Martin Peters passed away aged 76 just over a week ago. A true footballing great, he lit up Carrow Road with a wonderful five-year spell from 1975, and will forever be remembered for scoring in England’s 4-2 victory over West Germany in the 1966 World Cup final. Here, we look back at the career of an England legend.
This feature originally appeared in OTBC, the matchday programme for Norwich City v Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, December 28. At the time of writing, there are 50 copies left available for purchase.
Words by: Dan Brigham
July 30, 1966. Around 4.30pm. 93,000 spectators inside Wembley Stadium – and 400 million people around the world sat in front of their televisions – watch England’s Geoff Hurst pick up the ball on the edge of West Germany’s area. There are 12 minutes remaining of the World Cup final, the score locked at 1-1. It is tense; it is do or die. Hurst jinks left, feints right and gets a shot off but it only squirms towards goal. It appears harmless; chance missed. But German defender Horst-Dieter Hoettges makes a mess of the clearance eight yards out, falling as he attempts to hoof the ball clear. The ball loops up in the air and falls to the onrushing England player who is already anticipating; already in motion. He gets his knee over the ball, connects sweetly and slams it into the net. Wembley erupts, and the goalscorer – Martin Peters – bounds off to his left, his arms and legs windmilling in celebration.
There was, of course, more drama to come that day. But Peters had rubberstamped his name into footballing history forever more. To this day he remains one of only two Englishmen to have ever scored in a World Cup final; a sentence worth really digesting: 156 years after England invented football, and with 21 World Cups completed, only two men have scored in the final for England. There is no doubting that Martin Peters is an English footballing icon.
The World Cup final may have secured Peters’ legendary status, but it was his 21 years of consistently classy displays at West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and, of course, Norwich City, which confirm Peters as a true England great.
John Bond, the Norwich manager who captured the services of Peters in 1975, was prone to exaggeration in his media duties. But it wasn’t hyperbole when he said in 1978: “Peters’ arrival at Carrow Road is the greatest thing that ever happened to Norwich City Football Club.”
Only three years after Norwich had become a top tier side for the very first time, the signing of a World Cup-winner was truly mind-boggling, especially with the Canaries by then once again plying their trade in the second tier. It is scarcely any less believable now.
Clean-cut and modest, Peters famously celebrated winning the World Cup with a cup of tea with his wife rather than heading down to the drinking dens of Soho with the rest of the England boys. He barely seemed to age throughout his career; always with a young man’s slender physique, the same sharp haircut, tall and elegant (or “all legs and hooter” as one national newspaper affectionately described him during his career). He didn’t have the power of some of his contemporaries but had the speed of thought – and speed of feet – to justify Alf Ramsey calling him “ten years ahead of his time."
Ramsey’s tag was correct: during an era when England tended to prefer scrappers and fighters in midfield, Peters was a cerebral playmaker; a visionary who could read the play and spot the right pass ten times out of ten and who would sniff out space when others were more concerned with snuffing out the opposition. That’s not to say Peters couldn’t put his foot into a tackle, though: his workrate was legendary, and he became as adept defensively as he was in attack. He was also exemplary in the air, and had that lethal Frank Lampard-esque ability to time runs into the box to perfection.
Anyone who played alongside Peters attests to his obvious class in midfield. Former Canaries forward Peter Silvester told the BBC: “He was such a magnificent player. He could read the game. He could turn around and arrive late. He had a nickname ‘the ghost’; he could arrive in the penalty area just at a critical moment for a header. He was so gifted that nobody had seen anything like it in years.”
Dave Stringer, also talking to the BBC, said: “Whenever he played, you knew you had a player who could receive the ball whenever you had it and when you were in trouble he was always there to help you out. Playing as well as he did and scoring the goals he did made it a pleasure to play with him. But not only was he a good player, he was a good person who was well liked and loved in the dressing room.”
As well as 232 appearances and 50 goals – and two Player of the Season awards in 1976 and 1977 – for Norwich City, he also turned out 364 times for West Ham (with 100 goals), and 260 times for Spurs (with 76 goals). Not to forget, of course, his 67 caps and 20 goals for England.
“Football is me, I’m just a fanatic really,” Peters said in 1977. “As long as my legs hold out I’ll go on playing and as long as I’m playing I shan’t care if I’m in Norwich or Timbuctoo.”
WORLD CUP WINNER
Born in Plaistow in London’s East End in November 1943, the young Peters didn’t take to football straight away – “Where I lived there was no grass to play on, anyway,” he once told the Norwich City programme. It was speedway that first attracted his interest, but a move to Dagenham when he was eight kindled his love of football. It was clear he was talented, and his stock quickly rose, with appearances for Essex and London and, in 1959, six appearances for England Schoolboys.
There was one snag, though: when the big clubs came calling for him, Peters’ father wasn’t sold on the idea of his son making a career in football. “My dad was not really keen on me going into professional football at all,” Peters told Norwich’s matchday programme in 1978. “He was worried I might not make the grade. He was a lighterman on the Thames, and to prepare myself for a job I used to go with him in the school holidays to learn a bit about his trade.
“But I really wanted to give football a go, so we sat down and considered everything being offered. The approach of Wally St. Pier – then chief scout at West Ham – had impressed my father more than anything. So I signed for the Hammers.”
He made his West Ham debut against Cardiff on Good Friday 1962, with future Norwich manager John Bond and his assistant manager Ken Brown both in the side that day – which would later come in very handy for the Canaries.
Initially, there was only one thing holding Peters back – his remarkable versatility meant he was skilled in every position on the pitch, and West Ham played him in each role, including as an emergency goalkeeper. However, by the time West Ham had won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1965, Peters had firmly established himself as a midfielder. Their 2-0 win over TSV Munich in the final remains West Ham’s finest achievement, and Peters was also voted Hammer of the Year. The young man was making a name for himself and it was no surprise when, a year later, England manager Alf Ramsey handed Peters his international debut in a World Cup warm-up game.
Peters didn’t feature in the opening match of the World Cup, but got his chance in the second game against Mexico and he never looked back. He was integral to Ramsey’s system of playing without wingers, and throughout the tournament opponents failed to come to terms with Peters’ ability to drift inside from the left. It it hadn’t been for Wolfgang Weber’s last-gasp equaliser, Peters would be remembered for scoring the winning goal in a World Cup final.
At the age of 22, he had a World Cup-winners’ medal and the world at his feet. But he remained the modest, hard-working young man he always had been. Years later, when he was Peters’ manager at Norwich, John Bond would write: “If ever a manager in England wanted to give their apprentices a complete footballing education they should send them to Norwich to watch Martin Peters.
“In training, in matches – in fact in everything – Martin is the complete professional. He is solid, reliable and I honestly believe there has never been a better pro in the game. It’s 20 years now since he started out in football as a fresh-faced kid just out of school. Yet he still retains the same enthusiasm for the game. He still regards it as honour and a privilege to be paid for playing football and every day is a joy day to him. You know there are going to be no moods or tantrums from him, he plays a big part in training and willingly takes on anything asked of him.”
In 1968-69, Peters hit a staggering 19 goals from midfield for West Ham and it came as little surprise when he became the country’s first £200,000 player with a move to Tottenham in March 1970.
Just three months later he experienced his lowest moment in an England shirt. He put England 2-0 up against West Germany in the World Cup quarter finals, but sat helpless from the bench after being substituted as the Germans came from behind to win 3-2.
But Peters thrived under Tottenham’s legendary manager Bill Nicholson, and suited the side’s attacking style. He won his first domestic honour in 1971 when Spurs beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the League Cup final, before adding another European medal a year later when Tottenham beat Wolves in an all-English Uefa Cup final. 1973 was bittersweet, with another League Cup win – this time over Norwich– but defeat to Feyenoord in the Uefa Cup final.
BECOMING A CANARY
“Norwich City hope to complete the £40,000 signing of the England forward Martin Peters today in time for him to play against Manchester United at Old Trafford on Saturday. The Norwich manager, John Bond, yesterday agreed the fee with Tottenham Hotspur and has arranged to meet Peters in London this morning to discuss personal terms.
‘I am optimistic that the deal will go through. Peters is still a class players with the ability to help our promotion push,’ Mr Bond said. Last season he had made a bid for Bobby Moore before the England captain joined Fulham.
Peters won the last of his 67 full England caps against Scotland ten months ago. That was shortly after he had captained his country against Austria, Poland and Portugal – Sir Alf Ramsey’s last match as England manager.”
The report in The Times in March 1975 became reality later that day and, astonishingly, Peters was a Norwich City player. Bond had pulled off an enormous coup in bringing his old teammate to Carrow Road, and it was exactly the fillip City needed to earn promotion back to Division 1 at the first attempt.
Peters’ midfield class helped establish Norwich as a Division 1 side, the heartbeat of an attractive footballing team. The more he played, and the more it became clear his powers hadn’t waned, the more it seemed remarkable he was a Norwich City player. Bond handed Peters the captaincy in 1976, as the old master showed no signs of slowing down.
Indeed, in November 1977 he won the Evening Standard’s Player of the Month award and there was talk – at the age of 34 – of an England recall. It was quite the turn-around, as the Guardian’s Julie Welch wrote in an interview with him: “Peters’ career has suddenly taken off again. Over The Hill, everyone muttered when mighty Tottenham packed him off to modest Norwich in March 1975 for a pathetic £40,000; international days over, not scoring the goals anymore, just going to Norwich to play out time. Now, two-and-a-half seasons later, Norwich are in amongst the top teams in Division One, Peters is playing marvelously well as the fulcrum in midfield and lately it does not seem quite so eccentric to discuss the possibility of his return to the England side.”
In the interview Peters showed both his modesty – laughing off suggestions of an England recall – but also his strong views on late 1970s football: “I don’t think the way we play in the league is right for international football. The best style against continental teams is West Ham, not Liverpool. It’s hard to give Liverpool stick… but I still don’t think it’s the right way to play.”
Although an England recall never came – Peters himself said England should be looking at bringing in youth rather than recalling him – his fine form for Norwich continued. He made his 600th career appearance in December 1977, marking the occasion with an assist in a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. “[From the right-flank] Peters sent over a beautifully placed cross, brow-high, for Suggett to nod in; you thought they didn’t make crosses like that anymore.”
1979-80 was Peters’ final season with Norwich, but he was still earning admirers for his youthful displays. Especially eye-catching was his tempo-setting performance in a 4-1 win over Manchester United in the League Cup in September 1979: “After Wednesday’s game John Bond, the Norwich manager, was wondering ‘why they don’t produce players like Martin any more.’ So far as England football is concerned they never really did,” stated the report in The Guardian. “Peters, as Sir Alf Ramsey was saying a decade ago, is a one-off. He has been playing long enough to remember being described as a left-half; he has a wing-half’s sense of urgency but at the same time has sufficiently perceptive powers to ensure that nothing is done in haste.”
Peters left Norwich in the summer of 1980 to go into management with Sheffield United. He left behind five years of indefatigable, high-class performances, the likes of which Carrow Road crowds – or indeed English crowds – had rarely seen before.
It is easy to allow nostalgia to overstate the greatness of sporting heroes. But Peters was the genuine article: a one-off who will forever be remembered as a true England – and Norwich City – legend.