'Roger Hunt was a great player, a very special person' – Liverpool greats and Sir Geoff Hurst pay tribute to Kop's greatest goalscorer

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'Roger Hunt was a great player, a very special person' – Liverpool greats and Sir Geoff Hurst pay tribute to Kop's greatest striker - PA
'Roger Hunt was a great player, a very special person' – Liverpool greats and Sir Geoff Hurst pay tribute to Kop's greatest striker - PA

It was as much a celebration of a wonderful life and career as a moment to pause, reflect, remember and, most sadly, say goodbye to one of the true gentlemen of English football. Roger Hunt, Liverpool’s record league goalscorer and a member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning team, was laid to rest on Thursday when his funeral took place amid touching scenes on Merseyside.

Hunt’s passing last month at the age of 83 leaves Sir Bobby Charlton, George Cohen and Sir Geoff Hurst as the only surviving members from the team who started that hallowed final at Wembley 55 years ago, and it was the latter of the trio who led the tributes during a moving service at a packed Liverpool Cathedral.

Hurst, scorer of a hat-trick in the 4-2 win over West Germany and Hunt’s strike partner that day, could not be there in person. But an emotional eulogy was read out by Bill Bygroves, Liverpool’s club chaplain, that not only captured Hunt the man and player but offered a telling reminder of the deep bond that was forged between those players who helped to deliver this country’s finest moment on a football field.

“What a player he was – up there with Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Kevin Keegan and Mo Salah,” Hurst’s tribute read. “We always had great banter between us. I once said to him, ‘Do you ever score any goals with your head?’. We met months later and systematically he went through the games he had scored with his head and all the results. His favourite line to me was: ‘While you were scoring goals and making the headlines, I was tracking back and doing the defensive work’; which, of course, I couldn’t argue with, because he was spot on.

“Roger was a great player, a very special person and a class act who I was privileged to have as my strike partner but – more importantly – my friend. Rest in peace, ‘Sir’ Roger.”

The love, reverence and affection with which Hunt, a private, loyal and humble man, was held could not have been more obvious. His funeral cortege was applauded by large groups of fans outside Anfield, where his hearse momentarily paused around 10.20am, before continuing its journey to the cathedral, where his wife, Rowan, children, David and Julie, stepchildren, Katie and Wayne, and extended family were joined by hundreds of well-wishers who had gathered to pay their respects during an 80-minute service.

Former team-mates Keegan and Ian Callaghan, ex-Liverpool strikers Rush, John Aldridge and David Fairclough, comedian and friend Jimmy Tarbuck and Gordon Taylor, the former Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, were among those present. Condolences were sent by, among others, Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Real Madrid and Gianni Infantino, the Fifa president. When Hunt’s coffin, draped in a red Liverpool flag and adorned with white flowers, was led out of the cathedral to the strains of You’ll Never Walk Alone, applause again rang out.

Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - PA
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - REUTERS
Roger Hunt funeral: Sir Geoff Hurst and Kevin Keegan pay tribute to Liverpool legend - REUTERS

It was 60 years ago to the day since Hunt – known as “Sir Roger” to Liverpool fans bemused that he was overlooked for a knighthood – scored a hat-trick, and set up two more goals, during a 6-1 win over Walsall during Liverpool’s march to the Second Division title and the start of a golden era under Bill Shankly.

Keegan, during a eulogy that veered beautifully between the poignant and amusing, suggested it was time the second-highest scorer in Liverpool’s history with 285 goals, 244 of which came in the league, was immortalised with a statue at Anfield.

“Can I just say this: why isn’t there a statue of ‘Sir’ Roger Hunt, at the Kop end, where he was knighted, with something like ‘244 goals – catch me if you can’ as an inspiration to everyone passing by, the kids who want to play football,” Keegan said.

“If you did that, I think Roger would look down and he would want one of those kids passing by to one day play for Liverpool … and one day overtake his record.”

It will take some doing. As Keegan had noted: “My two favourite players of all time are here today: Ian Callaghan and Roger. ‘Sir’ Roger. True gentlemen, both great team-mates. Roger was an absolute legend, wherever he went. Nobody has played more games for Liverpool than Cally and, chances are, nobody ever will. No one has scored more [league] goals for Liverpool than Roger Hunt. Chances are, no one ever will.”

Callaghan, who was also part of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, remembers watching Hunt scoring goals at the tournament “with Nobby Stiles’s teeth in my pocket, which he had asked me to look after”. Bygroves recalled Hunt’s mother, Ellen, suggesting her four-year-old son had “been preserved for a higher purpose” after escaping with bumps and bruises despite being hit by a bus as he chased a tennis ball out into the street. “How right she was,” Bygroves said.

But perhaps the final word should go to Tarbuck who, in encapsulating his friend – a loving husband, affectionate dad and doting grandfather who never courted publicity and always had time for others – said: “To be born a gentleman is an accident, to die one is an achievement.”

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