Sir Geoff Hurst: ‘We’ve never needed victory more – bring it home boys’

Liverpool’s legendary boss Bill Shankly was quoted as saying: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

Now – after 18 months of this awful pandemic and the loss of so many lives – we know all too well that that isn’t true.

But make no mistake, tonight is more than a football match.

It’s a national event.

Victory for England’s players would be a win for every one of us.

Coming as we slowly attempt to recover from these dark days, the final is a significant moment in the nation’s history. Win or lose, people will remember Sunday night.

Not just because it’s England playing in a major final for the first time in 55 years, but because it has happened during such a time of national struggle.

England captain Bobby Moore kisses the Jules Rimet trophy as the team celebrate winning the 1966 World Cup

Many of those in the crowd will have lost family members and friends. Covid will have touched everyone and they will all have their own story to tell.

But Gareth Southgate’s men have pulled the country back together. Their heroics have already helped us begin to recover.

What a time to finally heal 55 years of hurt. We have never needed this victory more.

Everywhere I go, everyone wants to talk to me about this team.

They’re even winning over people usually not remotely interested in football. Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane have been terrific, but it takes a team.

They’ve all been brilliant.

There have been some huge disappointments before, but this time feels different.

Sir Geoff says England's success couldn't have come at a better time
Sir Geoff says England’s success couldn’t have come at a better time

This squad are great role models and will inspire a new generation, who won’t remember the heartbreak of false dawns watching England. And 55 years on, it feels like Gareth Southgate has reignited the spirit of 66.

The leadership of the national team is so important – and our success back then was down to a great manager too.

In the three years Alf Ramsey was in charge – a similar time to Gareth’s reign – he honed a group of players into a fantastic team.

Both men created bonds between the players and you see that clearly when England score, the whole bench is up celebrating with the players on the pitch.

In the past, players would sulk if left out of the team – but because of Gareth’s fantastic management we’re not seeing that now.

London's Park Lane Hilton hotel has had a cheeky rebrand to honour our football heroes
London’s Park Lane Hilton hotel has had a cheeky rebrand to honour our football heroes

He has shown immense strength to stick with what he thinks is the right thing to do. The country is going nuts, but he’s keeping the players’ feet on the ground.

Arguably, Gareth’s achievements in that regard are even more impressive than Alf’s, because he’s dealing with players who are multi-millionaires.

I was at the Germany game at Euro ’96 when Gareth missed his penalty. Winning this tournament would give him ultimate redemption.

If we win, he thoroughly deserves to knighted. I think what he has achieved in this pandemic has been a huge thing for the country.

People say Harry Kane could also be knighted as captain – that’s maybe a little premature in the middle of his career – but if he scores a hat-trick in the final he probably deserves to be a Sir like me.

Sir Geoff thinks that Harry Kane is a lovely down-to-earth chap, and a brilliant England captain
Sir Geoff thinks that Harry Kane is a lovely down-to-earth chap, and a brilliant England captain

I played with him in a walking football game a few years ago. He scored six and I distinguished myself by falling over. He is a great captain and part of that is due to his humility and down-to-earth nature.

During the session whenever he called me for the ball, he’d say “Sir Geoff, over here”.

Hugely amusing, but it was a nice touch and shows what kind of a man he is. It’s why he’s a great leader. In the same way Bobby Moore was Alf’s leader on the pitch, Harry is Gareth’s.

We’re fortunate to have the best bunch of young players we’ve had for a long time. Even the bench looks fantastic. I look at the players on there and think “crikey”.

Sir Geoff is full of praise for England manager Gareth Southgate
Sir Geoff is full of praise for England manager Gareth Southgate

Five months from now, God willing, I’ll celebrate my 80th birthday. Yet my memories of that World Cup Final are still so clear. As we came out of the tunnel, it didn’t seem like there were 96,000 in the stands… it felt like the whole country was up there.

The backdraft caused by the noise of the crowd as we came into view felt like someone had lit a fire behind us.

I still remember all the goals and the amazing feeling I had when each went in. Whenever I watch my stupid celebration after my first goal, I still feel embarrassed. But I was just so happy.

And seeing footage of the celebrations after the game, including Bobby Moore lifting the trophy, still makes me feel great even now. Those are moments that will stay with me forever.

We used to have an annual reunion with our wives every year and we kept that camaraderie as for 30 years afterwards.

I’ve still got pictures of us together on my phone, including one us in our ill-fitting blue tracksuits after the tournament.

Gareth Southgate, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have been made into Lego brick figures
Gareth Southgate, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have been made into Lego brick figures as part of a new installation at the Danish brick brand’s Windsor theme park

That win 55 years ago gave the country a great lift and it changed my life. It’ll do the same for the country and this team if they win. Tonight is their chance to become legends.

I wasn’t aware of the magnitude of the occasion at the time. You’re doing something you’ve always done, going out to play a football match. I’ve certainly realised since.

I’m still being stopped all the time in the streets and the park even now.

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I was in the cafe of our local garden centre a few weeks ago and a 23-year-old waiter came over and said “If you write down the England team to start the Euros, I’ll give you a free cream tea”.

I wrote down the team for him, including myself as sub, and signed it along with “You owe me a cream tea, Geoff Hurst”.

I would never have thought back in 1966 it would have taken us so long as a major footballing country to get back to a final again. But finally we have arrived and I don’t want it all to be over.

The Italians are a strong side but I predict 2-1 to England.

Bring it home, boys.

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