Home Sports SIR GEOFF HURST EXCLUSIVE: These England stars are so inspiring… kids just...

SIR GEOFF HURST EXCLUSIVE: These England stars are so inspiring… kids just want to copy them

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England’s final home friendly prior to the 1966 World Cup wasn’t a sell-out. Such was the lack of expectation, just 54,000 fans turned up at Wembley Stadium to wish the boys well and it wasn’t shown on television.

By the end of the tournament, the nation had football fever. More than 32 million watched in black and white as England beat West Germany 4-2. Suddenly, kids had a new group of heroes to worship and mimic on the playground. Chief among them was the player who scored a hat-trick that day at Wembley to defeat the Germans.

Here, SIR GEOFF HURST talks to Sportsmail columnist and former England defender MARTIN KEOWN about the impact of that victory and how youngsters continue to be inspired by its international stars. KIERAN GILL joined the conversation.

Sir Geoff Hurst (right) spoke to Martin Keown (left) about the impact of the 1966 World Cup win

Sir Geoff Hurst (right) spoke to Martin Keown (left) about the impact of the 1966 World Cup win

KEOWN: I was born the week before the 1966 final, Sir Geoff, so I got out just in time to cheer you on! By the time I started my own grassroots journey at around eight, I’d hear about England, 1966 and how proud you made the nation. You had a front row seat as the country became gripped by the game.

HURST: It set the whole thing alight. The expectation was huge after that.

KEOWN: To try to follow up on that triumph was tricky I imagine.

HURST: We became the team to beat. No question. In 1970, Brazil won the World Cup. We’d played them in the group and got beat 1-0, which gave them extra confidence.

Sir Geoff (third right) scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup final with Germany

Sir Geoff (third right) scored a hat-trick for England in the 1966 World Cup final with Germany

KEOWN: The 1974 World Cup was the first tournament I properly remember idolising as a kid. I was mesmerised by Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens. But England didn’t qualify in 1974, or in 1978. Now, there’s a consistency. Gareth Southgate’s side reached the semi-finals of the Nations League, the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup, now the final of Euro 2020.

HURST: This is the most consistent time we’ve had and this is a young team. Some of these kids in grassroots, they’re 15 years old. The guys playing for England aren’t much older than they are.

KEOWN: You’re right. Bukayo Saka is 19, for example, and he was one of England’s standout performers of the tournament.

HURST: It inspires so many kids to want to be there. It makes them want to copy them.

KEOWN: Just like the kids of the 1960s and 1970s did after your achievements.

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka was one of England's standout performers at Euro 2020

Arsenal winger Bukayo Saka was one of England’s standout performers at Euro 2020

We are at Wembley for this interview. Hurst and Keown are McDonald’s Fun Football ambassadors, here to celebrate the five millionth hour of free coaching to children in the UK. Naturally it makes them reflect on their own upbringings.

Hurst tells a story from his teenage years in Chelmsford about how he got in trouble for kicking a ball into a neighbour’s garden too often. He was accused of disturbing the peace and fined a grand total of £1. He also recalls how his father, Charlie, who also played professionally, made sure he practised with his weaker left foot. That came in handy when he secured his hat-trick in the 1966 final, finding the top corner to complete the famous scoreline.

HURST: In my day it was street football. It was a cul-de-sac so there wasn’t much traffic. A few years ago, I went back to where I grew up to do a piece for McDonald’s in that street. I nearly got run over three or four times filming that! Cars were flying up and down, and that’s in a cul-de-sac! I look at the past in astonishment and amusement at how much times have changed.

KEOWN: I was the same. Out there on the roads, me and my pals.

Hurst started out playing football on the streets before becoming a household name in 1966

Hurst started out playing football on the streets before becoming a household name in 1966

GILL: The rule in my household was to come home when the streetlights switched on.

HURST: That’s right. You’d get called in when it got dark. You played until your mam or dad shouted: ‘Oi! Get in.’ And that was it. That meant it was time to go in.

KEOWN: They were like mini academies. You wanted to be the best player in your area, you wanted to win that game. You kept playing until dark or until they shut the gates to the park.

GILL: Not all children are blessed with a big enough back garden and times have changed from when kids could play in the streets until dark. Is that why these sorts of free football sessions are important at grassroots level to give today’s youngsters that chance to play regularly?

KEOWN: Definitely. For a while it felt like there was a generation of kids who thought that by being good at playing FIFA on the PlayStation, they were good footballers. They weren’t. We want them back out on the park. This was another opportunity to do it, for boys and for girls. You could see the quality here today and this experience will stay with them. Imagine coming to Wembley when we were kids ourselves and getting to play on the pitch, Sir Geoff.

Young kids are able to come and play at Wembley as part of McDonalds Fun Football sessions

Young kids are able to come and play at Wembley as part of McDonalds Fun Football sessions

HURST: It’s unbelievable. We could name plenty of professional players who were never fortunate enough to set foot on this pitch. Today you’ve got kids here, five years old, who can go home and say they’ve played at Wembley.

KEOWN: I went to Wembley in 1979 to watch England face Denmark in a European Championship qualifier. It was a night game, a full house and I was enchanted by the entire evening. I remember thinking: ‘I want to be one of those players on that pitch someday.’ It can be a real source of inspiration, a stadium like this.

After England lost to Italy on a penalty shootout in the Euro 2020 final, the nation, although disappointed, was proud of its players for providing a thrilling summer.

When the 2022 World Cup rolls around, there will be a great deal of expectation on Southgate and his squad. More than on Sir Alf Ramsey and his men in the build-up to 1966, that’s for sure. This is a group of young talent which supporters, young and old, want to get behind.

KEOWN: For a long time, people have spoken about footballers in respect of how much they’re paid, what cars they drive, how flash they are. But with the pandemic, with the way footballers were reaching out, with the way Marcus Rashford was helping others, it created a connection. It felt like there was a newfound unity.

The Euro 2020 tournament was a reminder of how much fans were missed over Covid-19

The Euro 2020 tournament was a reminder of how much fans were missed over Covid-19

HURST: We hadn’t seen any crowds during the pandemic. We’d been locked away. Then all of a sudden, you’ve got two games with 60,000-plus fans, a semi-final and a final at Wembley. It was fantastic.

KEOWN: I was surprised I didn’t see you at the directors’ box until the final of Euro 2020. It was especially a shame you didn’t receive an invite for the game against Germany, considering what you did against them in 1966. You really deserved to be there to enjoy that victorious evening.

HURST: I got an invite for the final. I took my 15-year-old grandson and he loved it. With the pandemic, with everything that happened, it made it all the more special. The players, the fans, the families, the kids. It was so important. It inspired so many.

Hurst and Keown are asking parents to sign up to McDonald’s Fun Football sessions, FREE for children aged 5-11 at more than 350 centres UK wide. 

Find your nearest centre at: www.mcdonalds.co.uk/football

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