Martin Peters: I can't see us ending 44 years of hurt

The youngest survivor from 1966 opens up on missing a knighthood, selling car warranties and failing in management. Steve Tongue speaks to Martin Peters
Click to follow

But for one clumsy foul, he would have gone down in history as the man whose goal won the World Cup. Martin Peters's volley into West Germany's net with only 12 minutes of the 1966 final remaining put England 2-1 ahead and should have assured him of that honour. Instead, Jack Charlton was penalised at the other end, the Germans equalised and it was Peters's West Ham colleague Geoff Hurst who was able to earn sporting immortality, not to mention a knighthood, by completing a hat-trick in extra time.

"I did once tell Geoff that I'd have been made a Sir and he wouldn't," says Peters but, as can be imagined, it is said with a smile. There is no shortage of joshing whenever the boys of '66 meet up, as will happen frequently over the course of the next few months. In a World Cup year they are in greater demand than ever, and Peters will be taking part in a roadshow with half-a-dozen others in Manchester, Newcastle and Southend in May. He is a popular after-dinner speaker, and it never takes long for conversation to turn to that sunny afternoon at Wembley when God was an Englishman.

Then there is the annual reunion for all surviving squad members. He insists that as a patriotic crowd they would all love to see the current England side emulate them this summer, though he does not sound optimistic.

"I think it will be difficult. There's a few problems with different players, especially in defence. We certainly haven't got a Gordon Banks. I think Robert Green will take over from David James in goal. [Glen] Johnson at right-back has been injured and is more of an attacking player than a defensive one, and of course there's Ashley Cole's broken ankle and a problem with Wayne Bridge. Rio Ferdinand's got a bit of a back problem.

"So it looks a bit iffy. That's the defence. Then, no disrespect to Emile Heskey, but he's played 50-odd games for England and scored seven goals. Although he works his socks off and makes space for Rooney, if you're a centre-forward you need to score a few goals, don't you?"

As for Rooney, Peters worries that the opposition's familiarity will breed only ruthlessness. In Hurst and Peters, whose telepathic understanding won the quarter-final against Argentina's "animals", England had two players who were something of an unknown quantity to the rest of the world; both were uncapped until the spring of 1966 and were only reserves when the tournament began.

Much as Rooney would love similar anonymity, his face and his football are known all over the world. "It might be a hard World Cup for Wayne Rooney. Other teams will be more wary of him and he may have more trouble trying to score goals at that level when they're putting a player on him to keep him out of the game."

Peters believes the absence of David Beckham will not be a handicap, although he would not object to his fellow East Londoner being taken along for the ride. "It might be a bit of a bonus to have him. When I've met him he comes across as a very nice guy and I wouldn't be surprised if he took the opportunity.

"I don't think Sir Alf would have taken anybody. Although in Mexico in 1970 two or three lads stayed on after the squad had been cut down from about 27 to 22."

He is impressed by Fabio Capello, not least for finding him a chip off the old Ramsey block. "He reminds me of Alf the way he goes about his business. You don't mess around with them. And hopefully the Nags – that's what my wife calls the Wags – are not involved, because that was crazy. He seems to approach the whole job better than the past four or five people, and the respect the players seem to have for him is outstanding. Nobody will take a liberty, that's for sure."

It was, of course, Ramsey who famously described Peters, after England had played Scotland in 1968, as "10 years ahead of his time". What is less well-known is that five years earlier Ramsey had telephoned West Ham's manager, Ron Greenwood, after an England Under-23 international and complained in familiar clipped style: "This boy Peters cannot play." Greenwood's advice to Ramsey – also ahead of its time – was to stick him on the left of midfield and let him wander; pretty much what Steven Gerrard is doing for Capello almost half a century later. Peters's versatility had often counted against him and his unobtrusive style of play, characterised by a late run into the penalty area, was easily dismissed, not only on the terraces but by some of the supposedly shrewdest judges. The two books he has written were called Goals from Nowhere! and The Ghost of '66.

Like Hurst and Bobby Moore, the other members of the West Ham triumvirate, he failed as a manager. The opportunity, at Sheffield United, probably came too soon. "I took it because I wanted to stay in football but I didn't have enough knowledge of the way things were run. It was a mistake. I should have stayed at Norwich, where I had a great time." He was 37 and went back to live in Norfolk, winding down with occasional games for Gorleston, and finding that possession of a World Cup-winners' medal (and a taxable £1,000 bonus) did not exactly set a family man up for life.

What it did was open doors – front doors in many cases – as a salesman of extended motor warranties. At 66 (appropriately), he still does a little of that, as well as match-day hospitality at his two former London clubs, Tottenham and West Ham, where "the only thing I don't like is that they seem to hate each other". He remains optimistic about the two clubs' very different targets for the rest of the season and takes comfort for the longer term in West Ham's recent change of ownership.

"I think it's a big benefit, Mr Sullivan and Mr Gold taking over. It just seems better than people from Iceland or somewhere. They're East Enders and West Ham supporters, had a good eight or nine years at Birmingham and know what it's all about. There's a massive game on Tuesday at home to Wolves. In fact the home games are all against teams down at the bottom, and if they take advantage of that they'll get out of trouble."

After that, it will be over to the boys of 2010. "I think our team would like them to win it again. It's gone on 44 years now. With poor Alan Ball dying, I'm the youngest one left now. You never know what's round the corner."

For details of the 1966 World Cup shows in May, visit a1sporting-memorabilia.co.uk, call Terry Baker on 07973 387294 or email terry@a1sportingspeakers.com

Comments