BY Vince Cooper
THE World Cup winning team of 1966 are all rightly lauded as greats of the English game. One of the less-heralded members of the side was “Sir” Roger Hunt (although of course, he is adored on Merseyside, where he has received the honorary ‘knighthood’ from the Anfield faithful) but there is no doubt that his contribution was crucial.
Roger was born in Golborne, Lancashire on 20 July 1938. After attending Culcheth Secondary and Leigh Grammar schools. He played for Croft in the Warrington League where one of his teammates was future Liverpool goalkeeper Tommy Lawrence. Croft had a third player, Johnny Green, who also went on to become a professional, joining Blackpool.
In fact Hunt and Lawrence had become friends when the ‘keeper first moved down from Scotland aged 10 with the newcomer in the same class at Culcheth as Hunt’s younger brother Peter and they would play football together every day.
Next up was a move to Mid-Cheshire League side Stockton Heath (who later changed their name to Warrington United) where his manager was former Portsmouth and England winger Fred Worral.
In his first season with his new club Stockton Heath won the League and League Cup with Roger finishing top scorer. Portsmouth manager Eddie Lever travelled up to see the youngster and he agreed to join the South Coast club. But before the deal went ahead Lever left the club so the move fell through. Portsmouth’s loss would be Liverpool’s gain.
He wrote to local team Bury asking for a trial and was taken on by the club as an amateur. He left school at 17 and started work in the family haulage business.
Chances were limited at Gigg Lane and the closest he got to the first team was being a reserve for the reserves. He went to see assistant manager Bert Head and said either he wanted a professional contract or he would return to Stockton Heath. Head and Bury couldn’t come to a decision so he left the club and Bury’s loss would be Liverpool’s gain too!
Back at Stockton Heath where he stayed until joining the Army as a gunner at 19 he again proved prolific. Stationed in Salisbury while doing national service he split his football between playing for Devizes Town in the Wiltshire Premier League and turning out for Stockton Heath again when home on leave.
During one of his visits home, Liverpool scout and former player Bill Jones saw him play, invited him to Anfield for a trial and he played for the ‘A’ team against Manchester City, scoring in a 5-1 win. Bert Head who was by now manager of Swindon, offered him a deal but then the Merseysiders, with a good word put in by old pal Lawrence who was already at the club, made their move and he signed professional terms when he was demobbed from the Army.
At the start of his second season, then-manager Phil Taylor gave Hunt his debut after he had found the net eight times in six reserve team matches. Replacing the injured Billy LIddell for a match against Scunthorpe United, he got the second in a 2-0 win. Looking back, he later said of scoring; “I can’t describe how good it felt to see it smash in off the crossbar”. The News Chronicle of the following day said; “There is a big future for this boy”.
The player accepted that he would need to work hard at the game if he wanted to make it. “I knew perfectly well that I wasn’t an out-and-out striker, the sort who can make the ball talk so it was down to me to compensate for it in other ways”, he later said. “I made up my mind that if I didn’t succeed at Anfield it wouldn’t be for lack of determination.
Roger looks on as Dave Hickson heads for goal against Derby County
“From the first day I threw myself into training, ran and tackled for everything and practised my ball skills at every opportunity”.
Fulham goalkeeper Tony Macedo dives at Roger’s feet
Hunt finished his first season with a very impressive haul of 21 league goals (plus two more in the cup). Taylor resigned in November of that season saying that; “The pressure of trying to win promotion had proved too much” and as his replacement the club brought in Bill Shankly who quickly started making wholesale changes to the squad who finished the season in third.
Whilst many didn’t survive the Shankly cull he quickly realised that Hunt was a real asset. “After seeing him in only one game I knew he could play”, the Scot said. “His style and control, not only in scoring, but in killing the ball dead, stamped him as a player.
“As he developed his scoring technique he became an even greater player”.
Another third-place finish in the second flight followed in 1960-61 as Shankly continued his rebuilding. Hunt was hampered by an ankle injury but still managed to finish with 19 goals in all competitions. Whilst his Reds career had got off to a fine start, the 1961 arrival of Ian St John took him to another level.
St John, signed from Motherwell, improved the then 23-year-old. Shankly said of St John; “His great football brain guided Roger more than anyone”. Hunt said his playing relationship with the Scot was; “Almost telepathic”, but reserves the greatest compliments for Shankly who, he said, “Was responsible for it all.
“Before he came to Anfield the club had been in the second division for a few years and he was like a breath of fresh air. He had such a tremendous enthusiasm that the players got round to thinking they couldn’t lose”.
And the 1961-62 season was when Hunt’s career really took off. Liverpool won the 2nd Division title by eight points and Hunt bagged a club record 41 goals in 41 matches including five hat-tricks. Such was his form that he was called up for the national team and made a scoring debut in the 3-1 win over Austria at Wembley.
Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt
For much of his career Hunt was battling Jimmy Greaves for the inside-right birth in the national team line-up. The ‘feud’ was pitched in the press as something of a North v South battle with Greaves getting preference because, northern newspapers claimed, he played for a club in London. The truth was, Alf Ramsey wasn’t really bothered where players played, only that they could do a job.
In Hunt and Greaves England were lucky to have two players extremely skilled in finding the back of the net. Greaves might have just won the argument on pure scoring ability, while Hunt probably shaded it on work rate. Opponent and teammate Gordon Banks said of the Liverpool man; “A lot of people seem to have been misled just because Roger seemed to do so much running – but that was one of his greatest assets.
‘He would run into space and draw defenders away from other players. He would take men with him. And he was very unselfish”.
With a young fan
Banks continued; “He was a great player for his club and his country. Unselfish as I’ve said – and yet when he got in the box he was looking for goals all the time”.
Now a First Division player, Hunt quickly proved that he could strike just as well at the higher level when top-scoring again (as he would do for the next seven seasons) as Liverpool made a satisfactory return to the top flight, finishing eighth and reaching the FA Cup semi-final in 1962-63.
Title winners 1964
The following season brought a first title since 1947 to Anfield with Hunt scoring 31 times in the league with two more in the cup. By this time it is fair to say he was a ‘marked man’. He took plenty of stick from opponents but never retaliated and also never feigned injury. If he was kicked or fouled he just got up and got on with the game.
Roger pours the tea
1964-65 saw the Anfield men relinquish their league crown to Manchester United, finishing a disappointing 7th but they claimed their first-ever FA Cup and fell to a controversial semi-final defeat to Inter in the European Cup.
Liverpool FA Cup winners 1965
The FA Cup win came over fierce rivals Leeds. The game had been disappointing and finished goalless after 90 minutes with Edgar Turner of the Sunday Mirror describing the action as; ‘Featuring too many Marlon Brandos and not one Sir Laurence Olivier.’
But it exploded into life in extra time. First Hunt headed home a Gerry Byrne cross to put Liverpool ahead three minutes in. Billy Bremner equalised for Leeds but St John popped up with a diving-header winner to give the Reds their first-ever FA Cup.
Ian and Roger
In Europe, the Reds saw off KR of Iceland and Anderlecht of Belgium to easily make the last eight. There they came up against FS Koln and a pair of goalless draw mean that a playoff was necessary.
The extra match was played in Rotterdam and, after some light relief when the Belgian referee accidentally struck a Koln player in the eye when remonstrating about the time he was taking over a throw-in, Liverpool raced into a two-goal lead, Hunt setting up the first for St John and heading home the second himself.
The German side fought back and it finished 2-2 after extra-time. So, it was down to the spin of a plastic disc and, after it incredibly ended up stuck on its side on the first spin it then landed in the Reds’ favour sending them in the last four.
In the semi-final Liverpool were drawn to face holders Inter with the first leg at Anfield just four days after the win at Wembley
Scoring against Inter
Over 54,000 watched the first match and they saw Shankly’s men take the holders apart on what Michael Charters writing in the Liverpool Echo called: “An occasion to savour and remember as long as football is played in this city.”
Hunt set the Reds on their way with a goal after just three minutes and although Giuseppe Mazzola levelled seven minutes later, further strikes from the Ians, Callaghan and St John gave Liverpool a 3-1 cushion to take into the return.
Spanish referee Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil took control of the return, allowed the Italians a goal almost everyone watching thought was blatantly offside and gave Inter 20 free kicks for fouls against Liverpool’s three.
A year later, Liverpool beat Juventus, Standard Liege, Honved and Celtic on their way to the Cup Winners’ Cup final where they faced Borussia Dortmund at Hampden Park.
Siggi Held gave the German side the lead but Hunt fired past Hans Tilkowski to level. Hunt, hampered by an ankle injury, missed a late chance and the match went into extra-time where Reinhard Libuda hit the winner for Borussia to deny Liverpool and Hunt European success again.
“We went on to win the cup and then the league again in successive years”, Hunt would later recall of those times. “The only disappointment was that we didn’t win a European trophy.
“We were cheated out of the European Cup semi-final in Milan because of terrible decisions by the referee and then narrowly lost the Cup-winners’ Cup final to Borussia Dortmund”. Hunt said.
Champions again. 1966
The defeat by the German team and an early FA Cup exit with the trophy moving across Stanley Park to Everton were the only blemishes on a 1965-66 season which was otherwise near perfect for Hunt with that second title win and then, of course, the World Cup.
Prior to the tournament’s start the debate over who should start up front continued. Greaves was ill early in the season and Hunt took over the position and shone, even though he was seen as a deputy by the press and many fans.
Afl Ramsey talks tactics with Peter Thompson, Bobby Charlton, Roger Hunt and Gordon Milne
Having paired the two in the final warm-up match with Hunt grabbing the only goal in a victory in Poland, Ramsey started the tournament with both playing. Then an injury to the Spurs man opened the door to Geoff Hurst to partner Hunt up front and the manager stuck with these two for the rest of the tournament. So effectively it was Hurst who replaced Greaves not Hunt, as Sir Alf Ramsey would later point out.
Hunt said later; “Geoff Hurst and myself were battering rams, taking a lot of stick from defenders and taking them away to leave gaps for others.
“It’s a helluva difficult role to play. You’re a workhorse and to shine in that sort of role in most games is impossible. The position didn’t flatter me as a player even though I was probably doing a good job for the team”.
Scoring against France
Hunt proved his goalscoring worth when notching the second against Mexico and then scoring both against France to play a big part in getting England through the group stages.
Over the line
And he was of course, in prime position when Geoff Hurst’s much disputed goal went in against West Germany in the final. As many have said, he was in place to follow up but clearly felt the ball was already over the line so he turned and celebrated.
Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Roger
His skipper on that special day in July 1966, Bobby Moore, later said of him; “He was always the player who could complement the other players on the pitch. Roger always made things easier by his running and his terrific will to win not only the ball but the match.
“He was in many ways, the complete player”.
World Cup winning squad members Gerry Byrne, Ray Wilson, Ian Callaghan and Roger
Surprisingly Hunt later admitted that winning the World Cup hadn’t given him the same thrill as winning the FA Cup at the same venue a year earlier. “I think winning for your own club and own fans means more to you then winning for your country” he later said.
Roger and Ray and the Jules Rimet
Hunt started the following season by parading the World Cup with England teammate Ray Wilson then scoring the winner in the Charity Shield against Everton at Goodison Park and he continued to be a regular in Ramsey’s England set-up until a 1969 friendly against Romania where he won his 34th and final cap.
Roger shows his daughter Julie a photo of one of his goals
He finished with a fine record of 18 goals for his country in those starts. In that 1968-69 season he also took the Liverpool goalscoring record from Gordon Hodgson. He ended his Anfield career with 286 goals which remained the club record until broken by Ian Rush.
Roger Hunt of Bolton Wanderers
In 1969 Hunt left Liverpool for Bolton Wanderers, the club he supported as a boy, where he would spend two-and-a-half seasons before hanging up his boots.
Another Liverpool great, Bob Paisley, said of Hunt; “There were never any frills about Roger’s game. Once he saw the white of the posts he would shoot. That’s what we liked him for”.
Although his game changed a little when playing for his country, Hunt did the job required of him, while still finding enough time to hit the back of the net regularly enough to aid England’s cause.
Roger with Bill Shankly on his testimonial night
The esteem Hunt is held in on Merseyside was never better demonstrated than April 1972 when, on a night of teeming rain, 56,214 crammed into Anfield, with an estimated 10,000 more locked out, to his testimonial, a British record.
The match was between the 1965 Cup winning side and an Internationals XI including current Reds Kevin Keegan and Ray Clemence, and a number of the 1966 World Cup winners. Liverpool won 8-6 with the main man netting a hat-trick and his old friend Tommy Lawrence coming out of goal to score from the penalty spot.
Bill Shankly’s response to that 56,000+ crowd which earned the player an estimated £25,000 was: “For what he did for Liverpool, he deserved what he got tonight.”
A trophy haul
Perhaps one of the greatest tributes to Roger Hunt came from Sir Alf Ramsey who said: “He was a very fine footballer in every way, a man of true international class.
“He proved himself over and over in the England jersey as a player of very high quality.”
Roger Hunt passed away in late September 2021, just weeks after his contemporary Jimmy Greaves. He had lived a quiet life after giving up the game, working in the family haulage business for a time.
“Sir” Roger might have made a bigger impression on Merseyside than in the rest of the country, but he was a key cog in the machine that captured the Jules Rimet trophy and in the first great team Bill Shankly built at Anfield. The credit he rightly gets in Liverpool is deserved on a bigger stage.