Sir Geoff Hurst: 'They paid £80,000 to get '66 match ball back off Germans'

Hurst on England's chances, Capello comparisons and the wonder of Wayne
  • @stevetongue

Amid all the excitement of the World Cup's opening weekend, Sir Geoff Hurst has been mulling over the past and the future. If talk at this time easily turns to the days of 1966, of Bobby and Martin, he has his mind on another former West Hammer and a fellow knight, Sir Trevor Brooking, whose campaign at the Football Association for more and better coaching he fully endorses.

Hurst is now director of football for McDonald's, who, whatever they are doing to the nation's diet, have rolled out an impressive programme of 20,000 coaches in the United Kingdom. Now they are spreading into South Africa with similar plans, as well as a special project adding football to the arts and drama taught at a care centre in Soweto for children whose lives have been affected in some way by HIV.

"Trevor and I come from an era when we received good coaching," Hurst says, "and we've got to try and replicate what we had, a system that produced some of the greatest players in our history. We're not producing enough players. We've got Wayne Rooney but we won the World Cup without arguably the greatest English goalscorer in Jimmy Greaves."

He is too modest to point out who was the beneficiary – and how – of Greaves' injury before the quarter-final against Argentina, which Hurst won with a goal crafted on the West Ham training ground by Ron Greenwood, a man recently described by Harry Redknapp as the best English coach of the past 50 years.

The story of the final is too well known to bear repetition; the tale of what happened to the match ball that should have gone to the man who scored a hat-trick less so. "As soon as the final whistle went, Haller, who had scored the opening goal, stuffed the ball up his jersey and ran off with it to Germany, where it stayed in his loft for 30 years. Then in 1996, an article in a magazine about what had happened to it ignited a media war between the Sun and the Mirror.

"To cut a long story short," Hurst added, "the Mirror and Richard Branson's group, which got involved, paid Haller £80,000 to bring it back. It went on show at Waterloo Station when I was there but it was all cloak-and-dagger stuff between the two newspapers. Branson turned up downstairs on a motorbike and we met him, and after a weekend of publicity it went to the National Football Museum at Preston, which is now being moved to Manchester."

A recent dinner for some of the 1966 side attended by Fabio Capello brought past and present together and caused the old boys to make inevitable comparisons between their manager and the new man; Hurst had already done that when he went to an England friendly in Berlin as the FA's guest.

"What's interesting is that right at the start of his reign comparisons were made [with Alf Ramsey] and they were perfectly correct. I saw the discipline and changes in the respect and awe in which the players hold Fabio. We've seen a complete change in the performances of the players. The big criticism from the man in the street was that the players weren't performing as well for England as for their clubs. We're now seeing performances that are as good.

"Capello said there was a certain fear in the way they were playing, which was right. Now you see someone like Jamie Carragher wanting to play for England again."

Did the equally stern disciplinarian Ramsey ever let his hair down? "I wouldn't use that expression, he'd turn in his grave. But after a game you would see him at the banquet at Wembley with a gin and tonic in his hand and a big cigar. That's Alf's version of letting his hair down. I'm sure Fabio likes a nice glass of Italian red from time to time. The biggest thing now is the discipline. It's about football now, not about showbiz. So, many similarities."

So, what of England? "I'm extremely optimistic. When the draw came out it looked favourable, not just the group but our half of it. It was nonsense to say as some did that it was easy, because these teams have all qualified for a World Cup and deserve respect.

"The first game is always nerve-racking as it was for us in '66 against Uruguay. They celebrated a draw as if they'd won the World Cup. I think it's English-style weather here, which will favour the European teams, though there are difficulties with altitude, as there were in Mexico for us in 1970, and you'll see the ball fly."

Just one proviso: "We won the World Cup without Jimmy Greaves. It's inconceivable we could win it without Wayne Rooney."