MENTION the England national football team to your average supporter at the dawn of 2015 and chances are you will receive a tired look of resignation or even worse, apathy.
But for Sir Geoff Hurst, the headline act in providing arguably the country’s finest sporting hour on July 30, 1966 when England lifted the World Cup at West Germany’s expense, the twinkle will forever remain in his eye when talk turns to the Three Lions, whatever the current vicissitudes.
It is nothing to do with pure nostalgia in deference to that balmy and intoxicating afternoon in high summer and better times, but more lion-hearted pride in representing your country, the zenith of a trade which invariably starts in the streets or local park.
England’s modern-day tournament history is a litany of failure, often of the rancorous variety with Brazil 2014, Ukraine and Poland 2012 and South Africa 2010 the latest damning blots on a parchment of abject deficiency.
Yet while the all-singing, all- dancing Premier League may be heralded as the greatest league in the world and enthral millions by the week, for Hurst, it will never matter more than lining up ahead of the national anthem for England, however low the team’s stock falls.
Lst summer, England may have been eliminated at a World Cup group stage for the first time since 1958, but the boyish fan in Hurst, who hit 24 goals in 49 internationals which spanned six years from February 1966 to April 1972, prevails.
The year-ending victory against the auld enemy at Celtic Park in Scotland was a morale boost not just for the garnering of bragging rights in the view of Hurst, but also for the emergence of a young crop of talent about whom England legend feels genuinely excited.
Top of the list being young Merseyside duo Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, carrying the torch for both red and blue with opprtunity also knocking for the likes of Manchester United’s Luke Shaw, Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Barnsley-born John Stones to have long and successful international careers if they rise to the challenge.
There are others cabs on the rank waiting for their chance, including current focus of interest, Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane.
It has all left Hurst, who did not make his international debut until the age of 24 with plenty to be enthused about, with his glass very much half full.
He said: “The Premier League is great, but to me, the most important thing in this country is the national team to be successful.
“It is the pinnacle without a shadow of a doubt and everything that is possible should be done to ensure the national side is successful.
“It is going to take a bit of time and as Sir Trevor Brooking said a while ago, we probably are still slightly behind some of the leading countries.
“But we have got St George’s Park now and we are developing the coaching to help the quality of the national side, which to me is the most important thing.
“It was a disappointing World Cup, of course. But football changes very quickly and all of a sudden now we are looking to qualify for the Euros in France and we ended the year with a good result in Scotland.
“I thought the performance was probably the best of the year.
“And it is never a friendly against Scotland; you can call it a friendly, but it never is in Scotland.
“I remember my second game was in Scotland at Hampden Park in the days when there were 130,000 there.”
The World Cup winning-icon added: “For me, it is very encouraging with a lot of young players coming through. Raheem Sterling is playing very well and Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley look good.
“At the moment, it looks pretty positive and we have got half a dozen, maybe more, kids who have got a real chance of making it in a World Cup championship in three or four years.
“I think it is up to the kids themselves to grasp it as the opportunity is there. The old guard have gone such as the Lampards and Gerrards.
“It is a great opportunity for these young kids to establish themselves.”
Given the kudos of the Champions League and Premier League, one school of thought suggests that international football has lost some of its allure for some increasingly well-monied young players, with many coming under scrutiny for any vestiges of unpatriotic behaviour.
Roy Hodgson’s somewhat clumsy admission that he rested Sterling for the Euro 2016 qualifier in Estonia due to him being ‘tired’ added fuel to the fire, with comments from Harry Redknapp that several players during his time at Spurs would use “any excuse” to duck England duty having earlier inflamed the situation.
Hurst added: “There is a small element, which always disappoints me, who suggest they don’t want to turn up if they are not playing.
“That is probably more public today. When it happened in my time, it was probably unspoken. Today because of social media these days and the publicity surrounding the game, these things come out into the public arena.
“But the majority of people I listen to and talk to always say it’s a great honour still.”
Sir Geoff Hurst was speaking at Guiseley Girls FC who were celebrating receiving a brand new kit through the McDonald’s FA Charter Standard Kit Scheme. All FA accredited junior clubs across England are eligible for a new strip every season for the next four years.
Visit www.mcdonalds.co.uk/betterplay for more information.