Legends of 1966: Where are England's World Cup winners now?

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Legends of 1966: Where are England's World Cup winners now? - PA
Legends of 1966: Where are England's World Cup winners now? - PA

And now there are just three. The death on Monday of Roger Hunt leaves only Sir Geoff Hurst, Sir Bobby Charlton and George Cohen from the team that started the 1966 World Cup final and reinforces the increasingly sad realisation that our greatest football achievement is fading ever further into history.

Ray Wilson, Gordon Banks, Martin Peters, Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles have also all died since 2018 and barely a week now seems to go by without an awful health bulletin about a football legend from the era.

It is partly of course the inevitable passing of time.

Each individual story is also different but, taken together, there is no escaping the collective decline among that generation of footballers. And, with that, questions do arise about how these national heroes were treated in retirement and whether their accomplishments received their due recognition. In an interview shortly before he died, Gordon Banks had spoken out frankly about the treatment of his team-mates. “I have been very disappointed with the FA and what they could have done for us,” he said.

It was not all the fault and responsibility of the FA but, from the meagre players’ bonus for winning the competition to the long wait for honours and then the fight just for universal winners’ medals, it was a squad that rarely felt appreciated by the authorities.

The Telegraph has been campaigning since the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup over the issue of dementia in football, successfully lobbying for research which proved the tragically obvious anecdotal sense of former footballers suffering at an unusually young age. Sir Bobby Charlton’s diagnosis was revealed last year and, of the 1966 team, it was a disease which also afflicted his brother, Peters, Stiles and Wilson.

The anecdotes in relation to the treatment of Sir Alf Ramsey, who suffered dementia and Bobby Moore, who died of bowel cancer in 1993, remain especially stark.

Much of this has been well documented but, in the case of Hunt, what has been most noticeable is how he was so representative of a generation who rarely complained and largely just got on with their lives. Hunt never sought the limelight and, having taken on the family haulage business after playing and waited until 2000 just for his MBE, would simply emphasise how fortunate he felt.

In what proved to be his last interview, with the Liverpool Echo in January 2020, he outlined how he still enjoyed watching football, in his favourite chair, and would often spend happy hours looking back at pictures and memorabilia from his career. He especially appreciated the skills of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane and was delighted to receive an 80th birthday card from Jurgen Klopp, who said he “comes second to no-one in his importance” to Liverpool. “It’s been a fabulous life for him - he still gets lots of fan mail and we get lots of fans coming to visit who have become friends over the years,” said his wife Rowan. “Roger’s quite reserved really, he keeps himself quite private really. He’s modest - that’s just his way. He probably didn’t think he was as good as he was.”

The modesty was summed up in an anecdote of how he once had to be persuaded by a fan to sign his name “Sir Roger” - for that was how he was known by Liverpool supporters - and how he was then relentlessly ribbed by friends about being big headed. The truth was of course the complete opposite.

But the fans and his managers knew just how good he was. His record was phenomenal and, while he and the rest of the 1966 England team might have deserved rather more, Hunt was content to let his goalscoring record speak for itself. “I was knighted by the Kop,” he said. “That means more.”

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