Martin Smith column: the one England footballer who still rules the world

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Azerbaijan, land of fire.

Not necessarily a name to stir the soul of the half-hearted traveller even when Wednesday had it emblazoned on their shirts.

Then there was Hafiz Mammadov’s ill-fated Owls takeover bid…

But there are some undeniably potent links. Kenneth Wolstenholme’s ‘Russian linesman’ from the 1966 World Cup final for example, more on which later.

A recent trip to the former Soviet country’s capital Baku brought back some stirring nostalgia and the classic 1980s ‘Englishman abroad’ experience.

Sort of a Likely Lads meets Auf Weidersehen Pet thing. We were in a taxi for the first time in the capital Baku. The driver looks in his rear view mirror a couple of times and says: ‘English?’

Our Steve-McClaren-in-Holland style description of where we wanted to go must have given it away

The driver is about 70 years old, grey moustache and teeth, and of course we confess.

‘Aahh, Bobbeee Sharlton’ says he with a huge smile.

Though our national game has seen many traumas since Sir Robert last ran a hand through his golden combover on any pitch, it was fantastic to see joy the in his face as he recalled our heyday.

He then proceeded to tell us about the ‘Russian linesman’ Tofiq Behramov, an Azerbaijani hero, the fact that the old national stadium is named after him and the story of the Queen giving him a golden whistle as his match medal.

We later had a tour of the stadium that bears his name and saw the statue, pictures and memorabilia in what has become an understated shrine to the most famous linesman in history.

The man who decided that Geoff Hurst’s still-disputed second goal was over the line to make it 3-2 to England.

Good on him. And he wasn’t even Russian.

n As stories of the sexual abuse of young footballers continue to hit the news you have to ask why?

Not why it happens, but why are we surprised?

Our growing recognition that paedophiles will find ways to be near kids they want to abuse and then lock them into a destructive mindset of guilt and shame is about 300 years overdue.

It’s what they do and we have to stop them.

So when you next hear parents or grandparents on the touchline moaning about ‘political correctness gone mad’ because some rule or other is introduced to protect kids, remember it might just be being done for the right reason.