I was a West Ham boy through and through. Born in 1937, we lived in Forest Gate, just at the top end of Green Street. I was evacuated from 1940 until 1945 and moved back to Forest Gate just before war’s end. In 1948 I went to Plaistow Grammar School and in 1949 I went, with my dad, to my first match at Upton Park; since which time there has been no other football club that has ever mattered so far as I was concerned. When I was 16 my dad bought me my first Season ticket and we used to go together with some mates to both the First Team and the Reserve matches every Saturday of the season.
That was how I got to follow the youngsters that were making a name for themselves in the reserve team and saw all three of our World Cup heroes go through their paces in the reserves before graduating to the first team and subsequent world renown. Bobby Moore, as a very young man, was always picked out as a potential England Player and he proved his advocates correct “in trumps”. Geoff Hurst began his career as a midfield player too, but was converted by Ron Greenwood to a Centre Forward fairly early in his career; what a good judge he was. And last, but by no means least, there was Martin Peters, another reserve team graduate who was the Trevor Brooking of his generation; although to be fair to Martin, when Sir Trevor first arrived, the opposite was said to be the case and he was seen by many supporters as the Martin Peters of his time.
Although England, as hosts didn’t need to pre-qualify, as a West Ham fan, I guess you have to say that the build-up to the 1966 final still began two years previously. 1964 was the first of the three successive finals at Wembley in which West Ham, through their invincible Captain, came out holding the Cup aloft. In ’64 it was the FA Cup, in ’65 the Cup-Winners’ Cup and then, in 1966, the Jules Rimet Trophy, otherwise known as the World Cup.
I was very lucky in that I had a friend with a lot of foresight, who persuaded 5 or 6 of us to buy season tickets for all the World Cup matches at Wembley. And so I had the good fortune to see every one of England’s games. Naturally, as a Hammers fan it was incredible that we had three of our heroes in the squad, although it was only Bobby Moore and Martin Peters who were reckoned to be amongst those who were likely to be selected to play. The main strikers were Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt and they were duly selected for the first three matches.
The opening game, against Uruguay, was an anti-climax. It finished in 0-0 draw, and this bode poorly for our chances of winning the tournament, as no previous World Cup winner had ever failed to win their opening game. Of the West Ham trio, only Bobby Moore played in that match. We then played Mexico and France, and won each match by 2 goals to zero. Martin Peters was included in the selection, together with Bobby Moore, for both of those matches. Three of the goals were scored by Hunt and the other by Bobby Charlton.
We were through to the quarter finals and were to play Argentina who had developed quite a reputation for themselves, in the early rounds, as a pretty tough bunch of players. Jimmy Greaves had been injured against France with a slash down his leg and he was replaced by Geoff Hurst. Suddenly, we had three players in the team; that was one more than Man Utd and two more than any other club that was represented. The only other player from a London club was George Cohen from Fulham. Although we didn’t know it at the time, this group of players would remain the same for the remainder of the tournament, including the Final.
The match against Argentina was as rough as we had expected and resulted in the dismissal of the Argentine Captain early in the second half. Initially he refused to leave the field and needed to be escorted by several policemen. Geoff Hurst headed the only goal of the game in the 78th minute and England were now only one match away from the Final.
Our semi-final opponents, Portugal, had been making a name for themselves and one player in particular, Eusebio, who played for the Portuguese club Benfica, was already the player of the tournament. He had scored four goals in the first three matches followed by a further four goals against N Korea in the quarter-final to help to reverse a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 victory. He was supported by a very good team of high quality footballers and we were duly apprehensive. After a very tough match, in which Eusebio was effectively marked out of the match by Nobby Stiles, we wound up 2-1 winners, with Bobby Charlton scoring twice against a Eusebio Penalty. Eusebio literally left the field in tears. We, however, were now to face our old enemy, the West Germans.
I had watched all these matches from the seat I had purchased as a season ticket. However, for the Final, my dad had been given a ticket by an old friend who was a quite senior officer in the Met. They had been good friends for many years. Unfortunately my Old Man had recently suffered several quite serious heart attacks and my Mum just put her foot down and wouldn’t let him go to Wembley, so I wound up with a seat about 3 rows behind the Royal Box and sitting just in front of the England reserves and players’ wives. It was certainly the best seat I had ever had at a football match and to have it at that particular game was just unbelievable. The only problem was that I had to leave my mates and watch the match on my own. It didn’t matter, it was an incredible atmosphere and we were able to swap stories afterwards as we had watched from opposite sides of the stadium.
From a Hammers viewpoint, the best pre-match news was that, in spite of Jimmy Greaves having recovered from his injury, Alf Ramsey had decided to retain Geoff Hurst in the side. The press, and in particular the Spurs fans, were up in arms and I have already told the story on this site of a Spurs Director who was sitting just in front of me who, every time Geoff touched the ball, moaned vociferously, complaining what a terrible selection it had been, what a waste of space he was and why oh why wasn’t Jimmy Greaves playing. As you can imagine, when Geoff got his first goal, I pointed out to this bloke in my loudest cockney voice, just why Jimmy Greaves wasn’t playing; when the second one came along I suggested, again quite loudly, that it was probably a very good thing too that he wasn’t playing and after the third …..well ….. I was just too speechless to say anything … but I think Geoff had made my point for me.
To describe how we felt that day ….that night …that weekend ….that month …right through that year; my words cannot convey just how much it meant to us. Not just to us Hammers Fans, but to the nation as a whole. Never before had a single sporting event of such momentum and such deep meaning been available to us wherever we were whilst it was happening. I was one of the lucky 98,000 people who witnessed it first hand; and to be an Englishman and a soccer fan, and a lifelong Hammers fan, made it so very very special. Remember how we all felt in 2012 when the medals were counted, think of how proud and elated we were. Then, multiply it by infinity. That will give you some idea of just how good it felt at that time.
This is why those three young men are now legends, not just among the West Ham cognoscenti, but among all English football supporters of a certain age, and of one or two Brazilians as well, so I have heard.
Note from Iain: What a great post. Great memories. I’m always happy for anyone to submit guest posts. They can be nostalgic or on current issues. Just use the Contact button above and email me.