Roger Hunt obituary

One of Liverpool’s greatest strikers who played a key role in England’s 1966 World Cup victory

The footballer Roger Hunt, who has died aged 83, was a key member of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966, appearing in all six games in the finals and scoring three goals in the process. He was also one of Liverpool’s all-time greats, winning two First Division titles and an FA Cup at Anfield in the early 1960s and becoming the club’s highest league scorer – a position he retained, with only Ian Rush surpassing him in all competitions.

However, for all his feats Hunt was occasionally a target for criticism from the footballing public, not least because in 1966 he had inadvertently taken on the role of the man who kept Jimmy Greaves out of the World Cup final.

Greaves was a more prolific goalscorer, but Hunt was the one chosen for the match at Wembley. After England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany, some criticised him for missing the kind of chance that Greaves would have taken, but the pragmatic England manager, Alf Ramsey, stayed loyal to him, emphasising the way that Hunt “made space” for other people even when he was not rattling in goals.

The England captain, Bobby Moore, was also confident of Hunt’s qualities, once observing that he was a “player’s player”.

“I am accustomed to criticism, and I have had more than my share,” the fair-haired Hunt observed. “At one time it used to bother me, but as time has gone by I have learned to accept it. I don’t lose sleep over what people say about me. I know I’ll never please some folk. But that never stops me from going out and doing my best.”

Roger Hunt, third left, celebrating the England team’s 1966 World Cup win.
Roger Hunt, third left, celebrating the England team’s 1966 World Cup win. Photograph: AP

It was an impressive best. For Liverpool, in his 10-year career, he scored 245 league goals in 404 games; for England, 18 goals in 34. Only two of those England games were lost, to Scotland in 1964 and Yugoslavia in 1968. He could have won still more caps, but after England had drawn with Romania at Wembley in January 1969 he decided to retire from international football.

Born in Glazebury, Lancashire, Roger came from a family that ran a haulage business. After attending Culcheth county school and Leigh grammar school he played for the non-league club Stockton Heath (now Warrington Town), until Liverpool signed him in 1959.

With his powerful right foot, he was an immediate success, scoring 21 goals in 36 Second Division games in 1959-60. When Liverpool were promoted as champions in the 1961-62 season, his remarkable feat was to score 41 goals in as many games. Nor was he any less effective in the top division. When Liverpool, now flourishing under Bill Shankly, won the First Division title in 1963-64, Hunt scored 31 goals in 41 games, combining formidably with the Scottish forward Ian St John.

His first cap for England came in 1962 at Wembley in a 3-1 win against Austria, in which he scored. He was taken as a member of the England squad to the 1962 World Cup in Chile, but did not play, and it was not until the 1965-66 season, culminating in the next World Cup finals, that Hunt won a regular place in the national side.

In the preliminary group phase of the World Cup finals he scored England’s second goal in their second game, against Mexico. It was not one of his most effective performances, but when, after 76 minutes, the Mexico goalkeeper, Ignacio Calderón, could only push Greaves’s left-foot shot out to Hunt’s feet, he knocked the ball in.

Against France in the next game Hunt scored both of England’s goals. The first, after 40 minutes, was as simple as his goal against Mexico: Jack Charlton, the centre-half, met Greaves’s corner on the far post, heading against an upright, and Hunt put the ball in. His second goal was a strong header that met a right wing cross by Ian Callaghan.

After Roger Hunt retired from football he joined the family haulage business.
After Roger Hunt retired from football he joined the family haulage business. Photograph: ANL/Rex/Shutterstock

Greaves dropped out of the quarter final against Argentina, injured, and Geoff Hurst, who replaced him, headed the winning goal. So Hurst and Hunt remained the English strike pair for the semi-final against Portugal, and though Greaves was fit to play in the final, it was to Hunt and Hurst that Ramsey turned.

Hunt failed to score in the final, and on 42 minutes a shot with his weaker left foot, blocked by the upraised hands of the Germany keeper, Hans Tilkowski, gave his critics the chance to raise the question of what Greaves might have done in the same situation.

Roger Hunt in the late 1960s.
Roger Hunt in the late 1960s. Photograph: Liverpool FC/Getty Images

But he worked tirelessly and effectively throughout a gruelling match with Hurst, who scored a hat-trick. His strike partner often argued that it was Hunt’s quick celebration of Hurst’s crucial second goal, which was not clearly over the line, that helped convince the referee to award it. When Hunt returned to his then home in Culcheth, he found his front garden overtaken by hundreds of cheering fans who had gathered to congratulate him on his performance.

Altogether he scored eight goals for England that World Cup winning season, and 15 more caps came in the next three campaigns, although only three more goals. With Liverpool he won League Championship medals in the 1963-64 and 1965-66 seasons, contributing 29 goals in the latter campaign. In the first game of the 1964-65 season, against Arsenal, he scored the first goal to appear on the BBC’s Match of the Day programme.

Roger Hunt in 2005.
Roger Hunt in 2005. Photograph: Gillian Shaw/Rex/Shutterstock

In May 1965 he scored Liverpool’s first goal against Leeds United in the FA Cup Final at Wembley, which Liverpool won 2-1. He also scored for Liverpool a year later when they lost the European Cup Winners’ Cup final 2-1 to Borussia Dortmund.

But the goals eventually began to dry up, and in 1969, after he had scored half a dozen in 16 games, Liverpool controversially sold him to Bolton Wanderers, for whom he played for three seasons.

Hunt was an admirably disciplined and brave player who, though he took many a hard knock, was booked only twice in his career.

On retirement in 1972 he went into the family business and in 1975 he became a member of the Pools Panel, which predicted results of football matches when they were postponed. In 2000 he was appointed MBE, but the fans at Liverpool had long before given him a higher honour, singing songs about “Sir Roger” for a quarter century or more on the Kop.

In 1959 he married Patricia O’Brien, and they had two children, David and Julie. The marriage ended in divorce, and he subsequently married Rowan Green. She and his children survive him.

• Roger Hunt, footballer, born 20 July 1938; died 27 September 2021


Brian Glanville

The GuardianTramp

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