Sir Geoff Hurst tells Frank Dalleres that seeing most of his 1966 World Cup winning team-mates suffer with dementia convinced him to preserve his memories in the form of a digital artwork that will help to raise money for two Alzheimer’s charities.
Every morning Sir Geoff Hurst goes for an hour-long walk through the park before doing a 20-minute Joe Wicks workout at his home in Cheltenham.
That daily exercise regime keeps England’s 1966 World Cup hero looking far younger than his 80 years, and mentally sharp, too.
Sometimes, as it did one day this week, it also brings a reminder of just how dearly many people still cherish memories of that sporting triumph.
“I was walking in the park and, as I walked past somebody who I hadn’t seen before, he said: ‘Thank you for ‘66’,” Hurst tells City A.M. “That’s typical and it happened today.”
Other elements of Hurst’s daily routine can bring far more painful reminders of 1966. Specifically, the stark reality that he is one of just three England players who played in that historic match at Wembley still alive today.
“I get mail from all over the world asking me to sign photographs of the World Cup final – daily,” he says.
“China. Australia. A recent one was from Chicago, and the people in the picture were Martin Peters, Roger Hunt, Gordon Banks and Jack Charlton – four players who have gone. That was quite moving.
“A lot of it has been during the pandemic. That’s been painful. Guys you have grown up with, not just played with in the final, but the relationship we had over the years.
“We played golf together for 20-odd years. That happened up until six or seven years ago when the number started to get depleted because of dementia.”
How digital artwork will help Alzheimer’s charities
Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have cast a huge shadow over the team, afflicting seven of that XI so far.
The debilitating effects of the illness on the class of ‘66 were captured in the poignant 2020 film Finding Jack Charlton, released a few months after his passing.
Naturally, it has become an issue very close to Hurst’s heart. Although his memory remains largely intact, he knows that may not always be the case.
“Sometimes I can’t remember things and wake at two in the morning and think ‘ah that’s what happened’,” he says.
Hurst insists he doesn’t fear losing his precious memories, but says: “You expect it to happen.”
Which all helps to explain why Hurst has committed his recollections of the 1966 World Cup final and his match-winning hat-trick to a new digital artwork.
The piece, created with artist Reeps One, revolves around a new audio recording of Sir Geoff reliving the day which has been used to generate a “voice gem” – a 3D image unique to Hurst.
The artwork will be auctioned as a series of NFTs later this year, raising money for two charities, Alzheimer’s Research UK and Alzheimer’s Society.
Buyers will also receive film of Hurst recounting the game, while whoever wins the auction for a special one-off edition will also get the chance to attend Wembley with Hurst to watch England’s fixture against Germany in September, a modern-day re-run of that famous final.
Hurst says he would not have agreed to take part without the project benefitting the good causes that he has long supported.
“It was very, very important. Seeing the guys I grew up with and knew for 30-40 years, it was such an easy thing for me to decide.”
But he is also keen to use technological advances to store his memory in perpetuity, for others as much as himself, just in case the worst should happen.
“My own memory – the age I am – could fade,” he says. “If they’d said ‘do you want to get involved with an NFT?’ without anything else, I would have said ‘what the hell are they?’.
“But to be able to store memories digitally is fantastic, because my memory is something I want to carry on. These will be the last memories of ‘66.”
Hurst’s 1966 memories: Wembley backdraft, Ramsey’s pep talk
Hurst remembers moments from the day with vivid clarity, such as when the Wembley crowd realised the teams were in the tunnel – and unleashed a cacophony.
“It was like the backdraft of a fire. I recall thinking it felt like the whole country was in the ground, not just 95,000 people,” he says.
Or manager Alf Ramsey’s pep talk to prostrate England players, moments after West Germany had forced extra-time with an 89th-minute equaliser.
“He came amongst us and the first thing he said to us was: ‘Get up, don’t let the Germans see you’re tired’. He left us with the words we’ll always remember: ‘You’ve beaten the Germans once; go and beat them again’.”
Hurst has been vocal on football’s relationship with Alzheimer’s and dementia, with players three times more likely to suffer the illness, according to some studies.
“That’s certainly not just about heading footballs, but it’s got to have something to do with it.”
He believes training sessions, where players can do repeated heading drills, inflict far more damage than matches, where you may head the ball only once or twice.
He supports moves to ban it among primary school age children: “I strongly think it makes sense for young people whose brains are still growing to stop heading.”
Hurst even felt moved to intervene when his grandchildren were heading a beach ball on a recent family holiday. “I said: ‘Stop – I don’t want to see anybody heading a ball at all’.”
Fifty-six years on, Hurst says he could never have imagined England would still be waiting for a repeat of their 1966 World Cup triumph.
“It’s quite remarkable really. Had we won it once or twice since then I don’t think that guy would have been saying ‘thanks for ‘66’ this morning in the park.”
He believes his generation could have repeated the success in 1970. “We were the team to beat still and leading 2-0 against West Germany in the quarter-final,” he says.
“That great Brazilian side [the eventual winners] only beat us 1-0 in an earlier round when we should have got a draw.”
Why England have not repeated 1966 but could this year
Apathy among players towards international football and, worse still, fierce inter-club rivalries in the Premier League hurt England earlier in the 21st century, he says.
“You can’t believe how crazy that sounds to a player who worked with a great team and the players I talked about,” he says. “All these things combined to us not being successful.”
Current manager Gareth Southgate has healed those wounds, however, and England have reached a semi-final and final at the most recent World Cup and European Championship.
“That has changed dramatically now, no question at all,” he says. “You can see the team spirit, camaraderie. When England score a goal the subs are off the bench, not pissed off because they’re not playing.
“We’ve got the best bunch of young players now we’ve had for some time. We need to get others scoring goals instead of just relying on one player [Harry Kane] all the time.”
Could Southgate’s England go one better, then, and finally end the wait at this year’s winter World Cup in Qatar?
“I do believe we can win it if we get the breaks,” says Hurst. “I wouldn’t have said that in recent years, or just to be popular. I feel we’ve got a chance, yes.”
Hurst sees parallels between Lionesses and 1966
Before then, Hurst is optimistic that the Lionesses can end the country’s wait for major international honours in the final of Women’s Euro 2022.
England swept Sweden aside with a swaggering 4-0 victory in Tuesday’s semi-final to book their place in Sunday’s showpiece.
“It’s absolutely fantastic. They’ve moved on from getting beaten in semi-finals, which was becoming a bit of a bugbear, to winning one. It’s a major step forward,” he says.
Hurst sees similarities with his 1966 team in the way England Women have grown into the tournament, improving with each round.
“As they’ve progressed there are parallels,” he says. “Going into a tough game and winning 4-0, that was a shock for many people and maybe even the team themselves.
“We started off quite disappointingly and amazingly enough we got booed off the park in the first game against Uruguay. It was quite a transformation from that to winning it.”
Hurst expects the progress of the Lionesses to inspire more girls to take up football, whatever the outcome of the final.
“There will be a huge move forward in focus on women’s football if they can win it. It will be a tremendous boost for women’s football in this country,” he says.
“Losing would be bitterly disappointing of course, but in terms of attracting young girls to the game I think getting us to the final will be a big step forward itself.”
To register interest in the Sir Geoff Hurst x Reeps One Everlasting Memory project, visit: https://www.everlastingmemory.org