Remembering Geoff Hurst and his unlikely spell at Cork Celtic

Remembering Geoff Hurst and his unlikely spell at Cork Celtic

Ten long years after Kenneth Wolstenholme’s oft-quoted words became forever etched in football’s annals, signalling the end of West Germany’s World Cup dream at a jam-packed Wembley Stadium on July 30, 1966, the hat-trick hero of that most glorious day in English football history teamed up with the now defunct Cork Celtic in the south of Ireland for a month-long association.

For years, Hurst was the only player to have ever scored a trio of strikes in a World Cup final. A crowning monument to what could be achieved with hard work, dedication and the efficient use of incredible skill, he stood alone in time for nearly half a century. Of course, American Carli Lloyd recently put an end to that long-standing record with her 16-minute plundering of Japan’s defence in the Women’s World Cup final, but the fact remains that Hurst was a trend-setter and remains a beacon and an icon of the game for footballers just about everywhere.

So much of an eye-catching trailblazer, Sir Geoff Hurst eventually found himself going against the grain of his usual fame and glory to team up with a side struggling for form and fans – but it wasn’t an unexpected fall from grace by any means. It was a voluntary detour even the most well-travelled football historians know very little detail about. And although it would look mightily out-of-place in today’s professional climate for someone of his prestige to carry out something similar, back then it was a charming undertaking that spoke volumes about Hurst’s mentality and his hunger to perform.

Suffice to say, it’s not his most memorable spell, nor is it one that is laden with records and honours, but it’s a stint that, nonetheless, tells us a great deal about the sort of tremendous professional Hurst really was; it offers an insight into the man and the player that he was. At a time when football retained its innate romantic flair, despite the nitty-gritty rough and tumble of it all, players as respected and lauded as the Hammers legend were still forced to work tremendously hard to earn their crust.

So, at 35 years of age, and with his sights no doubt already set on acquiring a move to the attractive NASL for one last big hurrah, Hurst made the switch from West Bromwich Albion after his contract was up to a team that had seen their fortunes dip alarmingly from being illustrious champions of the League of Ireland in 1974 to placing seventh and eighth in the seasons leading up to Hurst’s arrival.

Sure, it was already looking set to be a short stopover for the English legend, but it was an intriguing decision all the same – and the powers of the day no doubt had plenty to lose if it all went pear-shaped.

You see, during the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Ireland welcomed more than its fair share of big-name stars from abroad. The idea behind it was to inject some life and pizzazz into the struggling domestic football scene of the time. Looked to as glamorous attractions to bring people through the turnstiles and boost revenue, they were the stars needed to breathe some life into the game, to give it a boost.

Particularly, though, it was Cork teams who made a real obsession of bringing in marquee signings, as relayed by local historian Plunkett Carter.

“Cork teams had a habit of signing legendary players deemed to be box office attractions. After Hurst headed for Seattle other stars like Uwe Seeler [Germany] arrived in Cork to play with Celtic. In earlier years Trevor Brooking, Terry McDermott, John Hollins, Jimmy Delaney and Raich Carter all played in Cork.”

Reflecting on the current state of Irish football, when it’s not being linked to controversy and corruption, a similar pattern seems to have emerged in recent years with the likes of ex-Manchester United star Liam Miller and former Republic of Ireland international Colin Healy being brought in as marquee signings to inveigle a reaction from pockets of fans who have yet to buy into the whole unpolished scene. Recently, of course, two-time Premier League winner with Chelsea Damien Duff has even returned for an 18-month swansong with Dublin outfit Shamrock Rovers. So, it really is a trend which has become ingrained in Ireland’s football psyche.

In short, not a huge amount has changed in terms of the strength of the league, and similar incentives and tactics are constantly being drafted in to get people talking about, and investing in, the Irish game.

During Hurst’s tenure, however, there was a lot less cynicism around, and people were more than happy to pay to see him strut his stuff on the pitch, without worrying too much about long-term strategies. Indeed, plenty of other big name stars turned out in an effort to entertain the locals up and down the country, with George Best, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks and even Jimmy Johnstone featuring (all with mixed fortunes) in some shape or form over the years.

Speaking exclusively with These Football Times recently, one of Hurst’s former team-mates at Celtic, defender Michael Tobin, was kind enough to reveal what he believed to have been the initial idea and motivation behind the eye-catching move.

“To get someone of the quality of Geoff Hurst was an amazing achievement. I am of the opinion that Bobby Tambling was the instigator with his reputation and connections at Chelsea, and the England team of ’66.

“After Cork Celtic won the league in 1974, with huge crowds, the crowds in 1976 were smaller and so the decision was taken to get a ‘big name’. They didn’t come much bigger than Hurst.”

Although he was only there for a brief period of time, he put in a number of solid shifts alongside the likes of Tambling, Richard Brooks and forward John Carroll. The English cult hero refused to allow his prestigious history get in the way of settling in. A natural talent, he was very eager to get along with his team-mates – and his former club companion Tobin was keen to open up about Hurst’s harmonious personality, one that didn’t allow itself to suffocate any others or draw any extra attention on purpose.

“He only played, as far as I remember, about two or three games, but scored a couple. I think, though I’m not 100 percent sure, that he only came over from London the day before the game on Sunday and left that night

“He was a lovely fellow and made everyone at ease. He had no ‘look at me’ attitude. He got on with all the players, staff and supporters. He was a gentleman and we had great respect for him.”

Overall, the World Cup winner featured in as many as three matches for the club and it’s said that he scored the same number of goals in that time. Most notably of all, was the fact that he actually played in a local derby against Cork Hibs during his stay, in a match that the record books have filed as a 1-1 draw. Netting an important goal in what would have been quite a high-profile League of Ireland match underlines just how eager he was to continue scoring goals and performing at optimum levels – it’s interesting to note that Rodney Marsh was actually the other goal scorer that day. Of course, it’s no surprise the now 73-year-old continued to find the net in the ‘Rebel County’ as he was always an intuitive, raw goal scorer throughout his career.

It was at West Ham United where he netted the most times, of course, and during his stay there he played a vital role in the Hammers success. In total, he nabbed a gob-smacking 248 goals in nearly 500 appearances, which goes only a short distance to evoking just how prolific a player he was for so many years. Building an immensely strong rapport with the fans, he refused to rely on his international exploits in 1966 as the sole foundation for his career, because while that will be what he’s often remembered for in the wider football community, he did a whole lot more besides – something his often forgotten stint in Munster illuminates further still.

Playing in a bygone era where football seems about as foreign as it possibly can, his contributions have translated particularly brilliantly from decade to decade.

His month with the club at Turner’s Cross might not have become a folkloric tale of awe and wonder, but there is a lot to be said for the manner in which he applied himself on the field of play throughout the February of ’76. Seemingly brought in as a replacement for George Best, who flopped quite spectacularly, he contributed a great deal more than the Northern Irish star did during his stint there.

In fact, he was never in danger of falling into the same trap that took so many of his peers. Considering that Hurst was playing at a time when the drinking culture of football in England was quite commonplace, his perseverance to knuckle down and elongate his career through some good football and commitment showed how honest and genuine a star he truly was in his heyday. Add these bygone traits to the fact that football was a much tougher, physically harsher, no-nonsense sporting sphere than it is now and it’s easy to see why he remains such an enigmatic figure even in today’s world where fans clamour to hear the multifarious sound-bites of the superstars who populate the game.

In short, he battled his way, deservedly, to the top and never looked comfortable relinquishing his position at the summit. His career has often been coloured with questions about whether or not he scored that goal against the Germans and how it has caused some to define him as a player, but as his chapter with Cork Celtic reveals, the exciting mystery of his football journey extends far beyond that moment.

He was a player who created a lot of incredible records and reached the highest pinnacles of world football, and although the neglected story of his time in Ireland will always pale in comparison to many of his outstanding achievements elsewhere, it certainly acts as yet another glowing reminder to us all that none of his accomplishments deserve to be forgotten because football may not be lucky enough to ever see his like again.

By Trevor Murray. Follow @TrevorM90

With special thanks to Eanna Buckley, Plunkett Carter and Michael Tobin for their time.

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