Tuesday was a sad day for English football as another of the heroes from 1966 passed away.
Roger Hunt was a striker for Liverpool and England who had an incredible goalscoring record. In fact, he was Liverpool’s record league goalscorer. Loved by all who saw him play, and many who never got the chance to. There hasn’t been a better striker at Anfield, ever.
No ego, no glamour, no fuss, just goals. Hunt was known to Liverpool fans as Sir Roger Hunt, a true gentleman. He was 83.
Hunt can often be one of those forgotten men of the eleven who lifted the World Cup for England. People easily rattle off the names of Moore, Hurst, Banks, Peters, the Charltons, Moore, Ball and Stiles. But Hunt, Cohen and Wilson can often be forgotten and probably because they didn’t have much of a profile, they have never really courted publicity. After his playing days were over, Hunt went into the family haulage business.
Roger Hunt was born in Golborne, near Manchester, on 20 July 1938.
He came to Liverpool’s attention by accident. He was playing for Stockton Heath in the Mid-Cheshire League when a scout turned up to watch another player. Hunt caught the eye and the club made their move
At the time, Liverpool was languishing in the Second Division. A once big club with five league titles to their name, they’d slipped down to the second tier of English football, far removed from title challengers.
Bill Shankly had just taken over as manager, and Hunt was one of his first signings.
“Christ, this one can play!” said the Liverpool boss the first time he saw him.
At the age of 21, he made his debut in September 1959, given the daunting task of replacing the legendary Billy Liddell. He scored too, a great strike that smashed in off the crossbar.
He scored 21 goals in the league in his first season and the club and the crowd knew they had a player they could really love. Liverpool just missed out on promotion that season and the next, finishing third both times. But when Ian St. John arrived in the 1961-62 season things really took off as the two formed a vibrant partnership.
They won the Second Division that season, with Hunt scoring 41 goals, which is still a club record, including five hat-tricks. St. John also knocked in 18 as the pair were now being talked about.
Two years after winning the Second Division they were First Division Champions as the pair scored over 50 goals between them again. A year after came the club’s first FA Cup win. It was still a mystery for a club the size of Liverpool to be without success in the FA Cup. Hunt’s stooping header put them in front early in extra time against Leeds United at Wembley. St. John then grabbed the winner and the golden years had returned to Anfield.
His first four years in the First Division saw him hit 128 goals in 160 games, during a halcyon period for the club
In April 1962 England manager, Walter Winterbottom called Hunt up for his first England cap. He scored on that debut too, in a 3-1 win over Austria at Wembley. He was rated highly enough to be included in the squad for the World Cup in Chile, but he never got on the pitch.
He wouldn’t be seen in an England shirt for another twelve months until Alf Ramsey’s fifth match in charge of the national team, in a friendly in East Germany. He scored England’s first in a 2-1 win.
After one further appearance, he was selected for a summer tour in May 1964. He played in the fourth of five friendlies when he took to the field in New York against the United States. He took just four minutes to open the scoring. He grabbed a second 18 minutes later to put them 3-0 up. In the second half, England ran riot. By the time Hunt completed his hat-trick eight minutes into the second period, they were then 6-0 up. He got a fourth ten minutes later as England eventually won, 10-0.
In the build-up to the 1966 World Cup, Ramsey tried many strikers, with Hunt and Greaves constant selections. Greaves appeared to be the mainstay, with Hurst coming into things just months before the tournament. Hurst was preferred in a friendly in Copenhagen but failed to shine. Hunt came in for the final warm-up game away to Poland and scored the only goal of the game. Ramsey’s starting eleven was confirmed.
After a disappointing opener against Uruguay, Hunt scored England’s second in the win against Mexico. In the final group game, he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over France and England were beginning to pick up the pace.
Hunt’s performances were enough to convince Ramsey to stick with him as Hurst came in for Greaves when the Spurs striker was injured in the French match. He played in every game through to the Final and even played a part in the controversial third goal at Wembley.
When the ball bounced down off the bar, Hunt was closest to it. Instead of tucking it away, he turned with his arm raised as he believed it was over the line.
He said in years to come, the two questions he’s most often asked was “was it over the line?” and “why didn’t you knock it in yourself?”.
Hunt was a prolific scorer and would’ve loved to have his name on the scoresheet. The fact he turned down that opportunity convinced Hurst, and possibly the officials, the ball had crossed the line.
He and Jimmy Greaves were England’s strike partnership for the group matches in 1966. Now they have died within nine days of each other.
His 34th and last appearance for his country came in a friendly against Romania at Wembley in January 1969. He’d scored 18 goals in his international career.
In ten years at Liverpool, he missed just 34 matches, a testament to his stamina and fitness. In World Cup year, 1965-66 he won his second league title and banged in 29 goals.
In Europe, Hunt was a vital part of the team which reached the Semi-Finals of the European Cup in 1964-65. Only two players scored more than his tally of seven for the competition, Eusebio and Torres of Benfica. In the last four, they were up against Italian Champions, Inter Milan. Hunt put Liverpool in front after just three minutes in the first leg at Anfield when he volleyed in Callaghan’s cross from the right.
The tie was played just three days after their FA Cup triumph, so the atmosphere was unbelievable. Many who were there still talk about this as being one of the greatest European nights seen in the stadium. Liverpool won the first leg 3-1 and went to Milan in a confident mood. But it quickly turned sour as Inter, notoriously assisted by the referee, won 3-0 to go through to the Final. Later there were claims the referee had accepted bribes to help the Italians.
A year later Liverpool was in the European Cup-Winners’ Cup and Hunt was part of the side which reached the Final at Hampden Park against Borussia Dortmund. He equalised midway through the second half, but the West Germans won in extra time.
Even within the Liverpool side, he was a quiet, yet consistent performer. He may not have possessed the explosive scoring ability of Greaves, but he would just keep scoring year after year. He was more of a team player and his gentlemanly conduct on and off the pitch is what lead to the Kop giving him the nickname, Sir Roger Hunt.
In 492 games for the club he scored 285 goals, a record at the time surpassed only by Ian Rush. His 244 league goals is still a club record.
In 1969 at the age of 31, he moved on from Anfield to Bolton Wanderers, the club he’d supported as a boy. He played 76 times for the club, scoring 23 goals.
He finally hung up his boots in 1972 with a scoring record to be proud of. Some Greaves supporters blamed him for keeping their hero out of the World Cup Final team, but in reality, it was Hurst who did that.
He returned to Anfield in April 1972 for a testimonial. Over 55,000 filled the ground that night to see Sir Roger hit a hat-trick in an 8-6 win over an England XI. The Liverpool team consisted mainly of players from the 1965 FA Cup-winning side. The England team had Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles, Kevin Keegan and Howard Kendall amongst their ranks.
According to the Liverpool Echo;
“the gates were locked 20 minutes before kick-off with 5,000 unlucky people still hoping to see the match.”
In an interview with Bob Baldwin before the game, he talked of what he considered to be the greatest goal he scored. It came in the run-up to Liverpool’s appearance at Wembley, they met Leicester City in a Sixth Round replay and it was against one of the greatest goalkeepers ever, Gordon Banks.
“I got the only goal of the game and it was one that was a bit special. I beat Gordon Banks with a left-foot volley from about 12 yards out. I know Gordon remembers it. We often talk about that game when we meet”
Bobby Moore understood his qualities. Hunt was on the losing side only twice in 34 internationals and his England captain said;
“Roger Hunt is a player’s player. He is possibly appreciated more by those who play with him and against him than by those who watch him”.
He was honoured in 2000 with an MBE.
On the night of his death, Liverpool beat Porto, 5-1 in the Champions League. Roberto Firmino became the 23rd different player to come off the bench and scored twice in a game. The first player ever was Roger Hunt.
A fitting tribute.
News of Hunt’s death brought tributes from Liverpool and the world of football;
“I’m privileged to have seen the entire Liverpool career of Roger Hunt. I stood on the Kop when he started playing for LFC. I was working for Liverpool at his testimonial. I even attended his first game for Bolton at Burnden Park. I’m genuinely devastated. RIP Sir Roger” – George Sefton (Anfield announcer)
“RIP Sir Roger Hunt. Those of us who followed you and Shanks’s men were fortunate to stand on the shoulders of giants. Thank you for everything you have done for our Football Club” – Sir Kenny Dalglish
“What an awful day, the passing of my true hero who I’m glad to say became a friend, a humble man and a legend of the game. RIP Sir Roger” – Phil Thompson
“Very sad to hear of the passing of a Sir Roger Hunt, someone I would always look up to. He was a fantastic goalscorer and a true gentleman on and off the pitch. My thoughts are with his family. May he rest in peace” – Ian Rush
“Never to be forgotten. Roger Hunt a true gentleman and friend, RIP” – Mary Evans
“Very sad day. Roger was an absolutely lovely man.” – Sir Geoff Hurst
“We are mourning the passing of legendary former player, Roger Hunt. The thoughts of everybody at Liverpool Football Club are with Roger’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time. Rest in peace, Sir Roger Hunt 1938-2021” – Liverpool
“We’re extremely saddened to learn that Roger Hunt, who was a key member of our World Cup-winning side in 1966, has passed away at the age of 83. Our deepest condolences go to Roger’s family, friends and former clubs.” – England