Rimet trophy as captain, died from colon cancer in 1993, aged just 51. “I was driving up north somewhere when it came on the news and it was a huge blow,” he said. “Someone I had grown up with at West Ham as well as England and always looked up to. The best player I ever played with, a fantastic leader and captain.”

Then it was Alan Ball, only 21 when he won the World Cup and only 61 when he died after suffering a heart attack while trying to put out a fire in his garden.

Hurst is the last man alive from the 1966 starting team (Tom Jenkins/Getty Images)

At one reunion, Ray Wilson shocked his former team-mates by announcing in that matter-of-fact way of his that he had been diagnosed with dementia. Nobby Stiles, the tough-tackling midfielder, later had a similar diagnosis.

Hurst recalls another reunion when his former West Ham United team-mate Martin Peters, who scored the other goal in the final, became confused on the golf course and was “clearly struggling”. A third dementia diagnosis followed. Others would come later.

The numbers at those reunions dwindled; Wilson, Stiles and Peters too unwell to attend, others in declining health.

When a huge event was arranged at Wembley Stadium to commemorate the 50th anniversary in 2016, only four of the victorious starting line-up — Gordon Banks, George Cohen, Jack Charlton and Hurst — were able to attend. When they parted that evening, it was in the sad recognition that this reunion would likely be their last.

The tributes poured in when Wilson died in 2018, Banks and Peters a year later. When Jack Charlton and Stiles died in 2020, the country was in lockdown and their funerals were sparsely attended. Then it was Roger Hunt, Hurst’s strike partner in the final, then Cohen, then last October the great Sir Bobby Charlton passed away — and suddenly, mournfully, there was one.

England’s starting XI in 1966 WC final


Gordon Banks

2019 (Age: 81)

George Cohen

2022 (Age: 83)

Jack Charlton

2020 (Age: 85)

Bobby Moore

1993 (Age: 51)

Ray Wilson

2018 (Age: 83)

Nobby Stiles

2020 (Age: 78)

Alan Ball

2007 (Age: 61)

Bobby Charlton

2023 (Age: 86)

Martin Peters

2019 (Age: 76)

Geoff Hurst

Alive (Age: 82)

Roger Hunt

2021 (Age: 83)

It’s a funny thing, sitting in the company of English football royalty.

Hurst has been such a familiar presence over the years, perhaps the most visible and certainly the most media-savvy member of the 1966 team.

But in another way, he seemed the most distant. From a journalistic perspective, there was always a “run it past my agent” air to Hurst which would have felt alien to Wilson, Cohen, Stiles and others. You couldn’t cold-call him. Interviews were by appointment only.

So is this one, over coffee at a hotel near his home in the well-heeled spa town of Cheltenham. It helps that he has a roadshow to promote, touring theatres and sharing the stories of the World Cup triumph.

But this feels like a different Hurst — less business-like, more contemplative, more reflective as he embarks on what he is calling his farewell tour.

Why farewell? “Well it depends how I feel at the end of it, but I’m not getting any younger,” he says.

The England World Cup squad before leaving for a pre-tournament tour in Europe. (Back row, from left) Les Cocker (trainer), George Cohen, Gerry Byrne, Roger Hunt, Ron Flowers, Gordon Banks, Ron Springett, Peter Bonetti, Jimmy Greaves, Bobby Moore, John Connelly, George Eastman and Harold Shepherdson (trainer). (Front row, from left) Jimmy Armfield, Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Terry Paine, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Alan Ball and Bobby Charlton. (Sitting on the ground) Norman Hunter (left) and Ian Callaghan (Roger Jackson/Central Press/Getty Images)

He talks of a life in three acts: the first growing up in Essex, going to school and becoming an apprentice footballer; the second in professional football, scoring goals and winning trophies for West Ham, forcing his way into the England squad at the age of 24 and then making history five months later, going onto play for Stoke City and others, and briefly trying his hand in management; and then the third working in insurance, which took him roughly from the age of 40 to 60.

But what of the last two decades? “Well, from 60 onwards it has been pretty part-time, doing PR work, things like that, and then doing the theatres,” he says. “Terry (his agent) came up with the theatre idea a few years ago and it has proved to be very successful.”

The continuing fascination with the 1966 story amazes him. “It is quite remarkable,” he says. “You realise over the years what a big event it is. People stop and ask me about it every time I leave the house. The other day I got an email from someone in Germany asking if I could sign a programme for him. Germany!”

He knows the fascination with 1966 persists in part because England haven’t won it since. Brazil have won the men’s World Cup five times, Germany and Italy four times, Argentina three times, France and Uruguay twice. England and Spain are the only nations to have won it once — and Spain’s 2010 success was recent enough for most of us to remember vividly, whereas you would have to be in your sixties at least to recall England’s triumph.

“The medieval times, I call them,” Hurst says. “The only thing that hasn’t changed in that time is the goalposts.”

At the time, it didn’t feel life-changing. Even as the tournament unfolded, the World Cup was still a hazy concept in the English consciousness.

“One of the reasons is that we hadn’t done particularly well prior to that,” Hurst says. “In 1950, we got beat 1-0 by America. If we were beaten by America today, people wouldn’t be very happy. But goodness me, this was America in 1950. And this was in an England team with Tom Finney, Stanley Matthews, Nat Lofthouse, some of the greats of our game. So by the time 1966 came around, there wasn’t a great interest or expectation from the public.”

England had home advantage, but the tournament was a slow-burner. There were empty seats at Wembley for their opening game against Uruguay and a 0-0 draw did little to whet the public appetite. Only gradually, with victories over Mexico and France to reach the knockout stage, did a wave of popular support grow.

At that point, Hurst was kicking his heels on the bench, in the squad as an understudy for Hunt and Jimmy Greaves. “I remember being happy just to be there,” he says. “There is no way I was going to play unless Jimmy was injured.”

But Greaves’ goalscoring touch eluded him in the first two games and then he was injured in the third, suffering a gash to his shin. At that point, opportunity knocked for Hurst, who scored the only goal in the quarter-final victory over Argentina. He played in the semi-final, a 2-1 win over Portugal, but, with Greaves fit again, Hurst was still pleasantly surprised to keep his place for the final against West Germany.

The whole experience sounds a world away from the hype and bombast that accompanies the modern game — particularly at tournament time. There were long afternoons spent playing cards or dominoes. On the eve of the final, manager Alf Ramsey allowed his players a trip to the cinema to watch Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines. They walked from their hotel in Hendon, north London, to the nearest cinema, largely unnoticed.

What does Hurst remember of the day of the final? “It felt like a normal day,” he says. “I’ve got a lovely picture of us all sitting down at a long table at the hotel for lunch. Everyone else is eating and I’m looking over my shoulder directly at the camera. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Hurst looks over his shoulder on the day of the final (Terry Fincher/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

For those involved, the game went by in a blur — even a gruelling period of extra time after West Germany equalised in the 89th minute.

Hurst has seen the highlights a thousand times or more and he will never tire of telling the story of his highly controversial second goal to put England 3-2 up in stoppage time when the ball crashed down off the crossbar and linesman Tofiq Bahramov signalled his belief that it had crossed the goal line. Hurst has always said Hunt’s instinctive celebration put the matter beyond doubt “because if there was any doubt at all in Roger’s mind, he would have followed it up and put the rebound in”.

Hurst (left) celebrates the controversial third (Cattani/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

As for the hat-trick goal — “They think it’s all over… it is now”, in the immortal words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme — Hurst has dined out on it for nearly six decades.

He starts by talking about Jack Charlton going ballistic as Moore, his ever-composed partner in central defence, brought the ball down on his chest in the penalty area, 3-2 up in the final minute of extra time in a World Cup final. Then, upon receiving the pass from Moore, he mentions seeing Ball making a brilliant run to his right but thinking, “F*** you, Bally, I’m on a hat-trick here.”

And then he describes wellying his shot with his left foot, half-hoping it would end up in the crowd to eat up more precious time and finding himself delighted — weary but delighted — when it ended up in the back of the net. At that moment, the course of his life changed. He just didn’t know it yet.

The tour kicks off in the unlikely surroundings of Frome, Somerset. Unlikely in the sense that this quaint market town is not exactly a football hotbed. Its local team, Frome Town, plays in English football’s seventh tier.

But the town’s main entertainment venue is packed for Hurst’s arrival.

At 7.30pm, the lights are dimmed and the room falls silent before a big screen flickers into life, showing the goals from the 1966 final, building up towards that moment: “They think it’s all over… It is now.”

Hurst arrives on stage to cheers, but he starts with an apology for the tissue sticking out of his nose — the legacy, he says, of a nosebleed that morning. “It was either stuff this up my nose or cancel the gig,” he says. With that, he is into his stride and his polished repertoire.

But he has only been on stage minutes before his nose starts bleeding again. He reluctantly leaves to be patched up. An auction of signed shirts — Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Pele, Hurst — ensues, brought forward from the interval, raising money for children’s charities in the south west, before Hurst returns to the stage half an hour later.

The crowd waits for Hurst in Frome (Photo: Oliver Kay)

Undeterred, Hurst rattles through a series of anecdotes and has just spoken about being mistaken for Glenn Hoddle in the Cheltenham branch of John Lewis when the bleeding starts again. He looks distraught as he walks off.

Eventually, the compere comes back on and reluctantly, apologetically calls it a night with the promise that Hurst will return to Frome at a later date. There is a sense of anticlimax in the air, but there is also a lot of warmth towards Hurst.

“Get yourself sorted, Geoff,” someone calls out, to a round of applause. “Go and get fixed,” shouts another. More applause. Backstage, Hurst is anguished. But he can hear the applause. It warms his heart.

Back in Cheltenham, Hurst says he feels lucky. Blessed with the talent to become a professional footballer; blessed with the mindset to make the most of that talent; blessed with an opportunity to play in the World Cup when he had felt happy — indeed honoured — just to watch Greaves from the bench; blessed with everything that fell his way on July 30, 1966; blessed with good health.

His pride at his World Cup final hat-trick is abundantly clear; he doesn’t mind suggesting Kylian Mbappe’s three goals against Argentina in 2022 resonate less because France lost the final, but he doesn’t for one minute claim to have been England’s best performer in the final. He is sure he wasn’t.

“Oh no, I would say Bally was man of the match,” Hurst says. “Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville analysed the final for Sky a few years ago and they said Alan Ball was man of the match. Absolutely he was. Bally was probably the most passionate player ever to represent England. He was absolutely fantastic.

Some of the team celebrate the 1966 win (Allsport Hulton/Archive)

“The ability of that team goes without question. Banks, Moore, Charlton, Greaves… I mean, good heavens. I played with some fantastic players over the years, but you wouldn’t find four better than those four.”

It is striking that he includes Greaves, whose place he took. “I’ve always been acutely aware of that,” he says. “Jimmy was one of the greatest goalscorers — if not the greatest goalscorer — we have ever had.”

Greaves admitted to a sense of despair at missing out. His overwhelming feeling was that he was “the loneliest man in Wembley Stadium that particular day”. “All I wanted to do that day, after we won the World Cup was just to… go away and be alone really,” he told the BBC in 1981.

Greaves only played three more times for England. He continued to excel for Tottenham Hotspur, but within three years, in his late 20s, his career was in steep decline. Two years after that, he was finished with professional football and battling with alcoholism. Greaves, who died in 2021, always rejected the theory that the bittersweet World Cup triumph triggered his off-pitch problems, but he also admitted that missing out was a “tremendous blow” to his self-esteem.

Hurst’s life went in the opposite direction. He was now English football’s golden boy.

There is another dimension to the 1966 story. It concerns the widely held feeling that English football and the English establishment let down the heroes who had won the World Cup. It was as if on one level their achievement was taken for granted, as if it were simply a restoration of the natural order (which, as the past six decades have demonstrated, it was not). On another level, individual contributions seemed to be overlooked in the eagerness to bask in the glory of victory.

Many of Hurst’s team-mates struggled financially after they had finished playing football. Most of them had left school at 16 to start football apprenticeships, many of them with no qualifications, and were not set up for the third act of their lives.

Ball and, more enduringly, Jack Charlton had success in management, Bobby Charlton’s name and reputation earned him ambassadorial work, Wilson became an undertaker and Hunt joined the family’s haulage business. But others drifted — lionised as national heroes when it suited the establishment, but otherwise forgotten, cut adrift, “put out to pasture” as Ball’s son Jimmy described it.

That included Moore, who dabbled in management (unsuccessfully) and business (even more so) and ended up grateful that David Sullivan, now chairman of West Ham, briefly employed him in a largely ceremonial role at the Sunday Sport newspaper so that he could at least get a seat in the press box to watch the club he had represented with distinction.

It was not until after Moore’s death that statues were commissioned in his honour at Upton Park, West Ham’s former home, and Wembley.

“There are a lot of stories about that with Mooro and others,” Hurst says. “You look at it now, where there are so many jobs for ex-players, working for the clubs or working in the media, and it’s fantastic. But it really wasn’t like that then. It wasn’t like Germany, where they used the experience and knowledge of players in various roles once they retired. Here, you could hardly get a ticket.”

Hurst scores the winner against Argentina in the quarter-final (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hurst tried his hand at management, initially at non-League Telford United and then at Chelsea, where he lasted 19 months, narrowly missing out on promotion in the first season before being sacked towards the end of the second. There was a brief and lucrative stint coaching in Kuwait, but Hurst soon concluded he would be better off leaving football behind and selling insurance policies instead.

In some ways, Hurst more resembles a retired insurance salesman than an ex-footballer. He enjoyed the work and found the transition fairly easy, even if it felt like a comedown. Early on, he cold-called a customer and introduced himself before being told, curtly, “If you’re Geoff Hurst, I’m f***ing Marilyn Monroe”. He tells that story as enthusiastically as any from his football career.

But Hurst, too, faced adversity — and grief. His brother, Robert, died by suicide in 1974 having been stalked by depression for years.

Hurst recounts how years later, on a train from Norwich to London, a conductor sat down with him and gave him a cup of tea. He imagined this was the prelude to a conversation about 1966 and all that. Instead, the conductor revealed he had been working on the train that Robert threw himself in front of.

He also lost his eldest daughter, Claire, in 2010 after a long illness. “My wife Judith and I struggled with that for a long time,” he says, adding that he feels unable to accompany Judith on her trips to the cemetery because he finds it too painful.

In more recent years, Hurst has found himself grieving team-mates and friends. The loss of Peters, his West Ham team-mate, hit him hard. They were neighbours for years and their wives were particularly close. Likewise the loss of Bobby Charlton. “Bobby was the best,” he says. “Just the best. My wife puts it perfectly about Bobby. He never put a foot wrong, on or off the pitch.”

Hurst waits as Queen Elizabeth II presents Bobby Moore with the trophy (Keystone/Getty Images)

So many players of that generation were diagnosed with dementia. That includes six of the starting XI in that World Cup final (Wilson, Stiles, Peters, Hunt and both Charlton brothers).

“There was some research recently which suggested retired footballers from our generation were three-and-a-half times more likely to get dementia than the rest of the population,” Hurst says. “You can’t ignore that. There has to be a link to the constant banging (heading), particularly with the old balls we used to have. At West Ham, we used to practise heading for 45 minutes at a time, jumping up to a head a ball on a rope.”

But it felt particularly cruel to Hurst that so many of his team-mates lost the memories that would have nourished them daily. He says he still thinks of the World Cup final every day and it still brings a smile to his face. The thought of some of his team-mates spending their final days staring into the middle distance, their place in the nation’s sporting history lost on them, saddens him immensely.

He knows it could happen to him, too. He knows fate can be capricious and cruel. Of that, too, he has daily reminders.

Two weeks after that false start in Frome, Hurst is back on stage at a theatre in Worcester, a half-hour drive from his Cheltenham home.

He starts by asking the audience whether they had heard he had been unwell.

Yes, comes the concerned reply.

“Well… I’m f***ing all right,” he says to the sound of laughter. “It was a nosebleed. The first nosebleed I’ve ever had. So I could spend 20 minutes on the nosebleed story or I could talk about my career. Which would you prefer?”

The audience delivers the right answer and Hurst is off again and into his stride, talking about his old team-mates: Banks the greatest goalkeeper he ever saw; Moore so immaculate that “he used to iron his banknotes”, so smooth that “when he got out of the bath he wasn’t wet”; Ball a tenacious bundle of energy with a squeaky voice; Stiles as hard as nails but hilarious, at times without realising it.

In the middle of it was Ramsey, whose quiet air of authority brought the whole thing together in a way that no England manager has been able to do in nearly six decades since.

Hurst, England’s World Cup hero, at 82 (Photo: Oliver Kay)

To Hurst, that last fact is astounding. “At times it has been very disappointing,” he says. “There have been some disastrous tournaments.

“But I think this current bunch of players under this manager (Gareth Southgate) are the best we’ve had in a long time. I mean, Harry Kane, what a player, crikey. Jude Bellingham, it’s remarkable what he’s doing at such a young age. It takes more than just a good bunch of players to win something, but we do have some fantastic players. I wouldn’t be shocked or surprised if we went on to win (the European Championship) this year.”

He hopes so. That or the World Cup in 2026. He enjoys the prestige that comes with his place in sporting history, particularly the hat-trick, but the honour of being the only living Englishman to have played in a World Cup final — let alone to have won it — is not something he ever contemplated and he certainly never wished for.

The more time that has passed, the lonelier it has become on that particular pedestal. He misses those times when he and that band of brothers would get together, play a round of golf while the wives went shopping, and reminisce about the good old days. These days it is all about keeping their memory and their legacy alive.

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Eamonn Dalton)



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