MARTIN PETERS epitomises every young footballer’s dream. Once described by Sir Alf Ramsey as “10 years ahead of his time”, the West Ham trainee was just 22 years and 177 days old when Ramsey handed him his England debut on 4 May 1966 against Yugoslavia at Wembley.
Within just two-and-a-half months, he had carved his name into folklore by holding aloft the World Cup in front of an ecstatic home crowd after his 78th minute volley and Geoff Hurst’s famous hat-trick had helped England to a 4-2 final victory over West Germany.
Now, 44 years on and aged 66, London-born Peters is the youngest surviving member of the class of ‘66 – following the passing of Alan Ball in 2007 – and still remembers every kick, every emotion.
But the ex-Spurs star believes he was somewhat fortunate in his fast-track route to super-stardom, admitting he didn’t imagine his chance would ever come.
In 10 days time, current Three Lions boss Fabio Capello will break the hearts of seven of his squad when he reduces his 30-man squad to a final 23 to take to this year’s World Cup campaign in South Africa.
And it’s that moment of apprehension which will always live long in Peters’ memory.
“I remember being very nervous,” he told City.A.M. “I had been selected in a squad of 27 to go up to the Lilleshall training camp for a few days, but I knew Sir Alf had to leave out five to leave a squad of 22.
“I never though I’d be in the squad. I was up against Gordon Milne, of Liverpool, who had 15 caps, while I had only played the once.
“So, from making my debut on 4 May, within two-and-a-half months I was playing in a World Cup final. I had to pinch myself.”
On his retirement from league football in 1982, Peters moved into the insurance business before joining the board of directors at another of his former clubs, Tottenham, but has since stood down.
But that day on 31 July, 1966 will forever earn him legendary status and set him and his illustrious team-mates aside from the rest.
“We all still meet up once a year,” Peters went on. “It’s usually somewhere up north because everyone else bar George Cohen and I live up there, but this year it’s my turn to organise something, so I’ll make them all come down to Hertfordshire. It’s always great to see them all.”
Amidst penalty shoot-out heartache and red card controversies, it was the late Sir Bobby Robson, who took England the closest to matching the 1966-winning side by leading his side the semi-finals in 1990.
But while Peters remains in that elite band of England World Cup winners, he admits he is busier than ever with media and commercial requests – and says he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Nineteen sixty-six was 44 years ago, yet I’m busier than I ever have been in my life,” he added. “The fact we are all in so much demand, especially at this time of a World Cup year, shows just how much our achievement meant to people and that makes me very proud.”
But as much as he would love to see Capello follow Ramsey’s lead and finally end the 44 years of hurt, Peters fears England’s hopes could once again be scuppered this year by a plethora of recent injury niggles.
“To win a World Cup, your best players have to be 100 per cent and unfortunately we haven’t been able to say this season.
“Our captain, Rio Ferdinand, has only played 16 or so games for Manchester United this season, as has Ledley King at Tottenham, while Wayne Rooney, our best striker and biggest hope, has struggled with niggling injuries over the last few weeks. We didn’t need that.”
MARTIN PETERS | PROFILE
Name: Martin Stanford Peters
Date of birth: 8 November, 1943 (age 66)
Place of birth: Plaistow, east London
Years Club Apps Goals
1959-1970 West Ham 302 81
1970-1975 Tottenham 189 46
1975-1980 Norwich City 207 44
1980-1981 Sheffield Utd 24 4
Total: 722 175
1966-1974 England 67 20
RAISE A GLASS AT A WORLD CUP DINNER WITH MARTIN
MARTIN PETERS MBE is the patron of the Anchor House homeless charity, based in Canning Town, east London – the area in which he was raised.
Anchor House is a hostel and life skills centre for homeless adults, helping to give quality of life and independence to those most vulnerable in the community.
Born and bred just a stone’s throw away in Plaistow, Martin was recently shown around the centre by director Keith Fernett and the centre’s Community and Football League Ambassador, Mickey Ambrose, the former Charlton and Chelsea footballer.
Martin is Guest of Honour when Anchor House host a special World Cup dinner on Thursday 10 June at his former home, Upton Park, home of West Ham United.
Tickets are £150 a person or £1,500 for a corporate table of 10.
For more information, call Mickey Ambrose directly on 0207 476 6062 or 07950 877669.