Any Englishman, whether or not he was even born at the time, will swear to you that the ball did actually cross the line. In Germany, of course, you can expect a different answer. Geoff Hurst's second goal in the 1966 FIFA World Cup ™ final remains a discussion point to this day - even the striker's autobiography opens with the question, "Was it a goal?". Yet what is not in doubt is that 30 July 1966 was the day England became world champions. And they did so after one of the most dramatic finals of all, featuring a West German equaliser with the last kick of normal time and the only hat-trick ever scored in a FIFA World Cup final.
The 1966 FIFA World Cup, the last to be broadcast in black and white, had proved rich in colour and incident, with starring roles for two new names on the world stage: Portugal forward and Golden Shoe winner Eusebio, and Korea DPR, the unexpected conquerors of Italy. In the final reckoning, though, it was the hosts and their great rivals West Germany who made it through. Wembley was the venue for a contest that pitted two all-time greats - Bobby Charlton, England's semi-final hero against Portugal, and West Germany's prodigious young libero Franz Beckenbauer - against each other. Yet in the end, they neutralised one another and it was a little-known centre-forward, on the bench for England's three group matches, who wrote his name in the record books.
Looking back, it seems incredible to think that Hurst's inclusion was in doubt right up until the eve of the final. The West Ham United player had made his international debut just five months previously and only stepped into the starting XI for the quarter-final against Argentina due to an injury to star striker Jimmy Greaves. After scoring the only goal that day, manager Alf Ramsey kept faith with the 24-year-old and how richly he would be rewarded.
While Ramsey chose boldly, his counterpart Helmut Schon erred on the side of caution by ordering the attack-minded Beckenbauer to shadow Bobby Charlton. If there were early frowns on the West German bench when goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski required treatment after a collision with Hurst, they gave way to smiles on 12 minutes when Helmut Haller silenced the Wembley crowd with the opening goal. From a hopeful ball, lofted into the England box from the left by Sigi Held, full-back Ray Wilson misdirected his header at Haller and the midfielder pounced to drill a cross-shot low to Gordon Banks' right for his sixth goal of the tournament.
England had never lost to their opponents and they took just six minutes to find a reply. Wolfgang Overath tripped Bobby Moore some 40 yards from goal and the England captain spotted Hurst unmarked in the area. A perfectly flighted free-kick by the West Ham defender was met by the head of his club colleague and England were level. The two European heavyweights had each landed a punch and now the game settled into a rhythm - frenetic maybe, but a rhythm all the same. Amid the ebb and flow, there were chances at both ends. Banks made a fine double-save from Overath and Lothar Emmerich, and followed it up by getting his fingertips to a shot by livewire forward Uwe Seeler in first-half stoppage time. For England, Roger Hunt shot straight at Tilkowski after Hurst's flick had set him up at the far post.
The second half offered a mirror image of the first, with the goals coming once again within a quarter of an hour of the whistle - this time, though, it was the final whistle. The West Germans kept England subdued for much of the second period yet with both defences tiring, the match sparked back into life as spaces opened up around Wembley's already vast expanses. With 12 minutes remaining, England were the first to capitalise. After Alan Ball's corner was only half-cleared to Hurst, he sent in a shot from outside the box. The ball struck Horst Hoettges and span up into the air and as it came down, Peters lashed it into the net from close range.
With the clock ticking down, England looked to deliver the killer blow but failed to take advantage of a three-on-one breakaway, Hunt passing to Bobby Charlton who shot wide. Ramsey's men were left to rue that miss when, in the 89 th minute, the West Germans forced an equaliser. After Jack Charlton was penalised for a push some 30 yards from goal, Emmerich's free-kick was deflected through to Held on the left of the six-yard box and he turned the ball across goal where it struck the back of Karl-Heinz Schnellinger and ran towards the far post. There, in space, was Wolfgang Weber to slam it beyond Wilson and Banks and into the back of the net. For the first time, the FIFA World Cup final was going into extra time.
England tried not to let their disappointment show and were inspired by the tireless running of Ball, England's youngest player on the pitch at 21. After Bobby Charlton had struck a post, it was Ball's cross in the 101 st minute that found Hurst in the area with enough time to turn and shoot. The ball beat Tilkowski, clattered against the underside of the bar and bounced down. But had it crossed the line? Swiss referee Gottfried Dienst ran over to the touchline and suddenly all eyes were on the Soviet assistant referee, Tofik Bakhramov of Azerbaijan, with whom the final decision lay. Seconds later, red shirts were running jubilantly back to the halfway line while those in white continued their protests. The goal had been given.
The second half of extra time saw West Germany throw their last reserves of energy into the search for an equaliser. In the closing seconds, as England snuffed out their opponents' final attack and broke upfield, the legendary British commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme observed that: "Some people are on the pitch. They think it's all over." At that very moment Hurst burst down the inside-left channel and rifled the ball into the top corner. "It is now!" Wolstenholme added. Sir Geoff, as he was to become, later admitted that he had let fly with the aim of sending the ball as far into the Wembley stands as possible in order to kill precious time. Instead he had completed a unique FIFA World Cup final hat-trick. England were on top of the world.