All our obituaries are coming too late to let Roger Hunt know the professional esteem, the human respect, the unqualified admiration and the warmth of affection in which he was held.
We kept quiet about him. Just as he kept quiet about himself. Kept quiet far too long. In my case 55 years too long.
It wasn’t deliberate but in almost all those misty-eyed retrospectives written or broadcast about England’s solitary World Cup glory of ’66, Hunt was overshadowed by the majesty of Bobby Moore, the genius of Bobby Charlton, the miracles of Gordon Banks, the over-drive of Alan Ball, the deterrent called Nobby Stiles, that unique hat-trick by Geoff Hurst, even the ghostliness of Martin Peters.
Roger Hunt started the 1966 World Cup final, when England beat West Germany 4-2 at Wembley, but became one of the forgotten heroes of the triumph
Hunt (right) with Bobby Charlton during England’s 1966 World Cup win over Mexico – both players scored in the 2-0 win
There were no such problems of recognition at Liverpool, where Hunt is known as ‘Sir Roger’. He scored 244 goals in 404 league appearances, helping the club from the second division to champions of the top-flight twice in the 1960s
Only occasionally was anything approaching justice done to the relentless foraging, striker’s intelligence, Lancastrian courage and industrial revolutionary power with which Hunt opened up so many of England’s avenues to success.
Too often he was casually, idly, wrongly damned by faint praise as the work-horse.
So somehow Roger Hunt became the almost-forgotten man of English football’s finest hour.
Not by Hurst, who never fails to credit his partner up front for his contribution to the making those three unique World Cup Final goals.
Not by Liverpool supporters, by whom he remains so beloved that the official website still insists on calling him Sir Roger at every opportunity. Although, like Moore, he was never knighted.
Hunt with Bill Shankly at his Liverpool testimonial match – he remains the club’s all-time goalscorer in the league, though Ian Rush surpassed his overall goalscoring record
Norman Hunter of Leeds United times his reducer too late to prevent Hunt crossing in the 1965 FA Cup final at Wembley. Hunt scored Liverpool’s opening goal early in extra time
Hunt was never formally knighted but is known as ‘Sir Roger’ in the affections of the Kop
No-one at Anfield ever forgets that his 244 goals in 404 league appearances had much to do with raising them from the muddy trough of the old second division, to two English championships and their first FA Cup for umpteen years.
That tally remained the Liverpool scoring record until Ian Rush came along. Even then Hunt stayed ahead of the Welsh wizard on Football League goals.
But how many football fans beyond Merseyside can honestly say they remember how many Hunt scored in that halcyon World Cup tournament?
As many, as it happens, as Hurst in the Final itself. One in the 2-0 win against Mexico. Both in the victory over France by the same margin.
Even then not much fuss was made about, or by, the scorer.
But the ultimate compliment, the one which really mattered, was paid by England’s eventually knighted manager. Quietly, of course. In this case in private.
Alf Ramsey simply made it clear that if Jimmy Greaves recovered from injury then the choice for second centre-forward would be between him and Hurst.
That whichever of those two got that tricky nod would be playing in the Final alongside Hunt the reliable, who had played every minute from the first kick of the opening match.
Hunt scored 18 goals in 34 outings for England, including this one against Northern Ireland in a European Championship qualifier at Windsor Park in October 1966. England won 2-0
Hunt scores past Alan Hodgkinson for Liverpool against Sheffield United in a Division One fixture back in April 1968
Hunt won two First Division championships with Liverpool, a Second Division and the FA Cup . He is pictured away at Spurs
1959-1969 – 416 appearances, 261 goals in all competitions
Won First Division title 1963-64, 1965-66
Second Division title 1964-65
FA Charity Shield 1964, 1965, 1966
1969-1972 – 76 appearances, 24 goals in all competitions
1962-1969 – 34 caps, 18 goals
Won World Cup 1966
So yes, quietly, gentleman Roger went about his vital business. With so little commotion that he was disgracefully over-looked in the first raft of honours by the Queen.
He had to wait until the belated second draft of MBEs made up mostly of non-playing members of the squad.
If he felt slighted, it never showed. Hunt was dignified by his humility. There was no ego, precious little partying. Shy if anything, so not that easy to get to know well.
In character with the modest persona of a sensible man who did not even seem aware of how handsome he was.
But there was a discreet charm and unfailing courtesy. As the years went by he and I really only bumped into each other at the funerals of his fallen England and Liverpool comrades. We would shake hands, share a few reminiscences and wish each other well.
And now he leaves but three of his World Cup XI team-mates still standing. Hurst, Bobby Charlton and George Cohen. Tragically, this cull of heroes seems to be quickening, accelerated in some cases by the onset of dementia.
But although Hunt could head a ball with the best of them, that does not appear to be a factor in this sad instance.
As he reaches football’s elysian fields he will no doubt be greeted by the rasping tones of the other great manager who held Hunt indispensable.
When Bill Shankly first took charge at Liverpool he cleared out almost an entire stock of players. But not, as he put it, ‘our Roger.’
Now the time has come not only to say our goodbyes but to apologise. So sorry, Sir Roger, that we left it too late to put your greatness on record in time for you to read.
Liverpool’s title winners of the 1965-66 season. Back row, left to right: Roger Hunt, Geoff Strong, Chris Lawler, Ron Yeats, Peter Thompson, Ian St John. Centre row, left to right: Ian Callaghan, Gordon Milne, Tommy Lawrence, Geoff Byrne, Tommy Smith, Willie Stevenson, Bill Shankly (manager) Front row, left to right: (directors) Latham, Sawyer, Williams, Reakes, Cartwright, Martindale, Hill, Smith
The striker was known for his hard graft, courage and scoring touch in a distinguished career in which he flew under the radar
After Liverpool, Hunt spent three seasons with Bolton Wanderers at the end of his playing days
Hunt at his family’s haulage firm near Warrington in 1976 following his retirement from football