Football was again in mourning this weekend at the sad news of the death of one of the most liked and admired players to have ever played the game.
There are now only six members of the 1966 England World Cup-winning side still alive.
A lovely man, a gentleman, an elegant man. These are all phrases to describe Martin Peters. No one has a bad word to say about him, no one ever has. A humble man who never courted fame or publicity. But few people in the game can ever truly say they were loved and respected by almost all those they played with or against. There’s no dirt on Martin Peters, there’s no ‘controversy’, there’s only the disappointment his legacy isn’t wholly available in glorious technicolour for all to see.
It can be difficult for football fans of today to believe the game has always been played like it is today. But there was a time when ‘arriving late in the box’ wasn’t a thing. There was a time when a ‘corner for a near-post flick-on’ wasn’t tried. There was a time when midfielders didn’t score goals, just as a time when wingers never moved from their space along the touchline. Peters was one who changed all that.
‘A complete midfield player’
You can find examples throughout the last forty years of players who’d fit this profile of a complete midfield player. Robson, Gerrard, Lampard, Souness, Scholes all fit that mould. But back in the sixties, the game had hardly seen these types, bar Duncan Edwards or Johnny Haynes. Peters could do the lot. Left-foot, right foot, tackle, score goals. His movement made him difficult to mark, due to much of the inflexibility of the play back then. He was a free-kick specialist and so versatile he played in every position on the pitch.
These days we hear phrases such as ‘playing between the lines’ or ‘finding space’. This for Peters was an everyday occurrence. He was also known by some as ‘the thinking man’s midfielder’. As immaculate off the pitch as on it.
‘Ten years ahead of his time’
Martin Stanford Peters was born on 8th November 1943 in Plaistow, East London, just North East of the docks. Britain was still in the grip of the Second World War although much of the incessant bombing of London had ceased. He was born within about ten minutes from the football club he’d first make his name at, West Ham United.
He was discovered by West Ham’s famous scout, Wally St. Pier. Wally was responsible for the discovery of players such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Pat Holland, Frank Lampard Snr, Paul Brush and Alan Curbishley.
He signed as an apprentice in 1959, making his debut, aged 18, on Good Friday in 1962 in a 4-1 win over Cardiff City at Upton Park. By now Ron Greenwood had taken over as manager of the club and Peters lined up alongside Bobby Moore and John Lyall. He did enough to keep his place for the fixture the following day, a 3-3 draw at home to Arsenal. Easter Monday saw a trip to Ninian Park to take on Cardiff City and this time Peters showed early evidence of his versatility when keeper Brian Rhodes was injured. No subs in those days so Peters went in goal. The Hammers included Geoff Hurst and Ken Brown in the side but lost 0-3.
His first goal for the club came early in the following season in a 6-1 win at Manchester City. He would go onto play 364 games for West Ham, scoring 100 goals. He didn’t really establish himself properly in the first team until 1963-64, yet he played no part in their FA Cup run which saw them lift the trophy after a 3-2 win over Preston at Wembley. He did, though, play a part in their League Cup run which saw them reach the Semi-Final stage, only to lose to the eventual winners, Leicester City.
The FA Cup win was their first-ever trophy success and the club were desperate to add to it as soon as possible.
The following season saw them compete in Europe for the first time. Peters scored in the Quarter-Final second leg against Lausanne and The Hammers marched onto the Final at Wembley. They were up against West German side, 1860 Munich. Two goals in three minutes midway through the second half from Alan Sealey gave West Ham a 2-0 win and theirs, and Peters’, second piece of silverware.
Three years, three wins at Wembley
1965-1966 would be a defining season in the life of Peters. Whilst their league form was consistently seeing them finish mid-table, it was in the cup competitions West Ham were at their most potent.
This season saw them go one better in the League Cup than they had done two years before. He scored goals throughout the cup run, which saw them reach the Final. The League Cup Final was a two-legged affair then, and Peters scored in the second leg. But they were eventually beaten by West Bromwich Albion. By now Peters was being referred to as ‘the ghost’ for his ability to arrive undetected in the penalty area to score.
Their defence of the Cup-Winners’ Cup saw them reach the Semi-Final stage again. They beat Olympiakos in the first round where Peters scored both goals in the away leg. He was on the scoresheet when they hosted Borussia Dortmund. But the West Germans were successful to deny another final appearance.
Peters form that season caught the eye of England manager, Alf Ramsey. On 4th May 1966, he selected Peters for the friendly against Yugoslavia at Wembley. Lining up alongside his West Ham teammate, Geoff Hurst, he performed well in a 2-0 win. Moore was missing that day as Jimmy Armfield had the captain’s armband.
A month later he made the next squad for the trip to Finland. Three minutes before the break he opened the scoring for his first international goal. England won 3-0. This was the first of a three-match Scandinavian tour before the World Cup. England won all three matches but Peters only played a part in the Finland game as Ramsey shuffled his pack before the crucial tournament.
For the final friendly, though, Peters was in the starting line-up alongside Alan Ball, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles in midfield as Ramsey began to dispense with wingers. Moore was captain in a 1-0 win in Poland in a team which was 90% of the side which would compete again on that famous day just three weeks later.
Peters made the 1966 World Cup squad but was left out of the opening match against Uruguay. After they received some criticism for the goalless draw, Peters then played from thereon in. Ramsey decided the way to play was a more compact, dynamic formation. Ball and Peters could provide width if necessary but would assist in attacking through the middle. Peters ability to find space as well as his energy and discipline made him an ideal player for this new system.
He made the Mexico and France games as England progressed to the Quarter-Finals. They met Argentina and in a bad-tempered match, it was Peters’ cross which set up Geoff Hurst for the only goal of the game. After Bobby Charlton’s two impressive strikes saw off Portugal, England and Peters were into the World Cup Final.
On a bright sunny July day at Wembley Peters was playing on the biggest stage, at the age of 22. Haller gave the West Germans the lead before Geoff Hurst equalised a few minutes later. The game was still 1-1 going into the final 15 minutes. England had a corner on the right, which Ball took.
Peters did what his West Ham training had taught him and took up a position at the near post. But Ball floated it beyond the far post to the edge of the area. Hurst was there and tried a shot which hit Hottges and bounced up in the air. Peters by now had moved from the near post to the centre of the box and suddenly realised the ball was going to land in front of him.
In 2010 in his own words, he described the moment;
“I realised the ball was coming to me, so I remembered what Ron Greenwood had taught me, and made sure I kept my knee over the ball. I hit it on the half-volley. The keeper went one way and the defender the other, and the ball went in. Even now when I think about it, I still get a rush from the moment.”
What a moment for the young man who ten weeks earlier hadn’t even pulled on an England shirt. Now here he was within minutes of scoring the winning goal in a World Cup Final.
Can you imagine that? Being a 22-year old, in only your eighth game for your country, and in a World Cup Final. There are less than 15 minutes to go and the ball has come to you for the chance to win the game. He didn’t fluff his lines.
He would’ve been the story too if Weber hadn’t equalised with sixty seconds to go. But Geoff Hurst scored twice in extra time and he got the glory. Peters is at least one of just two England players to have scored in a World Cup Final. Hopefully, it’s not too long before that record falls.
West Ham won the World Cup
The Upton Park faithful claimed West Ham had won the World Cup, and Peters, Hurst and Moore were given a hero’s welcome in the first home game of the season against Chelsea. The season was a bit of a disappointment in the league, but they again looked destined to reach Wembley again in the League Cup. But once again they were foiled by West Brom losing in the Semi-Finals.
On the international front, England embarked on qualification for the expanded European Championships. Peters was on target three times during the group campaign, which doubled up as the Home International Championships. In the play-offs against Spain, they took a slender lead to the Bernabeu. It was Peters who equalised soon after Spain had levelled things on aggregate. Norman Hunter scored the late winner to take England through to the finals in Italy.
They narrowly lost to Yugoslavia and finished third after beating the Soviet Union.
The ghost scores goals, goals, goals
The 1968-69 season was his most prolific. He scored 24 goals in the season including his one and only hat-trick for The Hammers in a 4-0 win over a familiar foe, West Brom. In the league, it was the club’s highest finish during his time there when they finished eighth. For England, he scored twice against the Auld Enemy at Wembley in May. His first, on 16 minutes, was typical of the man.
Right-back Keith Newton picked up the ball just inside his own half, and Peters who was in the centre-circle, then made his run diagonally into the space between the defence and midfield. The ball was perfect from Newton meaning Peters didn’t have to break stride. His pace made it easy to sidestep Billy McNeill. Once in the area, he fired a right-foot shot which Herriot couldn’t keep out.
After Geoff Hurst had scored twice, Peters then lit up Wembley again with his second. Ball found Francis Lee on the left. He cut inside and found Peters about 25 yards out. He tried a shot but it hit the defender. It came straight back to him and as everyone thought he’d have another go his quick thinking outwitted the Scots. He changed from power to deftness and played a one-two with Ball before guiding, with pinpoint accuracy, a lovely right-footed shot into the far corner.
After this game Alf Ramsey gave his famous quote about Peters;
“He’s a player ten years ahead of his time”
On the move
By March 1970 Peters had become disillusioned at Upton Park and felt he needed a new challenge. The club came to a deal with Tottenham Hotspur with Jimmy Greaves going the other way. The Peters deal broke the British transfer record at the time (£200,000). He scored on his debut at White Hart Lane against Coventry City in a 1-2 defeat. A week later he scored again in a 1-1 draw at, yet again, West Brom.
The summer would see England defend their World Cup title in Mexico.
Defending the crown
England’s preparation for Mexico ’70 where they were defending champions, had been good. Although they were only playing friendlies, other than Euro qualifiers, they’d only been beaten four times in the four years since that memorable day at Wembley. They went into the tournament unbeaten in their last nine. There were those who argued this team was more talented than the ’66 side. It was certainly the case that players like Peters were now nearer their peak. Moore, Hurst and Stiles were 28, so was Alan Mullery, who was challenging for Stiles’ place. Keith Newton and Brian Labone, both from champions Everton, came into defence and were considered better players than Cohen and Jack Charlton, who was still in the squad.
England arrived in Mexico via after a couple of games against South American opponents, Ecuador and Colombia. It was in Colombia that Bobby Moore was accused of stealing a bracelet. He was arrested and for a while, it wasn’t certain whether he’d make the tournament. In the end, he did. In the game against Colombia, Peters scored another brace. Both goals were headers in typical fashion as he arrived late in the box. He set up a pile driver from Bobby Charlton in the second half too.
After winning their opening game against Romania, England came up against one of the greatest sides world football has ever seen, Brazil. This was the game which contained ‘that Gordon Banks save’ and ‘that tackle by Moore’ as the two best sides in the world went toe-to-toe. Eventually, the game was decided by a bit of magic from Jairzinho. The Brazilian players have maintained this was their hardest tie of the competition, and victory in this match meant they had an easier ride to the Final.
England licked their wounds and beat Czechoslovakia to reach the Quarter-Finals stage. Had they beaten Brazil then they would’ve been up against Peru and Uruguay, whereas this route now meant a tie against the West Germans and either Mexico or Italy.
In Leon England’s hopes of retaining their title as Brazil had done in 1962, came to an end. But for an hour they were well ahead. Mullery’s first goal for his country was the difference at the break and then just five minutes into the second period, Peters made it 2-0. England looked to be well in control. Beckenbauer got a goal back and then Ramsey famously substituted Bobby Charlton and therefore freeing up Beckenbauer. The German sweeper came more and more into the game. As with four years earlier, England went into the final ten minutes leading 2-1 thanks to a Peters goal.
But as with four years before, the Germans grabbed a late equaliser to force extra time. This time, though, it was the Germans who struck through Gerd Muller. England had a great shout for a penalty when Bell was scythed down in the area by Beckenbauer, but for some reason, the ref didn’t give it and England were out.
It was an ignominious end for the champions. The Germans were beaten in the Semis by Italy, who in turn lost to Brazil in the Final.
Return to Earth
The new season at Spurs began with the visit of his old club, West Ham. Both clubs containing two players from the West Germany game a few months earlier (Peters and Mullery for Spurs. Moore and Hurst for West Ham). The game ended level and after losing to Leeds and Arsenal, Spurs went 14 matches unbeaten from the beginning of September. They were making their way through the League Cup too and one of Peters’ familiar opponents in that competition, West Brom, provided Peters with his second hat-trick of his career.
By the end of the year, they’d beaten Bristol City to reach the League Cup Final. Peters was on the scoresheet to get their FA Cup run under way, and then again at the end of January to help them beat defending champions Everton in the league. Spurs were now third in the table.
At the end of February, Peters picked up his first domestic winners medal when he was part of the side which beat Aston Villa in the League Cup Final. They took Liverpool to a replay in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals only to be knocked out. Eventually, they finished third in the league, although they were way behind Arsenal and Leeds.
For England, he reached a milestone in May when he was given the captain’s armband for the Home International against Wales at Wembley. Wembley had been the scene of many happy memories for him, the World Cup in 1966, the League Cup Final win in February 1971 and now being captain of his country.
The Wales game ended goalless, but three days later he was back at Wembley for the visit of Scotland. Moore was back in charge of the side, so Peters concentrated on his goal tally, by opening the scoring after ten minutes. His goal came from a corner which his Spurs teammate, Martin Chivers nodded on at the near post. Peters was first to react to fire his header past the keeper. John Greig was on the line and he handled the ball, but the referee chose to award the goal. Chivers scored twice in the second half to complete the win. Such was Peters’ influence, now he was at White Hart Lane, Spurs fans were now claiming it was their team driving the national side.
Back into Europe
Back in the league for the new season, the only game Spurs won in August was when Peters was missing. He was on target in a 2-0 win at home to Liverpool. By then they had played in Italy against Torino in the Anglo-Italian Cup. This was a competition set up two years earlier to allow League Cup winners, Swindon Town, to compete against European opposition. Being a club from the third tier of English football they weren’t allowed into the UEFA Cup. Spurs won both legs to give Peters another winners medal.
They began their defence of the League Cup against West Brom. Peters must’ve played them more than any other club during his career. Their foray into Europe was a tie against Icelandic side, Keflavik in the UEFA Cup. Graeme Souness made his one and only appearance for Spurs in the first leg, a 6-1 win. Back at White Hart Lane for the second leg and surprisingly Peters wasn’t on the scoresheet as they won 9-0.
He did score against Palace and Ipswich in the league and then also at Torquay in the League Cup. Peters was now on penalty kick duties and this was helping his goal tally. He got two in a 6-1 win over Forest.
In November they were up against Nantes in the UEFA Cup and with the tie finely poised at 0-0, the two sides turned up at White Hart Lane, it was Peters who made the difference with the only goal of the game.
November was a busy month as they were fighting on three fronts. Peters played eight games during this month, as his goal against Blackpool saw them through to the League Cup Semi-Finals. Another seven games awaited Peters in December. He scored in the first leg of their UEFA Cup tie at Rapid Bucharest and then back in the league at Leicester City. The month ended in disappointment as they were beaten in the first leg of their League Cup Semi-Final tie at Chelsea and then West Ham beat them at White Hart Lane. The Chelsea defeat was their first in the competition for 13 matches.
At the start of 1972, they were seventh in the league, in the League Cup Semi-Final and up to the Quarter-Final stage in the UEFA Cup. A Peters penalty looked to give them hope in their second leg League Cup tie against Chelsea, but in the end, the Blues prevailed. Their first FA Cup tie of the season saw them surprisingly held at home by Carlisle United, then a Second Division side. They ultimately won the replay.
February saw them progress through two rounds of the FA Cup, beating Rotherham and Everton. Peters was on the mark at Goodison Park to set up a tie at Leeds United. They were sitting in fifth in the league, just six points off the leaders Manchester City. These were heady days down at The Lane.
Peters again scored at Goodison Park in the league, and a 2-0 win over a Manchester United side still including Law, Best and Charlton, set them up for their UEFA Cup Quarter-Final. For this they had to travel to Romania again, this time against UTA Arad. They won the away leg 2-0 and a 1-1 draw at home was enough to take them through to their second Semi-Final of the season. In between the two Arad matches, they couldn’t beat Leeds United in the FA Cup and their third Quarter-Final of the season had seen them win two, lose one.
By the start of April, Brian Clough’s Derby County were top of the table with Spurs still seven points back. Defeat at West Ham didn’t help things, but you couldn’t blame them for having their minds on other matters.
Four days later they entertained AC Milan. Over 42,000 packed into White Hart Lane for the Semi-Final clash. England was well represented in the competition, with Wolves up against Ferencvaros in the other tie.
Spurs went behind after 25 minutes when Benetti pounced on a clearance from Naylor and fired his shot past Jennings. The home side were behind for just eight minutes. Knowles floated a ball into the area for Gilzean to head down. Chivers touched it back, intending to find Peters, but he couldn’t get to it. From the edge of the area, a 20-year old Steve Perryman hit a fierce shot past the keeper’s left hand. In the Milan goal that night was Fabio Cudicini, Carlo’s Dad.
Midway through the second half, Mullery took a corner from the right. It was headed clear by Sabadini but fell to Perryman, about 25 yards out. He took a touch and then fired another fierce shot which beat Cudicini down low to his right. It was a stunning strike and Spurs now had the edge in the tie.
Two weeks later Spurs took a slender lead to the San Siro. In front of over 66,000 vociferous fans, Alan Mullery scored after seven minutes to cancel out Milan’s goal at White Hart Lane. With 20 minutes to go Rivera equalised with a penalty, but they couldn’t build on it and Spurs were through to their second European final. They would meet Wolves, who beat Ferencvaros 4-3 on aggregate.
Just before the first leg of the Final, Peters turned out for England in the European Championships Quarter-Final against an old foe, West Germany, at Wembley. A much-anticipated clash saw the Germans win comfortably, 3-1.
So the two English clubs lined up at Molineux for the first leg of the UEFA Cup Final. In an interesting twist, the game was refereed by Tofik Bahramov, the ‘Russian linesman’ from 1966. A pulsating match was goalless until the 57th minute. Mike England floated a free-kick into the area where Martin Chivers headed past Phil Parkes. Twenty minutes later, Wolves skipper Jim McCalliog equalised after quick thinking at a free-kick. Wolves pressed for another to give them the edge in the second leg but Jennings was inspired in the Spurs goal. Then with three minutes to go, Chivers charged down the left and then inside where he unleashed an unstoppable shot to give Spurs a crucial lead to take back to The Lane.
Before the second leg, Peters was on international duty in West Germany for the European Championships Quarter-Final second leg. They trailed 1-3 from the first leg. Peters didn’t make the starting line-up but came on late in the game for Norman Hunter. A goalless draw meant England failed to make the final stages.
Peters was then back in action for Spurs in the return leg against Wolves. A crowd of over 54,000 were now packed into the North London ground. Spurs broke the deadlock when Peters won a free-kick after being fouled by McCalliog. He took the free-kick and found Mullery in the area and he headed them into the lead. Wolves now needed to score three.
Wolves equalised five minutes before the break when Spurs tried to clear from their area and the ball fell to Wagstaffe on the right about 25 yards out, and he fired a long-range effort in off the post, past Jennings. Spurs held on to win the trophy and Peters had won his second European winners medal.
When people talk about Peters’ career they obviously mention 1966. They will also talk about his West Ham career in the years either side of that, but arguably this 1971-72 season with Spurs was one of his best, domestically. UEFA Cup winners, League Cup Semi-Finalists and FA Cup Quarter-Finalists. Oh and the Anglo-Italian Cup. Don’t forget that.