England legend Geoff Hurst – the only man to score a hat-trick in a FIFA World Cup™ final – recently visited Qatar to find out more about preparations for the next instalment of football’s premier event.
Hurst visited the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s Legacy Pavilion during his stay in Doha and also found time to tour Khalifa International Stadium – the first tournament-ready venue for Qatar 2022.
Hurst, whose treble against West Germany at Wembley in 1966 remains the pinnacle of English football, spoke to sc.qa of how impressed he is with Qatar’s tournament plans and of his confidence in England’s chance to go all the way in just over three years’ time.
What are your impressions of Qatar and what do you make of the preparations for the FIFA World Cup 2022™?
My impression of everything to do with Qatar is stunning. Everything has been fantastic and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be here having had a taste the plans are for 2022. The cooling technology is incredible. I heard yesterday in Khalifa Stadium that you can get the temperature down to about 19 degrees, which is amazing.The problem with any major sporting event is that there’s often negativity – there was a lot of negativity about Russia – but after the tournament everyone I’ve met who was out there said without question it was an absolutely stunning World Cup. Things have to be said from a positive point of view prior to the World Cup happening and I’m going to be a strong voice for that when I get back to the UK and tell everyone they’ve got to get here in 2022 – it’s going to be fabulous.
Qatar 2022 will be the first FIFA World Cup™ in the Arab world and only the second in Asia. How important is it to host the tournament in new countries and regions?
I am a strong advocate of spreading the World Cup gospel all over the world. Everywhere in the world it can be played, it should be played. Football is a global sport, a global business. Seventy per cent of the players playing in the Premier League are from foreign countries and it means so many people from those countries are supporting football in the UK. I’ve always felt that taking the World Cup to as many different countries as possible has got to be the way forward, so this is a supreme example of taking it somewhere new.
Qatar’s World Cup will be played in November and December 2022 – do you think the timing of the tournament will help the England team, coming as it does during the middle of the traditional European season?
Yes, I do – November is the peak of the season for us. After starting in August, the players will be at their peak – they should not be tired – so I can only see a benefit to our country. Also, the resurgence of our national team in the last 18 months, at the World Cup and qualifying for the Nations League, beating Croatia and Spain and scoring five goals a game, it’s a really opportune time for us coming into this tournament. If we continue to improve and our young players get more experience, the signs are very good. It’s a very exciting time for our national team and coincides with the World Cup here in three years’ time. I’m always very confident England are going to do well and I’m even more confident now with the timing of the tournament.
What do you make of England’s recent form and the job Gareth Southgate is doing?
It’s quite evident looking at the way the players play, the way they talk in the media and the way they celebrate goals that his management style is proving very effective. It’s something we haven’t seen for some time [with the England national team]. One of the most important aspects of a sport doing well is the people at the top – the leaders. We were very fortunate in our time to have a great leader in Sir Alf Ramsey – he was instrumental in picking the right players and playing the right way. And Gareth Southgate seems to have a knack of doing that.
What is amazingly different – and I often state I played in medieval times – is that what we’re seeing now is players playing for England who have hardly kicked a ball for their Premier League clubs, Hudson-Odoi for example. I look back now and say retrospectively I should have been playing for England three years earlier, when I was scoring goals regularly for West Ham and winning the FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup. So it’s changed dramatically, but overall, Southgate’s managerial style and what he’s doing, and the way they’re playing, is just fantastic.
Are there any parallels between Sir Alf Ramsey and Gareth Southgate?
None – Ramsey’s won it [the World Cup] and Southgate’s won nothing – at the moment. That’s the straightforward answer. On a serious note, he seems to have got the managerial style right to get the team to perform – and with a fairly young and inexperienced team, who have played very little league football. Alf Ramsey was fortunate to be able to pick some very experienced players, what I would call hard-nosed professional players, who to use his words, would never let him down and were the backbone of the team.
One of the important ingredients for all national teams is to have that team spirit and camaraderie during a World Cup, when you’re away from your family and friends. We had it in ‘66 and that feeling seems to have generated quite strongly [in the current squad].
You played in – and won – the World Cup on home soil. What advice would you give to the Qatari players who will experience the tournament on their own patch in 2022?
Enjoy the experience, because these experiences don’t last very long. Very few players play in the World Cup, so just be excited about it. Give it your all, work together as a group and just enjoy the unbelievable experience of playing on home soil in front of your own country and your own fans. Just enjoy it.
Finally, what does the World Cup mean to you?
Professionally it’s the most unbelievable experience I’ve ever had. I look back on it with so much pride. Sometimes, in quieter moments, I find it hard to believe I was actually there playing in it – it’s almost like a dream that I was ever a part of it. That I ever played football is a dream to be honest, especially when you get to my age.