The following is an edited version from the authorised biography of CHARLIE HURLEY: “The Greatest Centre Half the World has Ever Seen”. Written by Mark Metcalf the book was published by Sportsbooks in 2008. It is on sale in the Sunderland club shop and in Waterstones in the city centre.
It is to be hoped that next Saturday Sunderland can, at least, avoid the hammering they received at Upton Park in October 1968 when West Ham United rammed home eight without reply. It is a result that along with similar defeats at Hillsborough in 1911/12 and Vicarage Road in 1982 remains Sunderland’s record defeat.
‘An ageing Charlie Hurley was up against Geoff Hurst; West Ham had made a good start to the season but had failed to win in their last six league games. They had also failed to beat Sunderland at home since 1926. Hurley had played three times before at the club he’d turned down before signing for Millwall in 1953, each time facing Hurst and the England World Cup hero had failed to score on each occasion. Today would be very different. Hurst scored six, and West Ham eight.
Alan Brown, who it has to be said wasn’t generally known for his humour, [although compared to managers today when everything is so serious he was a bundle of laughs] at least raised a smile in the after match press conference when he said, “It was an even game. We conceded four in each half.”
The match report in the following Monday’s Echo was headed “World Class West Ham in Brilliant Form” and as Argus stated ‘”was only told with casual references to Sunderland as amidst opposition of such quality they were never in the hunt” although “Hurley and Harvey earned a lot of sympathy for having to take such a hiding in a no-chance defence. Montgomery had 8 goals rammed past him which gave him no chance”.
According to Charlie Hurley “Hursty was bleeding dynamite, he used to time his runs to the near post brilliantly, they had a very good side. 8-0 flattered us.”
Geoff Hurst himself feels that “arguably that was my best league game ever for West Ham United. If I am not mistaken no one has scored six goals in a top-flight match since and that was over 40 years ago.”
Sunderland played the return with West Ham just before Christmas 1968 and ‘revenge was in the air when goals from Calvin Palmer and Gordon Harris in the first twelve minutes at least wiped the smile off Ron Greenwood’s men’s faces in a 2-1 victory for the home side.
The Sunday Express’s Tony Hardisty in an article headed “Super Hurley foils Hurst” reported that “West Ham were attractive as ever, but could never create really clear cut chances against a defence in which Charlie Hurley was superb”.
The key moment in the game came in the second half as West Ham pressed for an equaliser. Argus’s report in the Monday Echo that week captures some of the qualities that made Hurley such a favourite for Sunderland fans from that generation.
“Geoff Hurst broke rapidly to outpace Colin Todd to hit a fierce shot from just inside the penalty area but Charlie Hurley who had made a beeline down the middle dived in to take the full weight of it in his face and turn the ball away for a corner.
After receiving treatment Hurley took all the danger out of the situation by clearing the corner with a powerful header”. It was wonderful stuff that this author as a young man can still remember from the enormous cheer that went round the massive Roker Park ground for the next few minutes leaving Argus to report that “against the magnificent Hurst, Hurley turned in another great display in a run of form which equals the best in his eleven years with the club’.
Hurley recalls: “The ball was hit so hard by Geoff and it hit me full in the face. It was rock hard and hurt like hell. It knocked me flying, my face was sore all that night”.
Sir Geoff Hurst has nothing but praise for Hurley saying, “I played a few times against Hurley, he was a terrific footballing centre-half. He was very, very good in the air, but he was also very good on the ball and not that many centre halves in that era were. I loved playing at Roker Park and I scored a few goals against Sunderland, which is always nice. The place had a fantastic atmosphere; Sunderland and Newcastle have very passionate fans. I loved playing in big games and before big crowds; it brought the best out of me. Sunderland is a fantastic club, they’ve got great support and they always treated the opposition team well. It’s the same today. “