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50 Greatest Players in World Cup History: #31 Geoff Hurst

Rohith Nair
722   //    14 May 2018, 18:07 IST

31 Geoff Hurst
Geoff Hurst

In 20 FIFA World Cup editions, there have been 19 finals (the 1950 edition had a final group stage). But only one player has scored a hat-trick in a World Cup final - England forward Geoff Hurst.

The fact that it came in the final in a World Cup England hosted made it all the more special. But Hurst's journey was not exactly a fairy tale in 1966. In fact, the fans didn't even want him to start that final.

Only 24 at the time, Hurst was down in the pecking order when it came to England forwards. The great Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt were the first choice players up front for The Three Lions - both experienced campaigners who had played in the 1962 World Cup in Chile.

In fact, Hurst made his England debut only in 1966, against the eventual finalists West Germany - five months before the quadrennial event. Good performances in the matches in the buildup to the tournament eventually prompted England manager Alf Ramsey to pick the West Ham forward in his squad.

However, even though he wore the no.10 kit, Hurst only made the bench for the group stages. The first three games of the tournament against Uruguay, Mexico, and France saw Ramsey use Greaves and Hunt in the forward line.

It was only through luck that Hurst finally got his chance. Good luck for him, bad luck for the player he replaced - Greaves. In the third and final group game against France, Greaves suffered a nasty injury that eventually sidelined him.

Jimmy Greaves 1966 World Cup
Jimmy Greaves (L) at the 1966 World Cup

In a challenge with France's Joseph Bonnel, the midfielder's studs came down on Greaves' shin and it split his leg open. Greaves needed 14 stitches in all and the tackle eventually left a permanent scar on his leg.

Ramsey then had no choice but to start Hurst in the quarter-final against Argentina and this is where Hurst took the opportunity with both hands. He was the only goalscorer as England overcame La Albiceleste with the forward beating goalkeeper Antonio Roma in the 78th minute with a glancing header.


With Greaves still sidelined for the semi-final, Ramsey chose to start Hurst again when they played Portugal led by the Black Panther - Eusebio - who finished the tournament as the leading goalscorer with 9 goals.

Also read: 50 Greatest Players in World Cup History - #34 Eusébio

In the semis, it was Bobby Charlton who would grab a brace but it was Hurst that set him up for the second goal in a 2-1 win. And just like that, England were in the final of the World Cup.

The only person who was probably a little concerned then was the manager Ramsey as Greaves was back in contention. The English press appreciated Hurst's contributions but called for Ramsey to start Greaves, a legend in his own right, in the final against West Germany.

However, seeing how well Hurst was playing up front, Ramsey opted to go with him.

The final saw Hurst and Hunt start up front with Bobby Charlton behind them. It was German forward Helmut Haller that opened the scoring at Wembley in the 12th minute but Hurst soon equalised six minutes later to set up an exciting contest.

Geoff Hurst goal 1966 World Cup final England West Germany
England players celebrate Geoff Hurst's goal in the final

When Martin Peters put England ahead in the 78th minute, the cup was within their reach. Only for Wolfgang Weber to score a last-gasp equaliser in the 89th minute to send the game into extra-time.

That was when the Hurst show began.

In the first period of extra-time, midfielder Alan Ball put the ball in with a cross that found Hurst in the box. The forward took one touch and then blasted it over goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski's hands.

The ball hit the underside of the bar, bounced inside the line and then bounced out. But had the ball gone in completely as the laws of the game decree? Nobody knows, and that is why it is the most debated goal in World Cup history. 

Of course, there was no goal-line technology back then and technology now still does not give a clear conclusion. But in the eyes of linesman Tofiq Bahramov, it had gone in. He may have even been influenced by Hunt who immediately celebrated instead of trying to tap the ball in.

The goal became so popular that it was even recreated for an Adidas television commercial prior to the 2006 World Cup with Frank Lampard and Oliver Kahn. Lampard would even see a similar, legitimate goal in the 2010 World Cup ruled out - a decision that prompted Goal-Line Technology.

It did not matter in the end, though. Hurst had one last goal left in his tank and his 120th-minute strike sealed a 4-2 win. Bobby Moore had thwarted one last West German attack and his long ball to Hurst saw him blast it into the net to give England their first (and only) World Cup win.

In truth, he wasn't really looking to score. In his own words, if the ball had gone out of play, they would waste precious seconds trying to get it back.

"I decided I was going to waste some time so I was going to put my foot through the ball and put it so far beyond the sand track running around the pitch that by the time the ball boy retrieved it the game would be over." - Geoff Hurst

Hurst, who wasn't even a member of the starting lineup when the tournament began, was finally England's leading goalscorer in the tournament with four goals.

Geoff Hurst statue World Cup 1966
The statue featuring Moore, Hurst, Wilson, and Peters commemorating England's 1966 World Cup win

Although Jimmy Greaves celebrated with the squad, he would later reveal that he was disappointed when Ramsey chose to play Hurst over him in the final.

"I danced around the pitch with everyone else but even in this moment of triumph and great happiness, deep down I felt my sadness. Throughout my years as a professional footballer I had dreamed of playing in a World Cup Final. I had missed out on the match of a lifetime and it hurt." - Jimmy Greaves

West Germany would get their revenge in 1970, though. This time, the two sides met in the quarter-finals and Hurst's legitimate goal at 2-2 was ruled out for offside before Gerd Muller scored in extra time to give the Germans their first ever win over the Three Lions in a competitive fixture.

Hurst's heroics would eventually earn him a knighthood and a place in the English Football Hall of Fame. But it was his contributions in 1966 that see him on our list of 50 Greatest World Cup Players.