When I got this audio book as a Christmas present, I was dead chuffed. I’m a West Ham fan (hence the dooyou name), have little real time for reading but spend a great deal of time driving around the M25 so this was the perfect present for me. The opportunity to hear at first hand from the great Sir Geoff of what it was like to be viewed as a hero, the man who had won the world cup for England and given Keith Woolstenholme a place in history. Imagine if you had done something that was etched upon the nation’s collective memory, earned you a place in folklore and had brought glory to your country. Would you resent someone asking you about it on a regular basis or would you bask in the continued glory in the events that made you a household name and generated some of the most famous television commentary ever? I can’t imagine that Neil Armstrong would ever tire of recounting the Moon landings or Henry Copper the time he floored Ali – so why is it that Geoff Hurst seems to regard his particular contribution to history a millstone around his neck? I haven’t read the book that this audio book is based on, but all I can say is that it must have been very heavily culled or else Sir Geoff really is a mean-spirited and bitter man who seems to take no delight in what he has achieved. I recently made the comment “personality bypass in print” about the subject of an autobiography, well Sir Geoff could probably bore for England as well as win them the world cup. Quick feet you may have Geoff, but you really do have the most boring, monotonous voice. He is very much of the school that has been told that you pause significantly after a comma, and read the script exactly as it was written. I would have thought that most people would have been passionate about recalling their own life events, particularly ones that included contributing to England’s only win of the World Cup, but no, not Sir Geoff. Fo
r the first time in my life, I viewed the M25 as a source of amazement, noticing how many bollards were in a straight line in the roadworks, how many crows were picking at roadkill and how many times the actual words “M25” appeared in my journey. Anything was more interesting than the droning voice of the World Cup winning legend that was virtually occupying room in my Peugeot. Reading the background blurb, I was anticipating lots of interesting anecdotes involving the great names from the golden era of football that occurred years before I was born (OK, 4 years to be exact if you are talking the Cup Final), as well as giving an insight into the background and personal life of one of the greats of our time. By the end of the tapes, I knew the name of his wife, the types of two of the cars he drove, details of houses he lived in and the companies he worked for once the final whistle had gone, and that he didn’t particularly like Booby Moore or Martin Peters, although respected them both as players. He rehashes the Booby Moore and the missing bracelet story without there being anything particularly new in the way of detail, he sheds a bit of light over the media frenzy concerning the return of the hatrick ball to him – not that he seemed particularly pleased about the return of it, and explains why he sold his medals. The only potential “bombshell” was his criticism of Sir Matt Busby, but I don’t think Geoff is saying anything that will rock the bastions of the FA, and much of what he says has been backed up by other people in the past. He seems very ill at ease to disclose personal details which does tend to be the point of a biography and I didn’t felt I know anything much about him as a person by the time the book ended. He seemed happy to discuss his early life, the fact that he had German ancestors, the move to Essex as a child and his first trials for West Ham and Arsenal – ye
s, he could have been a Gunner but they were too late in replying, but then the personal detail gets sketchy. As I said, it may be that the book was heavily edited for the audio version, but there seemed to be little balance between footballer and the man himself. One very touching bit, although like the rest of the tape narrated with as much emotion as James Alexander Gordon reading the classified footie results, dealt with the life threatening illness to one of his daughters and her recovery, and very much puts into perspective what is really important in a person’s life. The one anecdote that did make me laugh was the time him and Ron Greenwood had returned to West Ham, only for a steward to deny Ron access to the very lounge that bore his name as he didn’t recognise him, and utter the immortal words “and who are you then mate, Geoff Hurst?” Given the current standard of stewarding at Upton Park, the ghost of Booby Moore could poke them in the eye and be told to “siddown, shut up or you’re out” What does glimmer through is that Geoff was never happier than when he was actually playing, and was probably the most blissful when playing for West Ham. His admiration for Ron Greenwood comes through very clearly, and he is generous for his praise for a man who shaped his future. When he describes matches, it is obvious that he enjoyed his football and was an intelligent player who worked hard and didn’t take anything for granted. He says that he never was a world class player but was an excellent club player and this is a very honest assessment that I think most people would agree with. His spells in management at Telford, Chelsea and then Kuwait are dealt with in a summary manner, there was nothing particularly special about any of them, again he seems bitter that “the idea of management didn’t excite the football world as much as it did me” One constant theme
in the biography is of a man who feels personally aggrieved that things happened as they did. It’s very much a case of “I’m not bitter but…….” He resents the fact that West Ham didn’t give him a free transfer but got a fee from Stoke when his Upton Park days were finished, he resents not being given a letter of thanks for his service from the FA, he even seems to resent the fact that people wanted him to do things for charity once he’d hung up his boots. He seemed very proud of the fact that he turned down all the charity requests, although he was keen to be involved in the more glamorous side of things when he was asked to be an ambassador for the doomed World Cup Bid. Maybe this is a positive trait as he was always proud to serve his country when it called on him and this was a way of him being honoured by those in football. I know that the biography was written prior to the appointment of Sven for England, but the tape was released much later last year, and this is probably why is jars so much to hear his comments about “foreign coaches preventing decent British managers getting posts” although he does concede that with the exception of Bobby Robson, England have struggled to find as good a coach as Ron Greenwood. So they’re taking our jobs but we still have no-one to do the job! One point he does raise is how many good Scottish managers there are in the league and it is clear that he views Sir Alex as the greatest thing since sliced bread. I should imagine that even Hurst himself could have made a championship side given unlimited funds. It was particularly narking for me as a West Ham fan to hear Hurst say that no club has done as much as Man U for the youth game and developing young talent – I guess Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole playing in the youth team at West Ham were just a figment of my imagination and that Van the Man has served his time cleaning the first te
ams boots at Old Trafford. Obviously Geoff is right – there is no such thing as loyalty in football. Geoff also seems to regularly descend into Victor Meldrew mode with a general whinge of “players today – they don’t know they are born”, he considers that current players lack humility, don’t view an England call-up as anything special and have his generation to thanks for making football into the multi-million pound business it is today. I’d like to be there when those accusations are levelled at the likes of Stuart Pearce, Tony Adams and David Beckham. If you admire Geoff Hurst and want your rose tinted memories left in tact, you would probably be best to steer clear of this edited version of the autobiography and read the actual book, but it seems that even world cup winning, hatrick scoring, West Ham record holding, heroes have feet of clay. Hodder & Stoughton Audio Books; ISBN: 1840324333
The audio version of the Geoff Hurst's autobiography, read by Geoff himself. It covers beyond the "there's some people on the pitch, they think it's over" moment and reveals much about the man himself.