Sir Geoff Hurst, wearing a replica 1966 World Cup final shirt, in front of the London Eye ahead of the Euro 2020 final on Sunday
Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA
World Cup glory was almost 20 years in the past, and Sir Geoff Hurst was standing in his garage, knocking on the door to his kitchen. On the other side was his wife Judith, playing the role of a complete stranger.
"It was all part of my training to become an insurance salesman," Sir Geoff says, laughing at the memory. "My wife would pretend to be a potential client and I would practice my door-to-door sales technique, trying to sell her life insurance.
"I didn’t knock on the front door though. That would have been a bit too obvious."
Scoring a hat-trick for England in the World Cup final and being a sporting legend did not come with a lifetime salary, and when soccer was finished with him, Sir Geoff had to go out and get a job, just like the other 10 players who had entered the footballing Pantheon with him in 1966. He even had a brief spell on the dole.
There will be no such difficulties for Sir Geoff’s modern-day counterpart Harry Kane if England win the European Championship on Sunday. His biggest problem will be finding ways to spend the tens of millions he will earn through advertising, sponsorships and a sky-high salary.
In common with the only England team to have won a major trophy to date, victory will mean the Euro 2020 team’s names forever being burnished in the nation’s history. So can they beat Italy?
"Yes. I felt right at the beginning of the tournament Italy were going to be the team to beat," says Sir Geoff. "But we can beat them. We’ve got a very good team that things are going well for, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we beat them.
"We’re quite capable, with the camaraderie and the team spirit, the youngsters and the way they play, the clever substitutions and the management, we can beat them.
"But you also need an element of luck which you can never think about, never prepare for."
Like a Russian linesman deciding the ball crossed the line for Sir Geoff’s third, eternally disputed, third goal in the 1966 final?
"Well, if we had VAR (video assistant referees) in our time it would have shown that the ball was at least six inches over the line," he says, with deadpan delivery.
Sir Geoff says the memories of the World Cup final in 1966, such as the one below where he scored his hat-trick, will stay with him for ever
Credit: Matthew Lloyd for The Telegraph
Sir Geoff sees plenty of parallels between this team and Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winners (of which more later) and if they win they will be able to turn to Sir Geoff for advice on how to handle the fan letters, the autograph requests and the free drinks that will be part of their everyday life until they are old and grey.
Sir Geoff does not, however, expect to be asked for advice from them on how to get into insurance sales, or any of the jobs other England World Cup winners fell into: undertaker, travel agent, raffle ticket salesman or road haulage worker, for example.
"In those days, footballers tended to do one of two things when they stopped playing – running a pub or getting into insurance," Sir Geoff tells The Telegraph from his home in Cheltenham. "I ended up doing the second one."
Incredible as it may seem in the era of £300,000-a-week salaries, the boys of ‘66 had no financial safety net when they stopped playing, having earned relatively modest sums during their careers.
Being a household name was not a career in itself, and it could even be a hindrance, as Sir Geoff recalls.
"One of the courses I did to learn about the art of selling involved picking a random page in the phone book and cold-calling people to see if you could set up an appointment to meet them," he says.
"I remember calling one lady, and giving her the usual, ‘my name’s Geoff Hurst and I work for Abbey Life’, and so on. She told me she would have to fetch her husband, as he dealt with that sort of thing, and when he came to the phone he said: ‘If your name’s Geoff Hurst, my name’s effing Marilyn Monroe!’ That was the end of that one."
What happened to the boys of ’66?
Sir Geoff worked in insurance for 18 years – almost as long as his football career – and only retired in 2002, by which time the status of the 1966 team had been elevated to almost mythical status thanks to decades of crushing failure by their successors.
Not everyone was impressed by his status. "I ended up working in mechanical breakdown insurance for Motorplan, going around garages trying to sign up new clients," Sir Geoff says. “I handed over my business card to the receptionist at one Ford dealership, and when the boss came down he threw it back at me and said: ‘I don’t deal with former footballers’."
Mechanical Breakdown Expert
At another dealership he handed over his card and was asked: ‘You’re an MBE, what does that stand for?’ I said, ‘It stands for mechanical breakdown expert’. He just said, ‘ah OK, thank you’."
Sir Geoff, 79, looks back with fondness on his insurance career, and is at pains to impress on me that neither he nor his team-mates were ever bitter about their lot in life.
Signing on the dole for £25 a week after being sacked as Chelsea manager in 1981 "wasn’t the end of the world", he shrugs.
"It’s easy to look back and think, yes it was bad – looking back now it seems crazy that someone who’s been involved with England winning the World Cup is on the dole.
"But for me it was just something that happened and it was a small part of your life and you just get out and carry on.
"Not for one second have I felt bitter. I’ve been very fortunate in my life to move out of football and go on to do other things."
How did he adjust to the humility of life as a salesman after the footballing equivalent of walking on the moon?
"My attitude was that the past was forgotten," he says. "I didn’t want to be harping on about the past. I wanted to concentrate on the life I was leading then in the insurance world. It is hard for some people, it’s hard for some players when they’ve been in football all their lives to extricate themselves from the football world. But my attitude was, you know, you move on, and I wanted to focus on becoming a success in a new life and a new world. The past, as much as it was fantastic, you had to push it aside."
Part of the reason for Sir Geoff’s sense of perspective – and that of his team-mates – is that many of them had already had tough jobs before they became footballers, making them all the more grateful for their sporting careers and more resilient when adversity came their way.
Where today’s England stars have grown up in football academies starting when they were as young as six, Jack Charlton worked as a miner before turning professional, Gordon Banks had delivered coal after leaving school (as well as completing his national service) and Ray Wilson was a former apprentice railwayman.
Sir Geoff says: "Before my time there was a maximum wage of £20 a week – £15 in the summer – so my time was not bad, I was earning £7,000 a year playing for West Ham [the equivalent of around £130,000 today] and we each got a bonus of £1,000 for winning the World Cup."
Yet there is an element of pathos to the lives of many of the 1966 World Cup final team, of whom only four remain – Sir Geoff, right-back George Cohen, 81, midfield genius Sir Bobby Charlton, 83, and striker Roger Hunt, 82.
While three of the team went onto successful careers as managers – Alan Ball, Nobby Stiles and, most notably, Jack Charlton – others had their struggles to make ends meet.
For Gordon Banks, England’s greatest goalkeeper, the low point came in 1980, when he was sacked as the manager of non-league Telford United, and told his new role at the club was to sell raffle tickets to the public at the local supermarket.
Needing the money, he agreed to do it, and described it as "the most humiliating time of my life".
Captain Bobby Moore, a god among footballers, took a job as sports editor of the Sunday Sport newspaper before his tragically early death from cancer at the age of 51. Full back Ray Wilson became an undertaker for the rest of his working life. Roger Hunt got a job with his father’s road haulage firm; George Cohen used his technical drawing O-level to get a job with a local architect (and later became a property developer) and Martin Peters, the other scorer in the 1966 final, worked in insurance, like Sir Geoff. He battled with depression and was made redundant in 2001.
Even Sir Bobby Charlton, one of the most feted players of that or any age, had a second career as a travel agent, as well as business interests selling jewellery and hampers.
Ironically, it was England’s lack of success post-1966 that helped the players financially as they entered their later years, with the clamour for their time increasing as appreciation of their achievement grew in the light of each subsequent failure by their successors.
‘Not a big deal’
Sir Geoff explains he and his team-mates had no idea just how huge winning the World Cup was at the time, partly because people assumed there would be plenty more successes to come.
"It wasn’t as big a deal as it would be now," he says. "We didn’t even enter the first three World Cups [1966 was only England’s fifth tournament] and we hadn’t competed in European club football because the FA and the league didn’t want us to.
"But winning it, we thought, ‘we love this World Cup, it’s fantastic’, we’ll do it again and win one or two more."
In fact, after losing to West Germany in the 1970 quarter final, England did not even qualify for the finals in 1974 or 1978, and the years of hurt set in.
Soccer was also marred by hooliganism and tragedies at Hillsborough, Bradford and the Heysel Stadium in the 1970s and 80s, and the nation fell out of love with the game until the romance of Italia ’90, when Sir Bobby Robson’s team came within a penalty kick of a second World Cup final.
Sir Geoff took advantage of the national game’s renaissance to sell his World Cup memorabilia, including that famous red Number 10 shirt.
He said: "About 15 years ago I had a little chat with my three daughters to talk about things of ours they would like to have after we are no longer in this world.
"My eldest daughter said, ‘that settee in the living room, I’d really love that’. No mention of the World Cup medal! It shows you how non-celebrity we are. And you can’t split a World Cup winner’s medal three ways, so at that stage I decided to sell my memorabilia and give the children the money when they need it, not when they’re 60."
His medal is now in the West Ham club museum, and his shirt was sold at auction, leaving him with just "bits and pieces" of his own. What of the boots that struck the famous "they think it’s all over" goal?
"No, boots are a strange thing. I can’t remember the boots, no idea where the boots finished up."
Tea and biscuits
Could Southgate’s 2021 side have beaten the ’66 side in their prime? "Well our players are all over 70 now so it would probably be a draw," he jokes.
But would any of the current England players have got into the World Cup winning team? "Being very honest, my short answer would be no,” he says, with admirable loyalty to his old team-mates. "I could be soft and say Harry Kane could get in front of me probably, he’s scored more goals than me.
"Certainly very few would get into that team, not in the key positions, Banks, Moore, Charlton, Greaves, Ray Wilson, Alan Ball. How do you replace Bobby Charlton? He scored a goal every two games. From midfield."
Sir Geoff watched the Euro 2020 semi-final at home with his wife ("and a cup of tea and a couple of biscuits") as he was not invited to attend the match, but for the final he will be pitchside at Wembley working for the BBC.
He turns to the similarities – and differences – between the England set up of ’66 and ’21 and believes the qualities that brought success 55 years ago are present today, starting at the top.
"What was important then, as now, is the leadership and the management of the national team.
"No question at all what we are doing today is down to Gareth Southgate, his management, it’s definitely in line with the management we had in ’66 from Sir Alf Ramsey.
"Being very decisive, creating a good team environment, which is important, no big egos."
The word "ego" is one Sir Geoff uses again and again as he talks about the right and the wrong sort of players for winning the big prizes.
"I recall players that I thought would definitely be a) in the squad or b) in the team, who were not, and that interested me.
"Down the line I understood that they were perhaps players that didn’t fit into that group. Players who sulked if they weren’t playing. Alf Ramsey got the players out who didn’t want to be part of it, the egos, those who didn’t have the right attitude."
The case of Jack Grealish
Sir Geoff says Gareth Southgate was right not to give in to pressure from fans and the media to play Jack Grealish as an attacker
Credit: Frank Augstein/Shutterstock
It was typified, he says, by Bobby Charlton’s role in the final.
"Charlton had scored two in the semi-final and he was the greatest player of any era. But for the final he was told his job was to mark Franz Beckenbauer. There wasn’t a murmur [of dissent]. Not a word of complaint.
"Likewise there are no big egos in this team, and that stems from the management. Gareth has resisted, particularly in the early part of the tournament, people who wanted him to play (attacker) Jack Grealish and not have two holding midfield players, and in the past managers have succumbed to the pressure from the supporters and the press whereas it is quite clear, quite rightly, that he is strong enough and knows what he is doing.
"So huge congratulations has got to go to the management which is beginning to compare to 1966."
Sir Geoff is also impressed by the calmness of the players, saying: "During the interviews after the game, whereas the whole country is going nuts, the players are saying very calmly and quietly in the interviews that we’re not finished yet. That’s a fantastic attitude and if they win it they need to continue like that, because there’s a World Cup next year.
"Be level-headed in everyday behaviour, lead your life, don’t get conceited by it."
He finds it hard to relate to some aspects of the current training camp, however, saying: "I find it quite amusing watching the players train in the swimming pool with all the kids’ inflatables, hearing about how they have their own ice cream van and the menus at Wembley that have the players’ names on them, whereas my wife used to stand outside the changing rooms waiting for me to give her tickets."
Sir Geoff and Judith are still together after 57 years of marriage, another record few of today’s players are likely to match. Their eldest daughter Claire died 10 years ago from a brain tumour; the couple have two surviving daughters and five grandchildren, of whom the oldest is 32 and the youngest just four.
A lifetime of adulation
On top of the world … Sir Geoff Hurst, standing on top of the London Eye, says if England win on Sunday the players can look forward to a lifetime of respect, hero-worship and adulation
One thing today’s players will have in common with Sir Geoff if they win tomorrow will be the lifetime of adulation they can look forward to.
"Daily, and I mean daily, I get pictures to sign, autographs to write from every corner of the Earth," says Sir Geoff. "During the pandemic, strangely enough, it’s stepped up a bit.
"I do a 50-minute walk in the morning and then Joe Wicks for 25 minutes, and I have found more people talking to me and saying good morning than I have done for some time.
"I’ve got 10 red England shirts behind me, waiting to be signed.
"So it’ll change their lives and it will be bigger today because the coverage now is 100 times bigger, the expectation is bigger than it was in our time, the general expectation and the coverage of the game was nothing like it is today. It’s ginormous.
"If England win people will tell them in years to come about where they were or what they were doing on the day.
"The memories are unbelievable, they simply last forever.
"Something that happened to me the other day, and it will happen to Harry Maguire in 55 years’ time if they win, they will be going into a coffee shop, and a 23-year-old will come up to them and tell them that if they write down the England team they think will start the match, they will give them a cream tea for nothing.
"I wrote down what I thought would be the starting line-up. And I put myself down as a substitute."