Friday, May 19, 2006

Remembering the summer of '66

It’s not often you get to meet two World Cup winners, let alone winning goalscorers within 24 hours, but this week I did just that. Geoff Hurst, scorer of the hat trick for England in the 1966 final and Martin Peters who scored that other goal were at Waterstones to sign copies of their new books.

The former West Ham and Tottenham midfielder Martin Peters had just launched his autobiography Ghost of ‘66 and was in the bookshop on Thursday lunchtime. I queued for about 20 minutes before I got the potentially valuable autograph. There weren’t that many in the queue, but Peters the affable east Londoner was such a nice bloke he had time to chat and exchange pleasantries with everyone – “so where are you from?”, “who do you support?” and all that. I’m too young to remember him as a player, but as nice a chap he is he seems forever destined to be the subject of pub quiz trivia questions “who scored the “other goal” in the 1966 World Cup final?”
Geoff Hurst on the other hand is a much more famous name, although maybe not quite as amicable as his former teammate and West Ham clubmate. So the following day I took the precaution of having an early lunch. By the time I got to Leadenhall Market the queue had snaked past HMV and almost around the corner of the street. The proximity of the City to West Ham’s east London/Essex catchment area probably helped as there seemed to be Hammers out in force having just got over the disappointment of losing the FA Cup final under such heartbreaking circumstances.

“He obviously hasn’t turned up yet” I remarked to the woman in the queue behind me as it turned 12.32, two minutes later than he was due to be there. We’d been queuing up for about a quarter of an hour. No sooner had I uttered these words when lo and behold the man himself accompanied by his agent appeared from around the street corner and began to saunter into the shop. Casually dressed in shirt sleeves and slacks with sweater slung over his shoulder he looked remarkably fit and well for 64. No-one else in the queue seemed to have noticed.

The shop assistant made it clear that the ex-centre forward-come-insurance man-come after-dinner speaker-come the new face of the German tourist board’s advertising campaign was there just to sign the book, the imaginatively titled World Champions and wouldn’t be signing any memorabilia. This became apparent when the bloke in front wanted to get a programme signed. “Sorry, I can’t, mate. I’m in Peterborough tonight, X tomorrow, Y next week, Z next month – I just can’t” came the firm rebuff. The irony that it would much quicker just to put an indecipherable squiggle on a piece of paper than to go into the reasons for not doing so was lost on him, although he seemed to be under instruction from his agent. A compromise was reached when he agreed to add “best wishes” to the scrawl he’d already written on the frontispiece.
Anyway, my turn came and I got the signature without much fuss after turning down the offer of a dedication. “To Northern Sole, best wishes from Geoff Hurst” would be a tad superficial considering I’d never met the guy before and was unlikely to cross his path in the future. And it would also bring down the value of the book if anyone not called Northern Sole wanted to buy it.
My very first experience of a celebrity was former Northern Ireland, Tottenham and Arsenal goalkeeper Pat Jennings back in the summer of 1982 shortly after the north had been gripped by a rare bout of World Cup fever. A paint shop in Omagh was running a special offer as part of a part of a publicity stunt. If you bought a bucket of paint you’d get a ball that he would then sign for you. It was one of those cheap lightweight plastic balls that get blown away with the slightest hint of a breeze. The ball was lost many years ago, but I think I’ve still got the piece of paper with the squiggle on it somewhere.

So was it worth queuing up for the best part of an hour to get an ex-footballer to scribble on a book? If I can make a killing on eBay then yes!


Caroline said...

Ciaran, I thought you were much too young to remember the 60's.

Nice to rub shoulders with the mighty!

CW said...

Yes, bring on Pele next!

Lorainne said...

Have you sold the book yet Ciaran???