Martin Peters MBE, (born Plaistow, London, November 8, 1943) was a football player and hero of the victorious England team which won the 1966 World Cup.
Peters was a luxurious yet industrious midfield player who came through the ranks at West Ham United after signing as an apprentice in 1959. He made his debut in 1962 against Cardiff City. He flitted in and out of a strong West Ham side over the next few years, and was consequently not selected for the FA Cup final of 1964 at Wembley, in which West Ham beat Preston North End 3-2. The following year, however, he established himself as a first team regular and was victorious at Wembley when West Ham won the European Cup Winners Cup with victory over 1860 Munich.
With pace, creativity and exquisite timing on the run, Peters was memorably described by West Ham manager Ron Greenwood as being "ten years ahead of his time". It was a moniker which stuck and had a substantial ring of truth to it. Never before had English football produced a player with the all round mental and physical faculties to dominate a midfield. As such, Peters was seen as a key player in football's leap into a new, modern era. Peters began to impose himself on West Ham's game, and another chance for silverware came in 1966 when West Ham reached the League Cup final. The occasion was still a two-legged affair with each of the finallists hosting a leg (though this changed to a one-off final at Wembley a year later), and Peters played in both matches. He scored in the second game but opponents West Bromwich Albion emerged as comfortable 5-3 winners on aggregate. There would be considerable consolation ahead for Peters in 1966 - and League Cup success would also come his way later in his career.
Alf Ramsey had seen Peters' potential quickly, and in May 1966 he gave the young midfielder his debut for England against Yugoslavia at Wembley. England won 2-0 and Peters was impressive with his industry and exuberance around the park. This was the final preparation period for Ramsey prior to naming his squad for the World Cup, which England was hosting, and suddenly there was new, young star to consider for the cut. Peters played in two more of the scheduled warm-up games. In one, against Finland, he scored his first international goal in what was only his second appearance, and subsequently he made the final 22 for the competition, as did his West Ham team-mates Bobby Moore (the England captain) and Geoff Hurst.
Though Peters did not play in the opening group game against Uruguay, the drab 0-0 draw prompted Ramsey into changes. The England coach had been toying with using a system which allowed narrow play through the centre, not operating with conventional wingers but instead with fitter, centralised players who could show willing in defence as well as spread the ball and their runs in attack. Natural wingers were not known for their defensive qualities and Ramsey was always a coach to err on the side of caution. Peters therefore had become an ideal player for this 4-3-3 system, elegant in his distribution and strong in his forward running, yet showing the stamina, discipline and pace to get back and help the defence when required. This system was coined as "the wingless wonders". Ramsey put Peters in the team for the second group game against Mexico, which England won 2-0. He kept his place as England got through their group, scraped past a violent Argentina side in the quarter finals (Peters' late cross set up Hurst's header for the only goal) and out-thought the enigmatic Portuguese in the last four. The West Germans awaited in the final.
A tense but open game at Wembley saw the score at 1-1 in the final quarter of an hour when England won a corner. Alan Ball delivered it to the edge of the area to Hurst, who tried a shot on the turn. The ball deflected high into the air and bounced down into the penalty area where Peters rifled home a confident half-volley. He was set to become England's biggest footballing hero of all time at that point, with little more than ten minutes left to hang on and win the game's greatest prize. But the Germans scuppered the personal glory for Peters by equalising in the final seconds, though glory would still come the team's way with the 4-2 win in extra time, and Hurst - like Peters, winning only his eighth cap - completing an historic hat-trick.
Peters was now one of the first names on Ramsey's England teamsheet, despite an indifferent spell for West Ham as a club and team. He was also a pleasingly frequent scorer from midfield. In March 1970, West Ham received a record-breaking 200,000 pounds for Peters from Tottenham Hotspur and Peters duly went to White Hart Lane, with Spurs and England striker Jimmy Greaves going the other way. Peters scored on his Spurs debut against Coventry City. That summer, Peters was a shoo-in for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, for which England had qualified automatically as holders of the competition. By now Peters was an established international with 38 caps.
Peters played in England's three group games from which they comfortably qualified again, and the Germans were once more waiting, this time in the last eight. Peters scored against the Germans again early in the second half - a superb and typical "ghosting" goal, to wit, a run and finish from behind a defender which no German player had spotted - to establish a commanding 2-0 lead, but later Ramsey committed the tactical faux-pas of substituting Peters and Bobby Charlton, and the Germans took heart by winning 3-2 in extra-time. Still Peters remained an England regular while also picking up his first domestic winners' medal in 1971 when Spurs beat Aston Villa 2-0 in the League Cup final. Later the same year, Peters won his 50th England cap in a qualifier for the 1972 European Championships, beating Switzerland 3-2. England failed to progress thanks largely to another defeat against West Germany, who went on to win the tournament. International disappointment for Peters was tempered mildly by more club success when Spurs beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate to win the 1972 UEFA Cup in what remains to date the only all-English European final.
In 1973, Peters won the League Cup again with Spurs and scored the only goal as England beat Scotland at Wembley. It was his 20th goal for his country and would prove to be his last. England had been stuttering in their qualifying campaign for the 1974 World Cup, dropping points in a drawn game against Wales and then succumbing horrifically to a 2-0 defeat against Poland in Warsaw. It meant that England needed to defeat Poland at Wembley to qualify for the finals in West Germany and, with an out-of-form Moore dropped from the side (he'd only play once more subsequently for his country) Peters captained the side for the crucial game.
The match has become part of England folklore, as Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski contrived to keep out every single shot and header targeted by a relentless, dominant England. A defensive error allowed Poland to score and only the award of a penalty allowed England to level up quickly. Allan Clarke scored from it, but England could not get the crucial winning goal no matter how they tried. Poland went through after the match finished 1-1 (and proved it was no fluke by reaching the semi-finals in Germany) but Peters had been robbed of the chance of a third successive World Cup competition. At the age of 30, Peters' career at the highest level began to slip away. He won three more caps for England, reaching a total of 67, though his illustrious career with his country ended in ignominy as England crashed to a 2-0 defeat against a gleeful Scotland side at Hampden Park. Peters duly managed one more season with Spurs - losing the 1974 UEFA Cup final to Feyenoord on aggregate - before moving to Norwich City - managed by his former West Ham team-mate John Bond - in March 1975 for 50,000 pounds. Norwich had just reached the final of Peters' most productive competition - the League Cup - but Peters was cup-tied and couldn't play as Aston Villa beat his new side at Wembley 1-0.
Peters soldiered on with Norwich, making more than 200 appearances, before joining Sheffield United in 1980 as player-manager. On retirement in 1981, after a distinguished and remarkably injury-free career, he had racked up 882 appearances in total, scoring a superb 220 goals.
Not cut out for coaching, Peters quit Sheffield United and moved into the insurance business until reaching retirement age. Though always an unassuming, inward character, Peters is constantly in demand for anecdotes about life as a World Cup winner as England continue to try to emulate - unsuccessfully thus far - the 1966 squad. In 1998 Peters joined the director's board at Spurs.