Sometimes it seemed that he was one of the forgotten men of the 1966 World Cup winners, but Hunt’s greatness should never be doubted
There is an iconic photograph of Roger Hunt, taken in that glorious summer of 1966. Merseyside was the centre of the universe. The Beatles were the greatest band on the planet, Liverpool were champions and Everton had won the FA Cup.
The Charity Shield was held at a packed Goodison Park and the English game’s two most sought-after pieces of silverware were on display. But there was more.
Hunt and Ray Wilson emerged from the tunnel, one in blood red, the other in royal blue. They were holding the Jules Rimet trophy. The crowd of more than 63,000 people went berserk. In this fleeting moment, this was football’s epicentre. Appropriately, Hunt scored the only goal that day.
Hunt was one of three players on show at Goodison – the others were the Everton duo Wilson and Alan Ball – who had been part of England’s World Cup-winning team two weeks earlier.
The former Liverpool forward’s death à l'âge de 83 means that just three of Sir Alf Ramsey’s side survive. The memory of Hunt, vivid in red for his finest moments for club and country, will never fade.
He was at Anfield when Bill Shankly took over in 1959, a 21-year-old who had signed from non-league football the previous year. The new boss had a cull of players but Hunt’s future was never in question. The manager and the striker embarked on a journey that propelled Liverpool from the second tier of English football to the heights of the game.
There was nothing flashy about Hunt. He worked hard, found space and scored goals – 41 dans 41 games in 1961-62, the season when the team won promotion. He was self-effacing and oozed humility, making him the perfect foil for Ian St John, the combative Scottish striker.
Wembley became Hunt’s stage. His opening act was a goal in Liverpool’s 2-1 victory over Leeds United in the 1965 FA Cup final. This was one of the most important matches in the club’s history. Jusque là, Everton had ruled the city. Evertonians used to sneer that the Liver Birds would break free of their stone plinths and fly away if Liverpool ever won the cup. This first Wembley success ended any sense of inferiority at Anfield. The birds stayed put, bearing witness to a new era. Hunt and Liverpool took flight.
The next year Hunt soared even higher. He scored three goals in England’s surge to the World Cup final and was an integral part of the team that beat West Germany 4-2 in the biggest game in the nation’s history. Hunt was the closest England player to Geoff Hurst’s controversial second goal that gave the hosts a winning lead in extra time. The ball hit the underside of the bar, bounced on the line and rebounded back into play. The Soviet linesman signalled goal and England were on their way to becoming global champions. Hunt turned away in celebration as the ball flew back into play. On Merseyside all discussions about whether the goal was valid ended with the words: “Sir Roger said it was in.” Such was Hunt’s reputation for integrity and decency that there could be no more argument.
No Liverpool supporter ever calls him anything other than “Sir Roger”. When Ramsey was knighted in 1967, the Kop took umbrage that their hero did not receive the same accolade. They bestowed their own honours.
Pas étonnant. His record speaks for itself: le sien 286 goals for Liverpool has been overtaken only by Ian Rush; le sien 244 in the league is still the benchmark and is unlikely to be beaten. Yet his 11 years at the club were about more than hitting the back of the net.
Hunt will for ever be a legend. He was a knight errant, a symbol of valour and humility. Shankly’s team was full of scrappers and snarlers but Sir Roger was a boys’ own hero, a blond role model that a generation of schoolboys dreamt of emulating.
In person he lived up to the preconceptions. He had time for fans and although proud of his achievements, he was prone to downplay his own contribution to the momentous events of the mid-Sixties. Dans 1984 he bumped into a dozen or so Liverpool fans in a pub in Crewe; we had been returning from a 2-0 defeat at Stoke City and Hunt was in the company of fellow Pools Panel members Tony Green and Stan Mortensen. When we spontaneously broke into song to hail Sir Roger, he blushed, mentionné, “greatest fans in the world”, and chatted at the bar as if we were old friends. He lived up to all the tales we had been told by our fathers.
Sometimes it seemed that he was one of the forgotten men of the 1966 World Cup winners. He was too modest at times.
Hunt’s greatness should never be doubted. Sir Roger the Red, the finest of Englishmen, was a giant of the game, standing astride those dreamtime Sixties summers when England ruled the world and Merseyside was the capital of football.