By Stephen Byrne & Keith Brookman
Pretty much everyone dreams of scoring the winning goal in the World Cup Final.
Or, at least, we do as kids and then pretend through our adult years that we are not actually still thinking it might be possible one day.
You know the story: you get on the end of a cross, the ball shudders against the back of the net, the partisan crowd goes wild, the trophy is lifted.
Martin Peters came so much closer to realising this dream than most of us.
After seventy seven minutes of the World Cup Final at a sunny Wembley on that glorious afternoon back in the summer of 1966, England, being held 1-1 by the Germans, won a right wing corner.
Scampering across to take it was Alan Ball, the pocket dynamo who would end his footballing career in the blue and white quarters of Bristol Rovers; ‘Ball, the effervescent, the irresistible [who was] unbelievably everywhere, like a wasp’, as The Times reported, delivered the ball and Geoff Hurst, whose earlier goal had equalised for England, struck in a shot which looped crazily off the leg of Franz Beckenbauer and fell to Martin Peters, eight yards out, who crashed the ball home.
All England had to do was to defend successfully for 13 minutes. That did not happen.
Some poor defending allowed West Germany in for a late equaliser to take the game into extra time. Once there, a combination of Hurst’s lethal shooting, the absence of VAR and the vocal support of a sellout crowd enabled England to seal a 4-2 victory and win the World Cup for the only time in the nation’s history. Peters features in the statue of Bobby Moore lifting the Jules Rimet trophy that afternoon.
Martin Peters’ long footballing career has seen him accorded the status of ‘trailblazer’ in the press, following his death on 21st December at the age of 76. His time with West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur certainly enabled him to live out many years at the top of his game and he scored 20 goals as an attacking midfielder in 67 appearances for England.
He appeared in 302 league games for the Hammers, scoring 81 goals before a move to Spurs in March 1970 when a fee of £150,000 changed hands and Jimmy Greaves travelled in the opposite direction. There were another 46 goals in 189 league games at White Hart Lane.
Five years later, at the age of 31, Peters signed for Norwich City and went on to appear in more league games at Carrow Road than he did at Spurs. His record for the Canaries was 44 goals in 206 league games and there are many Norwich City supporters who still regard him as their best ever player.
In July 1980 he moved to Bramall Lane as player/coach for Sheffield United and added four more goals in another 24 league appearances to his already impressive tally.
There followed a brief spell as manager of the Blades, from January 1981 until the end of the 1980/81 season.
There was a brief spell during 1974/75 when his Norwich side were in Rovers’ division but he never opposed Rovers in any of his 721 League appearances.
However, Hurst and Peters, who scored all four England goals between them, and captain Moore were all teammates at West Ham and all three played against Rovers in the League Cup in 1965.
In the Second Round of the competition, Rovers were drawn to play against the Hammers at Eastville, the tie taking place on 21st September 1965. First Division West Ham were the holders of the European Cup Winners Cup at the time and their visit drew a crowd of 18,354 who witnessed a pulsating tie in which the sides shared six goals.
Johnny Brown, Johnny Petts and Harold Jarman were on target for Rovers, while Geoff Hurst (2) and Johnny Byrne were on target for West Ham. Peters might have won the tie for Rovers as he almost scored an own goal but, fortunately for him and his side, the ball hit the post.
Three of the West Ham side, Bobby Moore, Peters and Hurst, would be World Cup winners with England in July of the following year.
The report of that game read; ‘As an entertainment this match had everything. Top class football as befits a team of West Ham’s calibre and pace, and no mean skill from Rovers.’
And so, it was back to Upton Park for the replay eight days later, on 29th September and while Moore was missing from the West Ham side for this one, Peters and Hurst faced Rovers for the second time in a week.
Indeed, Hurst scored again against the Gas as did Byrne, who weighed in with two. The Hammers were 2-0 up at the break, but Petts and Bobby Jones saw Rovers back on level terms by the 56th minute. Byrne’s second goal, with ten minutes to play, saw West Ham through to the next round.
The report of this match concluded that the Hammers were fortunate to win the tie; ‘They will not quickly forget how close they came, on two occasions, of being humbled by Third Division Bristol Rovers.’
Those games were the only ones that this World Cup goalscorer came into contact with The Gas on the pitch.
West Ham went on to reach the final of the competition where they were beaten 5-3 on aggregate by West Bromwich Albion in the last final to be played over two legs.
His passing means that five of the side that created history by winning the World Cup some 53 years ago are no longer with us. Moore, Gordon Banks, Ray Wilson and Alan Ball making up the quintet.
Peters was awarded an MBE in 1978, not for the part he played in helping his country win the World Cup, but for services to Association Football. Only Bobby Charlton and Geoff Hurst have received knighthoods for their part in England’s one and only World Cup win.
It’s too late, of course, to extend that honour to some of that side, but wouldn’t it be a magnificent gesture to make the other survivors of that glorious day knights of the realm. Liverpool fans already refer to Roger Hunt as ‘Sir’, so surely it’s time to make that official and also award the accolade to Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton and George Cohen before it’s too late.