Interview with England’s Hurst: "That was the end of an era"

For the proud English national team, the end of the EM 1972 came quite unexpectedly. Sir Geoff Hurst is reluctant to remember.

Sir Geoff Hurst associates the best and worst memories of his career with the English national team with games against Germany at Wembley Stadium. In 1966 he almost single-handedly shot the Three Lions to the title in the World Cup final with three goals. To date, Hurst is the only player to score three goals in a World Cup final. Six years later, the 3-1 defeat in the quarter-finals of the European Championship was his last appearance in the national jersey. For Hurst, who was knighted in 1998, there are certainly better memories than this game.

What are your thoughts on the 1972 European Championship quarter-final first leg against Germany, Sir Geoff Hurst?

Looking back today, it’s one of the most disappointing games of my international career. Because it was also my 49th and last match for England – so I didn’t make it to 50 caps. I’ve played five times against Germany in total, including my best international match, the 1966 World Cup final, and the quarter-finals, which we only lost after extra time at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. But in 1972 their team was much better with Franz Beckenbauer in the back, Gerd Müller in the front and Günter Netzer in the centre.

And then we haven’t even mentioned Maier in goal and Breitner, who was at left-back but seemed to be all over the pitch. That was a fantastic German team. It was a great time for German football, while this defeat marked the end of an era for us. Up until that evening we were still THE team to beat in world football and it took Super Germany to do that.

And what are your memories of the second leg?

That was a strange story. I wasn’t nominated for that second game in Berlin. But then there were a few injuries among our national team and I was brought back. Throughout my career, I’ve been very fortunate to have rarely been injured. I only occasionally had problems with my back. And when I came to the boys, I pulled my back muscles in the very first training session, which is why I couldn’t play.

Not everyone was on the bench at the time, so I watched the game from the stands with my wife, who had flown over especially for the match. I don’t think there was anything worth remembering about that game. The game was very weak. But the duel was actually over after we lost 3-1 at Wembley. You never catch up when you lose that way at home to an opponent of this top quality.

We just switched to England mode.

How did you and the England team prepare for the quarter-finals against Germany?

As always. We showed up in Lilleshall in the Midlands a few days before our home games, trained lightly and then traveled to London the day before the game. We knew each other well, we knew how we played and we just switched to England mode.

What did you know about the German team before the games?

Germany was an opponent that we met fairly regularly. We knew each other as single players and we knew our respective styles of play. Back then there was no daily television coverage of every game in every corner of the world. So we were surprised that Germany had changed so much with so many new young players in just a few years.

The English team picture: Geoff Hurst (2nd from left) stands alongside Bobby Moore (left).
imago images

Can you remember some details or specific players or how the German team played?

Netzer was the most interesting – such a fine individualist. But I saw that he didn’t play that often for Germany, only 37 times. I assume it was for tactical reasons. Germany then had Netzer and Overath for the same position. A bit like us in England much later Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard who also filled the same midfield role. Overath was also a great footballer, as evidenced by his career record: three World Cups – once winner, once second, once third. That says everything about him.

Did you realize back then that this German team is something very special?

No matter which team you look at – you judge them by their axis. And this German team had an axis with Beckenbauer, Netzer and Müller that was better than any other national team I had ever seen. A few years back we had the same thing with Gordon Banks, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Greaves. That was the best axis of an England national team that I have ever played in or seen.

I’ve seen pictures of me drinking champagne out of a paper cup.

That 3-1 win at Wembley is still legendary in Germany. Can you understand that?

Sure, of course! It was the first German victory over England at Wembley.

What were your reactions and those of your team-mates after the first leg?

To be honest, after 50 years I can’t tell you what it was like in the dressing room. But I can’t remember exactly what happened in the dressing room after we won the World Cup final. I’ve seen pictures of me drinking champagne out of a paper cup. For me it was just that I switched off as soon as a game was over. Also, I don’t tend to remember defeats. why? In soccer you win big games and sometimes you lose big games. When that happens, it’s time to wipe your mouth and move on. It was the same against Germany in 1972.

Have you seen the semifinals and final?

no I wasn’t interested. When you’re eliminated, you don’t want to know anything about it anymore. I remember watching the 1974 World Cup final because Germany had some of the greatest players of all time in those years. I also know that Germany now have a promising team again. How good is it? Ask me that after the World Cup. This is the tournament of truth.

In Germany, the 1972 team is considered the best national team of all time. What do you think?

I agree. Absolutely. It was the best German team I’ve ever seen. I know they were world champions a couple of times, but that team from 1972 was their best ever in my opinion. Even back then, Beckenbauer was obviously an incredibly important figure for German football. Muller was stunning as a striker. I’m not saying that because he scored the winning goal against us in Mexico and scored again at Wembley. Just look at his goal record. No one can judge your qualities better than a striker and I was a striker myself. We were good, we were confident, we weren’t afraid of anyone. It took a really high quality side to beat us at Wembley. That sets the standard for how good Germany was back then.

This article first appeared in kicker 38/2022 on May 8th.

You can read more stories and details about Germany’s first European championship title in our eight-part kicker series on the 50th anniversary – also in the kicker eMagazine app (Android or Apple).

Manfred Münchrath, Keir Radnedge

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