By Brian Beard | 17th APR 2020
As thoughts of England’s chances at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar are in many people’s minds while football is currently suspended, the 1970 Tournament in Mexico and the England players who featured are very much in the news.
For the second time in less than a week the football world mourns the passing of yet another icon of the game. Five days after the passing of Peter Bonetti, another member of the 1970 England World Cup squad, Norman Hunter, passed away.
Renowned as the toughest of tacklers in the 1960s and 70s, when he was integral to Don Revie`s all-conquering Leeds United side, Norman was known throughout the football world as `Bites yer leg`, but he succumbed to the current Covid-19 virus aged 76.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Norman as part of the build up to an England international a few years back, against Poland. I wasn`t the only one because whenever those two countries met, post 1973, the whole world seemed to want to jog Norman`s memory from a game where a mistake by him proved critical. But in his defence it wasn`t only the Leeds man, preferred to Bobby Moore on the night, who was culpable as he once told me.
Basically England needed to beat Poland that October night in 1973 to keep alive hopes of reaching the World Cup finals. It was a tight game at Wembley but the whole match turned on an incident that haunted Norman Hunter for the rest of his career. Norman explained.
“Poland hit us on the break and I moved over to our right flank to confront Lato, who was racing down that side with the ball at his feet. It was on the halfway line, almost directly in front of the bench and on my right side, which wasn’t my strongest.
I have gone over it a million times in my mind and to this day still don`t know why I tried to trap the ball which had run just ahead of Lato, with my right foot. I should have just booted him and the ball down the North Circular Road but I didn`t and he got away and crossed it into Jan Domarski who scored, the `keeper should still have saved it. He could have thrown his cap on it for goodness` sake.”
Even Peter Shilton admitted he should have done better when, amongst the criticisms, leveled at him was one observation that said, in his attempt to save from Domarski, `Shilton went down like a collapsing building`. The goalkeeper said.
“I tried to make the perfect save. Had I been more experienced I`d have stuck a foot or a knee out.”
In another era Norman Hunter might have won more than the 28 caps he did but in those days he vied with a certain Bobby Moore for the same position. Bobby, who won 108 caps, was the first of the World Cup winning side to die, in 1993. Keith Newton was the next member of Sir Alf Ramsey`s World Cup defending squad to pass away.
The full back, who won the League Championship with Everton, passed away in 1998. Keith`s Everton and England team mate, Brian Labone died in 2006. Labone, a one-club man won two Football League titles and lifted the FA Cup with Everton as well as winning 26 England caps.
Alan Ball, the youngest of the World Cup winning side, and a member of the Mexico squad, was another Everton player, after he moved from Blackpool in 1966. Alan died of a heart attack in 2007 when he tried to extinguish a bonfire in his garden that went out of control.
Emlyn Hughes, another former Blackpool player who ended up on Merseyside, with Liverpool, won the first of his 62 England caps the year before he went to the 1970 Mexico World Cup. He passed away in 2004.
Two years later Peter Osgood, who won just four England caps, became another of the 1970 squad to pass away.
Jeff Astle won five England caps but never scored for his country. His best chance came in the famous defeat by Brazil in Mexico when a chance fell on his favoured left foot, almost exactly the same position from which he scored in West Brom`s 1968 FA Cup Final victory. He missed in Mexico and is unfairly remembered for that miss despite scoring 174 goals for the Albion in his 361 appearances. Jeff died in 2002.
Martin Peters, who scored the `other goal` in the World Cup Final win, passed away in December 2019, the same year we lost the last line of defence that glorious summer`s day in 1966, Gordon Banks. Both were at their peak in 1970 but were unable to retain the trophy but continued to be England regulars for two and four years, respectively, after Mexico.
A magnificent XI, in any football universe.
Thanks for the memories.
By Brian Beard, Associate Historian to the Football Association.