Thursday 23 January 2020

World Cup hero Peters was 'ahead of his time'

Obituary: Martin Peters (1943-2019)

Tributes poured in for England World Cup winner Martin Peters after he passed away on Saturday. Photo: PA/PA Wire.
Tributes poured in for England World Cup winner Martin Peters after he passed away on Saturday. Photo: PA/PA Wire. newsdesk

Martin Peters, who has died aged 76, played in right midfield for the England side that won the World Cup in 1966, and scored the team's second goal in the final itself.

During the build-up to the tournament, which manager Alf Ramsey had long predicted England would win, his principal problem as a manager was not choosing his defensive players, but finding the right permutation of attacking ones.

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Peters was a very late addition to the side, only making his international debut (against Yugoslavia) two months before England's opening World Cup game at Wembley.

However, Peters did enough then, and in his second match - in which he scored against Finland - to force himself to the front of Ramsey's thoughts.

Ramsey wanted to play with wingers, but when those he selected - the Liverpool pairing of John Connelly and Ian Callaghan, plus Terry Paine - failed to make the grade, notably in England's first game of the World Cup against Uruguay (a poor 0-0 draw), Ramsey turned to the young West Ham midfielder, then aged 22.

Peters did not have a winger's pace, but he had attacking instincts, stamina to work the flanks as Ramsey wanted, could cross with either foot, and had a knack of popping up in the penalty area at the right moment.

He would display all of these attributes during the tournament, and after being selected for England's second game of the competition, against Mexico, kept his place for the rest of the tournament.

Against Mexico and France, Peters twice made goals for the strikers with well-directed headers, but both goals were wrongly disallowed.

Then, against Argentina in the quarter-final, he showed the value of his understanding with his club colleague Geoff Hurst. This was the match in which England moved from 4-3-3 to the packed midfield of 4-4-2, with Peters and Alan Ball instructed to forage out wide.

With 15 minutes left in what had been an ill-tempered and thus far scoreless match, Peters picked up the ball on the left wing with an Argentine defender in close attendance.

Lacking the time to look up properly, he instinctively curled a cross around his opponent towards the near post, searching for Hurst. The striker had read Peters' intentions perfectly, and arrived at just the right moment to steer it home.


Even greater glory seemed to be about to accrue to Peters in the final itself when, in the 77th minute, he found himself in the right spot as a West German defender slipped while trying to clear a corner.

The ball looped up high, landing at the feet of Peters, seven yards out. His strike was clean, and England led 2-1. It seemed to all that Peters had scored the winning goal, but England's celebrations were spoiled when their rivals equalised in the last minute of the game.

Peters soon found himself - not for the first time in his career - in the shadow of his fellow Hammer Hurst, whose two goals in extra-time finally sealed victory for England.

Martin Peters was born at Plaistow, east London, on November 8 1943. When he was seven, his family moved to Dagenham, Essex - the home town of Alf Ramsey - and Martin attended the local Fanshawe School. His footballing talents were soon spotted by West Ham and he joined their renowned youth academy, signing forms with the club at 17. He made his debut for the first team in 1962.

He could pass with both feet, was an excellent crosser of the ball and was good in the air. Peters also became adept at making late runs, ghosting into the area unmarked to score goals. In short, he was the complete modern midfielder, although the tag "a player 10 years ahead of his time" - given to him by the West Ham manager Ron Greenwood, not by Ramsey, as is sometimes attributed - proved a burden rather than, as was intended, a rebuke to those who had not yet appreciated his talent.

Peters was a quiet, almost withdrawn individual, and at West Ham found himself in the shadow of the more straightforward Hurst and the sociable Moore. Perhaps as a result he was not at first an automatic choice in the side, and he was left out of the team for the 1964 FA Cup final (which West Ham won) in favour of a more aggressive but journeyman player, Eddie Bovington.

By the end of the following season he had proved his value beyond doubt, and played at Wembley in the European Cup Winners' Cup final win over 1860 Munich.

Indeed, so versatile a player did he show himself to be that he would eventually play in every position for the club, including deputising as goalkeeper once when there was an injury.

Nevertheless, while he was at Upton Park he could never quite get the recognition that was his due, inevitably being grouped as one of the World Cup-winning trio.

It was this, in part, which prompted his move, just before the 1970 World Cup, to Tottenham for a British record fee of £200,000. In 10 years with West Ham, Peters had played 302 league games and scored 81 goals.

At the 1970 Mexico World Cup, Peters was selected for all four games which England contested, and scored in the quarter-final against West Germany, his goal putting them 2-0 ahead with 40 minutes remaining.

He and Bobby Charlton were then substituted, and England contrived to lose the match 3-2.

The move to Spurs proved to be a sound one: the team won the League Cup in 1971 and 1973 and the Uefa Cup in a two-legged final against Wolves in 1972. He would make 189 league appearances for Spurs, scoring 46 times.


After five years at White Hart Lane, Peters moved on to Norwich, where he enjoyed John Bond's attractive if fragile team. He played 207 times for them in the First Division, scoring 44 goals.

Then, in 1980, at the age of 36, he dropped down to the Second Division with Sheffield United, retiring in 1981 after a brief spell as player-manager.

He had become one of the few footballers to play more than 700 league games - 722 - and had scored 175 goals. He had also made 67 international appearances (the last in 1974), netting 20 times.

When he first met his wife Kathy, whom he married in 1964, she asked him what he did. When he told her that he played football, she asked if he did anything else, and when he replied not she told him he was "a lazy sod". Peters was too modest to tell her that football was his profession. He himself considered the high point of his life the birth of his children.

He would later become a director of Spurs and was awarded an MBE in 1978. In 2016 it was announced that Peters was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He is survived by his wife and by a son and a daughter. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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