Fifty-two years ago today, England manager Alf Ramsey made a decision that would ultimately help his team win the FIFA World Cup.
By May 1966, 22-year-old Martin Peters had been a first-team regular at West Ham United for four years, and the talented midfielder had just completed his most-productive season yet, scoring 17 goals in 60 appearances in Claret and Blue.
Peters’ contribution had helped the Hammers reach the final of the League Cup, where they lost to West Bromwich Albion, the European Cup Winners’ Cup semi-finals and secure a comfortable mid-table finish in the First Division.
While the Plaistow-born player’s form had been consistently good over the previous few seasons, he had also been consistently been overlooked by Ramsey, who had instead capped the likes of Charlton Athletic’s Mike Bailey, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Ron Flowers, Tottenham Hotspur’s Alan Mullery, Liverpool’s Gordon Milne and Peter Thompson and Chelsea’s Terry Venables alongside future World Cup winners Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball and Nobby Stiles.
That situation changed with just a month to go until the 1966 FIFA World Cup finals, when Peters was plucked from the international wilderness for England’s friendly with Yugoslavia at Wembley.
“I never took anything for granted, but I was waiting for the letter,” said Peters. “I kept thinking ‘I hope it’s going to come through the letterbox’.
“In fact, I was still like that every time I knew an England game was coming up, even when I was a firmly established international!”
The young Hammer was handed a start in his usual No4 shirt, playing in midfield alongside Charlton in an attacking team that included four strikers – West Ham’s Geoff Hurst, Chelsea’s Bobby Tambling, Southampton’s Terry Paine and Tottenham Hotspur’s Jimmy Greaves.
It was Greaves who put the Three Lions in front inside nine minutes before Charlton doubled England’s advantage eleven minutes before half-time. That goal completed the scoring as England scored a morale-boosting victory.
“Sometimes they just took you along for the ride, so it was great to get the call and actually play. We won 2-0 and I thought I did quite well on the night.
“We went to Lilleshall straight after knowing that Alf was going to eventually cut the squad from 27 to 22 for the World Cup finals.
“I thought I was going to be one of the unlucky ones, though, because I’d only just arrived on the scene. I used to phone home and say to my wife, Kathy, ‘I don’t think I’m going to get in. I’m up against Gordon Milne and other guys with all these caps’.”
Peters’ concerns were unfounded, however, as Ramsey called his squad together and named Peters in his final 22.
The West Ham man celebrated by scoring his first goal for England on his second appearance, in a warm-up win in Finland, and he was in the starting XI for the opening group-stage game against Mexico at Wembley on 16 July.
Two weeks later, he scored against West Germany and was crowned a World Cup winner, etching his name into football folklore.