By Oliver Holt for the Mail on Sunday
Published: 22:57 GMT, 21 December 2019 | Updated: 01:59 GMT, 22 December 2019
Time does not wait even for our most cherished sporting heroes and when it was announced that Martin Peters had died 10 months after the passing of Gordon Banks, our grip on England’s greatest sporting moment was loosened once again.
Five of that fabled side who beat Germany 4-2 in the 1966 World Cup final — Peters, Banks, Ray Wilson, Alan Ball and the captain, Bobby Moore — are lost to us now and with the death of each one, our links with our history grow more tenuous and the moment seems more distant.
It is more than 53 years since that final now and still we are searching for heroes to emulate them. Emulate them, not replace them, because they will never be replaced. Only twice since then have we even reached the semi-finals of the World Cup. It is one of the reasons why Peters and the Boys of 66 remain so revered.
England World Cup winning hero Martin Peters (centre) has passed away at the age of 76
Many of the team who remain — Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst, Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles, Roger Hunt and George Cohen — are frail now, too, but for what they did on that summer’s day under the gaze of Wembley’s Twin Towers, they will always be English football’s immortals.
Peters was known as The Ghost for his ability to arrive unnoticed in goalscoring positions and if there is one moment we will remember him for, it is his goal in that final in 1966. He had not played in the opening group game but by the time the game against West Germany had arrived, he had cemented his place in the starting line-up on the left side of midfield.
Hurst, of course, scored a hat-trick in the final but it was Peters who scored the other England goal to put England 2-1 up. When Hurst stepped outside his marker and fired a shot into the box, it looped up off the defender and when it dropped, Peters was there to volley it into the net from ten yards out.
The former West Ham, Spurs and Norwich winger won 67 caps for the national team
Peters’ name is etched in football history, as well as Sir Geoff Hurst’s and Sir Bobby Moore’s
Sir Alf Ramsey, the England manager, said that Peters was ‘10 years ahead of his time’. He appeared 67 times for his country in an era when caps were not won cheaply. He was a goalscoring midfielder who had the invaluable knack of being in the right place at the right time. Speed of thought was one of his greatest assets.
He will also be remembered as a gentleman, a player who was a tough competitor but a man without an edge, a man who was always courteous and friendly, a player who was a crowd favourite at Spurs, Norwich City and most of all, West Ham. His presence in the team alongside Moore and Hurst allowed fans to claim it was West Ham that had won the World Cup.
Peters was tall and elegant, the thinking man’s midfielder, moulded by Ron Greenwood
Tall and elegant, Peters was the thinking man’s midfielder, a player moulded at West Ham by Ron Greenwood, the start of a tradition of stylish players that would extend to Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire and others.
‘I wasn’t a winger,’ Peters once said. ‘Alan Ball and I were midfield players that broke wide. We had to get back and defend. We worked hard to defend when we played against a midfield player opposite us and then would break to support attacks.
‘I wasn’t quick but I could run and run and run, so I would run into the box, see a space, run into there. If the ball didn’t come in you’d get out again, run in and then would come in and bang – goal.’
Peters’ passing sadly loosens our grip on England’s greatest ever sporting moment from 1966
Peters was afflicted with Alzheimer’s in the later years of his life. It has also blighted the old age of Stiles and Jack Charlton at a time when more and more research is suggesting that footballers of their era were vulnerable to the effects of heading heavy leather balls repeatedly. Peters, of course, was a fine header of the ball.
His passing is also a reminder of the injustice of the fact that he and most of the rest of the Boys of 66 were not given knighthoods. Only Hurst and Bobby Charlton were granted that honour. It should be extended to the surviving members of the team now before it is too late.
Peters made 880 appearances for club and country in all, scoring 220 goals. He was inducted into English football’s Hall Of Fame in 2006 and will always remain one of the pre-eminent figures in the history of the sport in this country.
His passing tugs at our heart-strings because his was the triumph we cherish the most. He was part of something that still defines us. He was one of a group of men who still stand above the rest in our sporting heritage. Those who live on may be growing infirm but like Peters, they will always be the Boys of 66.
OLIVER HOLT: Martin Peters tribute after World Cup hero dies
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