BY Vince Cooper
In 1968 England manager Sir Alf Ramsey claimed that Martin Peters was ‘Ten years ahead of his time’. Although the comment confused the self-effacing midfield man, it’s fair to say that the compliment (because that’s what it was) was well deserved.
Peters will probably be remembered as the third man of West Ham’s famous trio of 1966 World Cup heroes. Bobby Moore remains the only Englishman to be presented with the coveted trophy whilst Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick at Wembley on the 30th of July of that year will never be forgotten. But Peters, scorer of the ‘other goal’ for England in the final, earned his own place among the game’s elite and has been rightly judged as perhaps the best all-round midfield player of his generation.
Martin Stanford Peters was born in Plaistow, Essex in November 1943, the son of William a lighterman (he guided barges on the Thames). The Peters family moved to Dagenham when he was seven and in schoolboy football he was a centre-half.
He was scouted by a number of London clubs and seemed set to join Chelsea where his friend Terry Venables was already on the books before West Ham scout Wally St Pier convinced him to sign for his local team. He had briefly considering following in his father’s footsteps but joined West Ham aged 16, in 1959 having, in his last match before joining the Upton Park groundstaff, captained England schoolboys.
Peters v Overath – the first time
The youngster had already displayed some of the versatility he became known for as included among his six schoolboy caps were appearance at left-back and left-half. The fourth appearance for his country came against West Germany at Wembley in 1959 where among the opposition was Wolfgang Overath. The two would come face-to-face again on a rather more famous occasion at the same venue seven years later
Three years later, on Good Friday 1962, Peters made his debut in a 4-1 home win over Cardiff City and he made four more appearances before the end of the season. In one of these, the return fixture at Cardiff he took over in goal after ‘keeper Brian Rhodes was injured.
He scored his first goal for the Hammers in a 6-1 win over Manchester City in September 1962 and earned a regular place in the team that season, making 39 starts. He made another 36 appearances in the following campaign but was somewhat surprisingly left out of the side that came from 2-1 down to beat Preston 3-2 and lift the F.A. Cup at Wembley with manager Ron Greenwood preferring Eddie Bovington.
Despite missing that final, 1964 still proved to be a memorable year for Martin as he married Kathleen, who had met at a bowling alley in Dagenham. They would go on to have two children, Leeann and Grant.
Whilst he was left out that day Peters would later acknowledge that the arrival of Greenwood from Arsenal boosted his career. “Ron told us that in future everything we did would be in football boots” he would later recall. “All training, he said, would involve use of the ball.
”That suited me perfectly. I was naturally fit and, if not particularly fast, I had great endurance. I didn’t really need fitness work. I wanted to devote more time to my ball skills.
”It was soon apparent that Ron was a brilliant, innovative coach and that he could improve any player who wanted to improve. I was one of them. It was an exciting, stimulating time and I couldn’t wait to get on the training pitch each day”.
European Cup Winner’s Cup victory
In the 1964-65 season Peters was again a regular in the Hammers team and when they made it to Wembley again, this time in the European Cup Winners Cup Final, he played a full part in the 2-0 victory over TSV Munich 1860.
It was in the following, 1965-66 campaign that Peters really came into his own. He played 40 games for the club and, more importantly, was becoming a much greater threat to opposing defences, breaking into double figures for goals scored for the first time with 11.
In the England dressing room
Such was his form that in May 1966 he was picked by Alf Ramsey for his first international cap, a 2-0 Wembley win over Yugoslavia. His next England start also brought his first goal, one of three his country got against Finland without reply.
The 1966 squad
He was included in the 22-man squad for the World Cup and it was felt that Peters would be competing for one midfield place against Alan Ball with Nobby Stiles and Bobby Charlton guaranteed their positions.
In the three group matches Ramsey gave an outing to each of his wide men. John Connolly of Manchester United appeared in the opener against Uruguay (winning what would turn out to be his final cap) and Terry Paine of Southampton got the nod against Mexico whilst in the final game against France it was the turn of Liverpool’s Ian Callaghan. Ball played in the opener and Peters replaced him for the next two
For the quarter-final against Argentina, the England manager made the decision to play without a wide man. It wasn’t the first time he had used this system and on the three previous occasions his team hadn’t conceded a goal. The change in system allowed for a midfield trio of Peters, Stiles and Ball with Bobby Charlton allowed more freedom to wander further up the pitch.
England saw off their South American opponents thanks to a single Geoff Hurst goal in a match mostly remembered for its bad temper which culminated in the sending-off of Argentine captain Antonio Rattin.
Ramsey settled on the same XI for the last-four clash with Portugal and they conceded their first goal of the competition when, after 83 minutes, Eusebio scored from the penalty spot after Jack Charlton had handled. But before then Jack’s brother Bobby had scored twice, the second perhaps the goal of the tournament and England held on to win a pulsating match 2-1.
Martin’s goal in the final
So for the 30th of July final Ramsey chose the same line up for the third consecutive match with Martin, at 22, the second youngest player in the team with only Alan Ball his junior.
Things didn’t go to script early on that hot summer day when Helmut Haller breached England’s defences after a sloppy clearance by Ray Wilson to give West Germany the lead. But Martin’s West Ham clubmate Geoff Hurst levelled soon after. The teams remained locked at 1-1 until Peters, who had earlier been booked, was quickest to react when an Alan Ball corner was returned to the goalmouth by Hurst and he gave England their first lead.
Peters would have been the winning goal scorer in a World Cup final had Wolfgang Weber not popped up in the 90th minute to level. So, to extra-time, and history for Hurst as he went on to score the first and still only, World Cup final hat-trick and to send the third West Ham man, Bobby Moore up to collect the Jules Rimet trophy from the Queen.
Martin was very much England’s ‘secret weapon’ during the tournament, being mostly unknown to the opposing coaches before it had started. But taking part forced him to miss an important event. It was wife Kathleen’s 21st birthday during the tournament and manager Ramsey told the player that he could go home to celebrate but if he did, not to bother coming back! Needless to say, Peters stayed with the team.
The Peters family
Perhaps to make it up to his wife he went for a ‘quiet cup of tea’ with her rather than go out celebrating after the famous win.
The ‘Holy Grail’ for footballers. A World Cup winners’ medal
Peters continued to impress for both club and country. At West Ham he missed only five games in four years and scored an extremely impressive 19 goals in the 1968-69 season. However he seemed to become increasingly unhappy at the club.
Against Scotland in 1968
On the international scene he was a regular under Ramsey although he was saddled with that comment from the manager which, he admitted later, puzzled him. “I lay awake half the night trying to figure out just exactly what Alf meant by me being ten years ahead of my time” he would later recall. “My first reaction was that there was no place for me in the present set-up and that this was Alf’s way of gently dropping me from the England scene.
“I thought it was a sort of public pat on the back before being quietly shown the door”.
Leading his country
He needn’t have worried. Peters continued to be a major part of the England line-up all the way through until he made his final appearance in the 2-0 loss to Scotland at Hampden Park in 1974, finishing his international career with 67 caps (including four as captain) and 20 goals.
In that lovely Hammers away kit
The disillusionment at Upton Park led to Peters submitting a transfer request to Ron Greenwood. He refused to discuss the reasons behind asking to leave, saying; “it was very much a personal matter between the manager and myself’. Greenwood was similarly tight-lipped saying; “Just call it a clash of personalities”.
The player made his request public in October 1969 after asking privately for a move on four previous occasions although he vehemently denied that the reason for asking for the switch was being in the shadow of teammates Hurst and Moore.
A more valid reason behind wanting to leave was that the player felt his versatility actually played against him. During his time with the Hammers, Peters wore every shirt for the club and was often denied the opportunity to play in his favoured attacking midfield position.
It was little surprise when the move did happen, that Peters switched to Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs manager Bill Nicholson had been a long-time admirer of the player often bringing his name up as ‘the ideal player for us’ in team meetings. On transfer deadline day in 1970 he finally got his man.
It was also no real shock that it was Jimmy Greaves, like Peters a product of Dagenham schools football, but now with no real place in the White Hart Lane set-up who went the other way.
Peters had idolised Greaves when younger, recalling an occasion when he went to watch his school play against that of the striker and Jimmy’s team won 13-0 with the forward scoring 11. He later remembered being chosen for the 1966 World Cup final and briefly thinking ‘What the hell am I doing here when someone like him is a spectator?’
The move to Spurs cost his new club £155,000 plus the £45,000-rated Greaves and it came came shortly before the 1970 World Cup finals where England failed to defend their crown and where Peters came in for criticism, specifically from Malcolm Allison who dismissively said of the player; ‘He’s the one that’s ten years ahead of his time, so we’ve got to wait for him to come good’.
Peters answered the comment saying; “The people giving me stick were doing it from 7,000 miles away and judging me by what they saw on the small screen. It was unfair”.
With Spurs teammate Alan Mullery
Despite scoring on his debut, Peters’ arrival at Spurs didn’t go smoothly and he came in for some stick from fans at White Hart Lane. Club and international teammate Alan Mullery sprang to his defence saying; “Those people criticising him should watch what he does without the ball”.
The League Cup winners 1972
In his first full season at White Hart Lane, his new team enjoyed a fine campaign, albeit one overshadowed as their bitter rivals Arsenal picked up the double. Spurs finished 3rd behind the Highbury men and were beaten in the quarter-final of the FA Cup by Liverpool. Consolation – and a first domestic trophy for Peters came with a 2-0 win over Aston Villa in the League Cup final, and also in beating Torino in the Anglo-Italian Cup final.
Tussling with World Cup teammate Alan Ball
The following campaign brought victory in a pair of European competitions. In the UEFA Cup Spurs overcame Keflavik, Nantes, Rapid Bucharest, UT Arab and Milan before getting the better of Wolves in an all-English final. A 2-1 win at Molineux was followed by a 1-1 draw in the second leg whilst the Anglo-Italian Cup Peters his third European winners medal. The League Cup win in the previous campaign earned the men from White Hart Lane the chance to play Italian League Cup winners Torino for the Anglo-Italian Cup (not to be confused with another competition of the same name being played at the same time!) and took a 3-0 aggregate win there.
Mike England, Phil Beal, Peters and Cyril Knowles with the UEFA Cup and Anglo-Italian Cup
In the domestic cups they again reached the last eight in the FA Cup with Leeds barring the way, and made a gallant attempt to retain the League Cup as Chelsea prevailed in the two-legged semi-final. His time at the club saw skipper Alan Mullery being sold to Fulham as promising youngster Steve Perryman developed and Peters was the obvious replacement for his former England teammate to lead the side.
In his first season as skipper Spurs brought home more silverware. Huddersfield Town, Middlesbrough (after two replays), Millwall, Liverpool and Wolves were seen off and Peters led his team out at Wembley on 3 March 1973 to face Norwich City in the League Cup final. It was a tight encounter with Ralph Coares who came on as substitute after John Pratt was injured 25 minutes in, grabbing the only goal with 18 minutes left to send Peters up those famous Wembley steps again, this time to collect the trophy.
Peters skippered the side to another UEFA Cup final in 1974. Spurs made serene progress in the competition, starting off with a thrashing of Grasshoppers and then comfortably beating Aberdeen, Dinamo Tbilisi, FC Koln and Lokomotiv Leipzig to reach the final with a record of 29 goals scored (of which the captain got six) and eight conceded. In the first leg of the final at White Hart Lane, Spurs twice took the lead but each time they were pegged back by Feyenoord. The second leg in Rotterdam was marred by crowd trouble and a 2-0 home win meant that it was the Dutch team;s skipper Rinus Israel rather than Peters who collected the trophy.
In action for Norwich City against Orient
In 1975 Peters was on the move again when former West Ham man John Bond paid Spurs £50,000 to take him to Norwich City. He was 31 years old when making his debut for the Carrow Road side and his arrival helped the Canaries over the line in their quest for promotion to the First Division.
Martin is given a guard of honour after being made an MBE
In a fine five-year spell at Carrow Road he helped Norwich establish themselves in the top flight and was twice voted as the club’s Player of the Year. He was also awarded an MBE and was given a testimonial when the Canaries took on an All-Star XI featuring members of the 1966 World Cup winning team.
After five years in East Anglia, Peters moved on again this time joining 3rd Division Sheffield United as player-coach. He took over as manager from Harry Haslam towards the end of the season but was unable to stop a team in deep decline slipping into the 4th Division after which he resigned.
After retiring Peters worked in the insurance industry and was later appointed as a director at Spurs. He spent his Saturdays working as a host at both White Hart Lane and Upton Park continuing the good relationship he maintained with both clubs.
The Hammers trio
After a long battle with the dreadful Alzheimer’s Disease Martin Peters passed away in late 2019, the fifth member of England’s ‘Boys of ‘66’ to pass away, and he was mourned by fans of all the clubs he represented so well and so proudly along with football lovers everywhere.
Immortalised in stone
There is little doubt that many of that 1966 team, including his two clubmates, received greater recognition for England’s success, hence his status as something of an unsung hero. But it is also clear that Martin Peters was a key component in the team that captured glory and was also revered at all of his clubs.
A pre-match tribute at White Hart Lane after Martin had passed away
His ashes are interred in a foundation stone at the London Stadium