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Three Lions need three Hammers
There are signs of World Cup fever in our staid suburban neck of the woods. Pennants flutter from the sides of cars.Flags of St George are proudly displayed outside houses. Fabio Capello, the England manager, seems to have inspired a level of expectancy in the land that the Three Lions can emerge triumphant.
Being the voice of gloom aint my game but one hopefully helpful warning may not go amiss. You can't blame Fabio for not knowing about English history. The man is an Italian after all. It is a straightforward acknowledged fact, though, to those of us who recall the good old days of 1966 ... England can't win the coveted trophy without three West Ham players in the team!
A visit to Hendon Hall Hotel the other day set me on this nostalgic tack. Back in 1966, when Sir Alf Ramsey and his team used the hotel as their headquarters in the approach to playing West Germany in the World Cup final, three Hammers were in the victorious side.
Bobby Moore was the captain, Geoff Hurst scored a life-changing hat-trick at Wembley and Martin Peters got England's other goal.
Years later, when Sir Bobby Robson was the England manager, I pointed out the need for three West Ham players to repeat the 1966 win. "Which three players from their side would you choose Dennis?" he asked. When I offered suggestions - not quite in the Moore, Hurst and Peters mould I agree - he was, dare I say it, condescending.
Sir Bobby was, of course, a Geordie. That's perhaps akin to being an Italian. He didn't take seriously the historical need of Bow Bells ringing in your ears Capello already has Hammers goalkeeper Robert Green and central defender Matthew Upson in his squad. Just one more Fabio and I'll get out the pennants and the flag.
I was, by coincidence, at Hendon Hall the other day as England prepared for a warm-up game at Wembley against Mexico.The hotel formed an integral part of my life as a young reporter - if you joined the Hendon and Finchley Times in those days the major requirements were a pencil and a dinner suit bought for £15 from Turner the Tailor, the proprietor's mate whose premises were alongside the newspaper offices in Church Road, Hendon.
The hotel,one time home of actor David Garrick when Hendon was a green and pleasant outpost of London, was at the centre of the community and you could guarantee having a slap-up meal once or twice a week in return for recording one of the numerous functions held there.
The victorious England football team of 1966 used Hendon Hall as their headquarters prior to beating West Germany and, as part of the close-knit football writing team that followed Sir Alf Ramsey's side, I spent most evenings at the hotel in the build - up having a drink and chatting to the team.
Two years before I had been the lone reporter on two trips that West Ham United made to the USA and Moore, Hurst and Peters were already established as mates. Bobby liked a lager away from football and listening to the Beach Boys; Hurst was announced by the stadium commentator at Randalls Island, New York, as "Gee - off " Hurst; Peters, from memory, made a profit on his daily allowance by only spending money on stamps to write home to his wife.
It was a different world then. Bobby Moore may have been an iconic David Beckham figure of the time but England did not have today's media scrum of hundreds in attendance at training or Press conferences. I was often the lone reporter at training sessions at the old Wingate ground at Hall Lane, Hendon, or at Hendon FC watching young Bobby Charlton banging in super goals and wheeling away with the cry:"And here's Bobby Charlton scoring the winner in the World Cup final". If only he'd worn claret and blue instead of Manchester United red he might have finished in the history books!
The players of those days were not beseiged by autograph hunters or pursued by the paparazzi as they strolled the streets of Hendon to go shopping or to visit the cinema or one of the churches opposite the town hall in The Burroughs.
The Press were accepted as a trusted part of the scene. I recall England right back George Cohen, still a friend 44 years later, coming for morning coffee with Mrs S and I at our home in Great North Way a few steps away from the hotel. Sir Alf Ramsey walked to the Finchley home of my former News of the World colleague Reg Drury to relax over a cup of tea.
Mrs S and I married on a Friday in March 1966 - Saturday is a football day in our family - and we "honeymooned" at all the World Cup games at Wembley with a block of tickets in the stand opposite the Royal Box.
I was at Hendon Hall on the morning of the final as the team set off for Wembley. Mrs S and I travelled to the Royal Garden Hotel for the celebrations that evening.
Anyway, enough of the reminiscing and name dropping. I guess Fabio Capello doesn't read this blog. So, If any of you know the fellow, please pass on my warning about the need for three West Ham players in South Africa.
Otherwise it could all end in tears.
PS Sir Alf left out Jimmy Greaves, the greatest goalscorer of my decades in football, for the World Cup final. Despite the victory, I never forgave him.