When most people think of Geoff Hurst, inevitably their minds turn to that day at Wembley Stadium in 1966, when the striker netted a hat-trick to win the World Cup for England.
It was the crowning moment in the history of a nation obsessed with the beautiful game, and Hurst’s name will be forever linked to that success.
Indeed, scoring a treble in football’s showpiece event was such a momentous achievement that it has never been replicated, before or since, by a single player from any country that’s lifted the trophy.
The strange truth of the matter is that had Jimmy Greaves not been injured in the last group game of the tournament against France, there’s a strong chance that Hurst would not have played the final.
He was brought in to replace the Tottenham Hotspur hitman for the last-eight clash with Argentina, scored the only goal, and manager Alf Ramsey chose to keep him in the starting XI all the way through to the clash with the Germans, for which Greaves was fit.
Another three goals, a Russian linesman and an iconic commentary moment later, and Hurst was a bona-fide England legend, perhaps THE England legend.
With that in mind, there’s a sense that he belongs to everyone, a player whose contribution transcends the divides of the club game.
But for a set of fans in East London, there is no question that he’s theirs.
West Ham United was Hurst’s home from the age of 15, when the Lancashire lad signed an apprenticeship.
His football obsession started at a much younger age; he was once fined £1 for constantly kicking a ball into a neighbour’s garden, a transgression that was classed as ‘disturbing the peace’.
It was that drive and competitive streak, though, that formed the bedrock of his success; Hurst was not the most naturally gifted footballer, and in fact started out in a far deeper position as a left-half, the equivalent of the modern-day left midfielder.
While a passable player in that role, he was not progressing as rapidly as contemporaries like Bobby Moore, and quite remarkably came close to quitting the game to pursue a career in cricket.
Hurst played a first-class match for Essex back in 1962 and over 20 in the county’s Second XI around that time.
Thankfully, a change of manager saw the club transition to a more technically focused approach, which helped to give the youngster’s career a kick-start.
Ron Greenwood saw potential in Hurst’s game and, given his relative weakness defensively, gave him a run as a forward alongside Johnny Byrne, with the two forming a strong partnership.
While that prompted a hot streak of 13 strikes in 27 matches in the 1962-63 campaign, the next term proved more frustrating.
Hurst scored just one more goal despite featuring in an extra 10 league fixtures — West Ham finished a disappointing 14th — but it was the FA Cup where he, and the team as a whole, came alive.
The striker netted seven in seven, including one in the semi against Manchester United, and another in the Wembley final, a header that, ironically, bounced off the bar and marginally crossed the line to make the score 2-2 with Preston North End — the Hammers would go on to triumph 3-2.
That success led directly to Hurst’s next taste of silverware, in the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season, although he was played in a more restricted role as Greenwood sought to bolster numbers in the midfield against continental opposition.
On a purely personal level, though, 1965-66 was the front man’s most successful.
Although the crowning moment came at the World Cup, domestically Hurst also netted 40 goals in 59 appearances, including 11 in 10 on the way to the League Cup final, where West Ham went down 5-3 on aggregate to West Bromwich Albion.
He also won Hammer of the Year, an award he would defend the next term and subsequently receive again in 1969.
Hurst continued to score regularly during the remainder of his time at the Boleyn Ground, before being sold to Stoke City in 1972.
A bout of pneumonia hampered his bedding in period, and saw the striker loaned out to Cape Town City to recover and regain his fitness.
Despite those issues, he won a place in the side and in the 1973-74 season the team finished fifth in Division One.
That represented a career-best for Hurst, and perhaps best exemplifies West Ham’s inconsistency during Greenwood’s tenure.
There’s no doubting that the Hammers were a better side than Stoke across that time frame, but the skill-focused style, while attractive on the eye, perhaps sacrificed some of the steel required to mount a title challenge.
However, Greenwood is rightly considered an icon for the way he developed the team and the club’s identity, and Hurst was very much in that mould.
After his hugely successful 1965-66 campaign, Manchester United manager Matt Busby came calling with a £200,000 offer for his services.
The Red Devils were one of the country’s big hitters at the time, were just two years away from their maiden European Cup win, and the proposal offered Hurst the chance to significantly add to his trophy cabinet.
However, the player himself saw no reason to quit West Ham, citing the ‘job satisfaction’ of playing for a team with such an attacking mentality as motive enough to stay put.
And when judging his legacy at the club, that’s the kind of player Irons supporters will remember.
There’s the England icon, the almost mythical forward who bagged that hat-trick at Wembley that some fans are too young to even remember.
And, whether you call it fate or luck, there’s the player whose career swung on a few key moments; Greenwood’s decision to switch him to a striking role, Greaves’ injury allowing him into the frame at the World Cup, and of course, the ball that was adjudged to have crossed the line.
But for the West Ham faithful, Geoff Hurst was a loyal centre-forward who helped himself to a shedload of goals during his time in East London.
Yes, he later became a national icon who belonged to the nation, but it will never be forgotten that he resisted any temptation to move on and gave the best years of his life to the crowd at Upton Park.