Fifty-five years on, Sir Geoff Hurst, 79, remains the only footballer to have scored a hat trick in a World Cup final. Every four years, he must sit down and assume that someone is going to match his magnificent feat that mythical July day in 1966. But no one – not Pelé, not Johann Cruyff, not even Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo – has managed it. In the annals of football history, Sir Geoff stands alone.
And the remarkable thing about him is he looks as if he could still do it. During the summer, when England’s footballers promised they might finally win their first trophy since his day, when they contested the final of the Euros, Sir Geoff was the guest of honour.
When he arrived at Wembley, there must have been several stewards who assumed he was a member of Gareth Southgate’s squad. Now approaching his ninth decade, he appears absurdly youthful, as if he could cheerfully lace up his boots and join the fray.
As he took his place in the royal box before kick-off, he believed he was about to witness the end of the trophy drought that has afflicted the England team since he lifted the World Cup. But it didn’t happen, partly because there was no one to deliver the kind of decisive intervention that was his trademark. With Sir Geoff in your side, with his lynx-eyed certainty in front of goal, you knew you were going to win.
Though, as it happens, as a young centre forward on his way up at West Ham, he was expecting to be merely a bit-part player when the World Cup was contested on home soil. But when the late Jimmy Greaves (who’s sadly just died at 81), the incumbent striker, succumbed to injury, he was called up to lead the line.
No one has ever seized opportunity the way Hurst did. First, he scored the only goal in the quarter final against Argentina; then, in the final, he destroyed West Germany with three of the sharpest finishes you will ever see.
Sir Geoff was a natural sportsman. He represented Essex at cricket before dedicating himself to football. His power, drive and athleticism made him a joy to watch. And he could do the most important thing with an accomplished ease: he could score goals. He did it 24 times for England in 49 appearances. Still, despite his subsequent excellence as a manager at Chelsea, a coach with England and an all-round ambassador for the game, it was the three he got in the World Cup final that came to define him.
Dignified and restrained, he has never cleaved to the uniqueness of his achievement. He has always wanted others to emulate what he did. But succeeding generations have failed to match him.
And, more than half a century on, even as time is called on so many of his 1966 contemporaries, how grateful we remain for what he gave us.
Sadly Roger Hunt, another member of >span class="s1"> And both George Cohen and Bobby Charlton are cruelly stricken with dementia – which makes Sir Geoff’s preternatural youthfulness even more remarkable. He really is one of a kind.