FORTY six years ago, Sir Geoff Hurst sealed his place in English folklore by becoming the first, and still the only, footballer to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final.
Now the former West Ham legend is aiming to inspire the next generation.
Sir Geoff recently paid a special visit to Lilyhall Road, the home of Rotherham’s Maltby Juniors, to hold a question and answer session with budding South Yorkshire footballers and to pass on tips to potential stars of the future as part of the FA Community Awards scheme.
The awards, in their third year, are designed to recognise and reward people across the country who dedicate their time to developing young talent and making a difference to grassroots football in their local community, including coaches, clubs, leagues and volunteers.
The Juniors, who were chosen for Sir Geoff’s visit, are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year and play in the Sheffield District and Junior League, who scooped the regional FA Charter Standard League of the Year prize in 2011.
Sir Geoff, knighted in 1998 and inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame six years later, has been an ambassador for McDonald’s, the chief partners for the FA Community Awards, for 10 years.
“These awards give the general public the opportunity to nominate the people who they feel deserve to be acknowledged for their commitment to grassroots football,” he said. “It is not just the chairman or the manager; it could be the lady who has served tea at the club for 50 years.
“I’m thrilled to bits to be involved with the awards. I think it is a fantastic scheme. It is great to give out these awards to people who are devoted to grassroots football. Without them, things would not be as healthy as they are now.
“It is vital to get youngsters playing football. It is a fantastic initiative and it is growing each year and it has been very successful. These programmes reward people at grassroots level and get kids playing and enjoying football.
“It is important in any sport you start playing as young as you can. You gain hand eye coordination quicker if you start playing at four or five-years-old.
“My father taught me how to kick with my left foot in the back garden and it was that foot which scored the last goal in the World Cup final.”
While in Maltby, Sir Geoff mingled and chatted with parents, children and coaches as well as watching a couple of matches from the sidelines. The 1966 World Cup winner is encouraged by the conveyor belt of talent coming through and thinks English football is heading in the right direction. He said: “It goes in cycles but we have not produced enough quality, young footballers recently but I think the last year to 18 months has been pretty good.
“My era produced players like Gordon Banks from Sheffield, Bobby Moore, Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton but that was a system where the kids played in the streets and the playgrounds and were not under pressure to not make mistakes.
“There was no coaching involved in those days. You just went out and played and that was arguably when we produced four of our greatest players and arguably the best spine to a team England has ever had.
“We have got quite a healthy group of young players coming through to the international set-up now, I think we have now turned the corner. We have some good youngsters in the side in Kyle Walker, Phil Jones and Daniel Sturridge so it is a lot healthier than it was two years ago.”
The European Championships get under way in Poland and Ukraine on Friday June 8 and managerless England begin their campaign against France in Donetsk. Sir Geoff claims England possess the quality to reach the latter stages.
“I don’t see why, if everything goes well, we can’t make the semi-finals at least,” he said. “There is no reason why we can’t do that if we get the luck of the draw.
“It is not an easy group but there is no reason why we should not qualify from the group and it would be hugely disappointing if we didn’t make the quarter-finals. They are tough but there is no reason why we should not qualify.
“The first game is always really important. The French are a good side, have been unbeaten for a long time and they beat us at Wembley in one of our friendlies recently.
“They have got some very good players. The first game is always a little bit nerve-wracking because you want to win it but you are mindful of not being beaten. Tactically you don’t want to get beaten so you approach it with a little bit of reservation. As you progress you gradually improve. It is all about getting out of the group.”
The deadline for the FA Community Awards is May 11. The categories are: Outstanding Contribution to Community Football, Young Volunteer of the Year, Volunteer of the Year, Coach of the Year, FA Charter Standard Development Club, FA Charter Standard Community Club, FA Charter Standard Club of the Year and FA Charter Standard League of the Year.
Sir Geoff Hurst, McDonald’s Director of Football, is helping to launch the 2012 FA Community Awards presented by McDonald’s. For details and to nominate your grassroots hero, log on to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/kickstart