Continuing our brand new series on whufc.com this
summer, we look back at West Ham United players who have made an
impact at the World Cup finals over the years. Today we focus on
the first of our three heroes from 1966, Martin Peters...
He had already suffered the agony of a Wembley axe. And after
being dropped from West Ham United's FA Cup winning side two
years earlier, Martin Peters was taking nothing for granted when he
was called into Alf Ramsey's 1966 World Cup squad.
"We were all at Lilleshall knowing that the numbers had to be cut from 27 to 22 for the finals and I thought that I was going to be one of the unlucky ones," recalled Martin, whose name was destined be etched into Three Lions history just a few weeks later.
"I'd only just arrived on the England scene and I used
to phone home to my wife Kathy and say: 'I don't think that
I'm going to get in.' But when Alf finally called a team
meeting I was named in his final 22."
After impressing in England's warm-up games in Finland and Poland, Peters was handed the Number 16 jersey once the finals began.
"I think that one-to-eleven largely reflected Alf's team, but I was just delighted to be in the squad, yet alone the starting line-up," he insisted after finding himself sitting redundantly alongside club-mate Geoff Hurst on the bench as England opened their challenge with a disappointing goalless draw against Uruguay.
Peters got his chance in the next game against Mexico, however, as Ramsey's men laboured their way to a 2-0 win and his fourth cap subsequently followed in a carbon copy 2-0 victory over France.
"If you're in a winning team you've got more chance of staying in," observed Martin, who then found himself facing Argentina in an ill-tempered quarter-final.
"They just didn't want to play. Instead they just wanted to kick, bite and fight. Argentina were alien to the game of football. Hooligans! Afterwards, we were sitting in the dressing room and a chair came flying through the door. Jack Charlton was ready to go out there but I wouldn't join him because I'm a lover not a fighter!"
Minutes earlier, Peters's inch-perfect cross had enabled Hurst to head England to a 1-0 win over the ten-man South Americans, who had skipper Antonio Rattin dismissed.
Battered and bruised, Ramsey's troops then limped into a semi-final encounter with Portugal, where a 2-1 win over Eusebio's side nudged England into an unforgettable final against West Germany.
"I was only 22 and it was all very exciting for me but, even then, we just didn't realise what it meant to everyone across the country," insisted Martin, who had again got the nod from Ramsey.
Helmut Haller's 13th-minute opener was soon wiped out by Hurst. And with the game seemingly deadlocked at 1-1, Peters's chance of glory arrived on 78 minutes when Hurst's shot deflected into his path off Horst Hotges.
"As the ball looped towards me six yards out, I thought: 'I've got to hit the target.' Jack was there, too, and thank God I took it away from him because he never would've scored! My volley went straight down the middle into the net and that was a tremendous feeling, the best I've ever had in football.
"It was as though somebody had struck a bolt of lightning through me. Unbelievable. I was in another world.
"Despite everything that had happened, though, I certainly wasn't thinking that I'd probably scored the winning goal in the World Cup final."
As the nation knows, Peters's chance of immortality was cruelly snatched from him by Wolfgang Weber, whose last-gasp equaliser forced extra-time.
And it was hat-trick hero Hurst who was destined to leave an indelible mark on soccer history with the first and only World Cup final hat-trick in the legendary 4-2 win over the Germans.
"At the final whistle, I just hugged Geoff," concluded the 67-times capped Peters, who had well and truly earned his £60 match fee, a £1,000 share from the players' bonus pool and a free sponsored white raincoat.
"Even today, everyone wants to tell you what they were
doing when we won the World Cup. It's been great for me."
by Steve Blowers, author of Nearly Reached The Sky - West Ham United 1989-2005, available now in the club store.