Football's Pioneers: Roger Hunt
As well as playing a key role in England’s World Cup triumph, Hunt finished the season with 29 league goals as Liverpool stormed to its second First Division title in three years. He also starred in the club’s first European final. He was a pivotal player in what was, in the mid-1960s at least, the best team in the best football nation in the world.
When Hunt joined Liverpool at the end of the 1950s, the club was pushing for promotion from the Second Division. He made an impact immediately, scoring in his debut against Scunthorpe United at Anfield in September 1959.
Under new manager Bill Shankly, Hunt soon developed a fruitful partnership with Ian St John and became a prolific goalscorer. He bagged 41 goals in 41 appearances – including five hat tricks – in the 1961/62 promotion season, and was picked for England while still a Second Division player.
He scored in his debut against Austria at Wembley and travelled to Chile as part of the 1962 World Cup squad but was not chosen to play.
Hunt scored 128 goals in 160 matches over the next four seasons as Liverpool established itself among the Football League elite. Alongside First Division championships in 1963/64 and 1965/66, Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time in its history in 1965.
Hunt scored the crucial first goal against Leeds United in extra-time, St John heading the winner.
Roger Hunt starred in the 1966 World Cup Final for England.
He also played a key role in Liverpool’s first European adventures. Narrowly (and controversially) knocked out of the 1965 European Cup by Inter Milan at the semi-final stage, Liverpool reached the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup a year later. Hunt scored but Liverpool lost 2-1 at Hampden Park against a talented Borussia Dortmund team.
Hunt himself recognised that he was not ‘an out-and-out natural’. But he was quick, strong and direct and possessed a powerful shot. Most significantly, perhaps, he worked hard on the training ground and during matches; continually on the move and tracking back in a way that some of his more celebrated contemporaries did not.
He was dependable, hard-working, courageous and selfless and as such fitted psychologically and tactically into Alf Ramsey’s vision.
There was a tendency at the time for the metropolitan media to dismiss Hunt and undervalue his contribution to England. However his team-mates in the 1966 team certainly appreciated him. Nobby Stiles has said that the players themselves favoured Hunt as first-choice striker because he 'never stopped working'.
His importance to England’s success is evident in the fact that he played in all six games in the tournament (Jimmy Greaves and Geoff Hurst played in three apiece) and scored three goals.
By the time Hunt left Anfield in 1969, he had scored 285 times in nearly 500 appearances. He remained Liverpool’s top goalscorer until the 1990s. He received the MBE in 2000 but Liverpool fans have always valued him more highly; on the Kop he is simply known as ‘Sir Roger’.
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