At a recent charity event in London I bumped into Sir Geoff Hurst, the only footballer to score a hat-trick in a world cup final, a real gent and very happy to chat about his career and achievements, which I’m sure he has done many, many times since scoring those three goals in the 1966 world cup final at Wembley stadium to beat West Germany 4-2 and the only time England has ever won a world cup.
It was actually the second time I’d met him and I reminded him of the first time which was over 17 years prior. It was at a hotel called West Lodge Park in Hertfordshire shortly after I’d moved from Durham at the turn of the millennium. After my move I found myself working as the head gardener at the West Lodge Park, a beautiful hotel with 40 acres of grounds and a 17 acre arboretum just south of the M25. Gardening and tree surgery were my trade up until then and this is pretty much all I’d done since leaving school.
One sunny afternoon in the summer of 2001, I was cutting the grass on my mini tractor at the front of the hotel when one of the maintenance guy’s Paul came over to me and said “You like football, come with me, you’ll love this” not knowing what to expect I stopped my tractor and followed him to main hotel entrance, before going in Paul reminded me we were in our dirty overalls and not to linger too long and just pass through the reception and foyer and leave out of the back, still not knowing what to expect I followed him eagerly with a sense of excitement and confusion in equal measure.
On entering the hotel I found myself in the middle of a drinks reception and the 35 year reunion of the 1966 world cup winning footballers and there partners, completely forgetting Paul’s words and forgetting I was at work and probably committing a sackable offence I went straight over to Jack Charlton to have a chat, which like Geoff Hurst and Nobby Stiles he was more than happy to do. After a little while I made my apologies and went back to work.
My conversation continued with Jack Charlton the following morning while I was working at the front of the hotel and he was outside for a cigarette, talking about, among other things his time as the Ireland manager and the world cup of 1994 in the USA when England failed to qualify.
A happy and fond memory of my time as a gardener and one to share with my son when he’s old enough to appreciate it, I’m hoping by then England may have another world cup win under their belts!