1966 World Cup heroes to be honoured at last

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THE SIX unrecognised heroes of England's 1966 World Cup triumph are to be honoured as "icons of the millennium", senior government sources say. The Independent on Sunday has learned that both the Queen and Tony Blair are "favourably disposed" to the remaining members of the squad being appointed OBEs or made MBEs.

The idea was first suggested by Tony Banks, the former sports minister, who claimed it was an injustice that needed to be righted before the millennium ended. A senior source said: "Tony Banks put forward a pretty persuasive case to the Prime Minister and that has also been taken on board by the Palace."

With England drawn in the same qualifying group as Germany for the 2002 World Cup, the news could not have come at a better time, according to Mr Banks. "This is great news if it is true - and I sincerely hope it is," he said. "When France won the World Cup in 1998 the whole team was given the Legion d'honneur. It is only right that we honour our heroes at last."

Mr Banks's honours list includes: Gordon Banks, goalkeeper; George Cohen, right-back; Ray Wilson, left-back; Roger Hunt, forward; Alan Ball, midfielder, and Nobby Stiles, midfielder.

Sir Geoff Hurst, whose hat-trick destroyed West Germany and won him an OBE, said: "They all deserve recognition." Sir Geoff only received his knighthood in 1998, 32 years after he put England's World Cup victory beyond doubt. Martin Peters, MBE, who scored England's other goal in the 4-2 win has also backed the campaign. Three other members of the squad managed by Sir Alf Ramsey - Sir Bobby Charlton, the late Bobby Moore and Jack Charlton - all got OBEs.

The Prime Minister has a lot of room to manoeuvre this year because he plans to break with precedent by recommending 2,000 people for honours, double the usual number of peerages, knighthoods and medals handed out at the new year. Many of the awards will go to celebrities whom Downing Street will bill as "icons of the millennium".

Among the contenders for titles are the Beatles, Mr Blair's favourite band. The Prime Minister's advisers hope to persuade him to recommend Sir Paul McCartney for a peerage and are considering whether John Lennon - who handed back his 1965 MBE - should be nominated for a posthumous award.