For a West Ham footballer of the 1960s Geoff Hurst was something of a rarity. Almost all of the team at the time were born within the sound of Bow Bells, whereas Geoff was born, as all the football programmes of the time will tell you, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. His family moved to Chelmsford when he was a small boy, so he qualifies as another local player. His dad was a professional footballer in the lower leagues. Geoff joined the youth set-up at Upton Park around the same time as Bobby Moore.
In his early days he was a wing half, just like Bobby, but one day, in September 1963, Ron Greenwood made one of the most inspired footballing decisions of all time, when he decided that Geoff should swap his number 4 shirt for the number 10 shirt and play up front. Of course the rest is history.
In around 500 games for us he scored 249 goals, making him our second highest goalscorer of all time behind Vic Watson from an earlier era. As a centre-forward he had all the attributes needed, powerful, fast, strong in the air, two good feet, and an unshakeable temperament, where he refused to be intimidated by the tough-tackling defenders that were around at the time. He also knew how to put the ball in the net.
He played 49 games for England, scoring 24 goals. For West Ham and England he scored an average of a goal every other game. Of his type, and I know I am biased, I believe he was the best centre-forward I have ever seen. Only Alan Shearer runs him close; they had many similarities as footballers, with similar goalscoring records.
Of course he is most famous to the world at large for scoring a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup Final. He remains the only footballer to have achieved the feat. He only won his first England cap in February 1966, and didn’t even start the tournament that year in the team. He came into the side for the quarter-final against Argentina when Jimmy Greaves was injured. He scored the only goal of a tough game, turning in a near post cross from Martin Peters, a goal straight from the West Ham training ground at Chadwell Heath.
He kept his place for the semi-final, setting up one of the goals in a victory over Portugal, and controversially (to some) also retained his place in the team for the final, despite Jimmy Greaves having recovered from injury. In so many ways, the hat-trick in the final was perfect. A near post header from a Bobby Moore free kick, a right footed shot that thundered down off the underside of the bar, and a left footed screamer in the last seconds of extra time (when some people were on the pitch thinking it was all over!).
But my main memories are of the goals and performances for West Ham throughout the 1960s. In many ways Geoff took over from my previous hero who wore the number 10 shirt, John Dick. Geoff was the leading scorer in seven seasons, and in the mid-sixties he twice scored forty goals in all competitions.
Perhaps the most impressive front-two partnership I have ever witnessed in almost sixty years of watching the game was the one Geoff forged alongside Johnny (Budgie) Byrne for a five year period from around 1962 until 1967. Their understanding, not to mention their prolific goal tally, was superb. He also played up front for a short time alongside both Jimmy Greaves and Pop Robson in a claret and blue shirt. Many will also recall the almost telepathic partnership with Martin Peters who played in midfield. On so many occasions they set up goals for one another, many of them coming from the near post cross that West Ham patented at the time.
I was listening to Dean Ashton (another in the Geoff Hurst mould) on the radio recently and he was bemoaning the current trend for one striker playing up front on his own. How I would love to see a change of tactic with a front pairing along the lines of Hurst and Byrne, or McAvennie and Cottee, in our attack at the moment.
Geoff was Hammer of the Year on three occasions in the 1960s at a time when we had so many great players. He is one of a handful of footballers to have been knighted, although quite why that honour was not bestowed upon the whole of the 1966 World Cup winning team is beyond me.
Of course we can’t leave a piece on Geoff Hurst without mentioning the controversial third goal (the first in extra time) in the 1966 World Cup Final. Apparently Geoff is asked the question almost every day. Did it cross the line? Well Roger Hunt says it did, as did the Azerbaijan linesman. That’s good enough for me!