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When Heroes Die

Every generation has to lose its heroes as they start to pass away - although for my generation this has been a fact of life and death for some time - yet recent weeks have taken a more poignant toll.

Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts, American singer songwriter Nanci Griffith and TV’s Only Fools and Horses star John Challis, who played the unforgettable Boycie, are but three of the top names we will remember and cherish.

But, for me, the passing of two football goal-scoring legends – Jimmy Greaves and Roger Hunt – have hit especially hard. Two magicians of our national game, both adored by fans, both part of the immortal 1966 World Cup winning squad, Roger an ever-present in that tournament, and both with their names indelibly entered into the English Hall of Football Fame.

Jimmy was a mega-star of the game in the sixties, still Spurs’ top goalscorer, who conjured goals out of nowhere, a household name who went on to be a major TV football presenter with Liverpool’s Ian St John – Saint and Greavsie – loved by millions. And I interviewed him once, as a young cub local newspaper reporter, when he published a book about his fight with alcoholism after he stopped playing.

But it’s Roger’s death which has hit me the hardest. An established part of the 1966 World Cup winning team, scoring two goals against France, he was my favourite player as I watched England win glory on our family’s black and white TV. I had come to know him during a bout of interest in Bill Shankley’s Liverpool a couple of years before – I can still name all the players in that great Liverpool side – and his sleek, effective style of playing and scoring was masterful. Roger always looked so elegant on the pitch, making everything seem effortless. Unlike other England stars, he was never knighted for his great efforts in 1966 but he was always so proud that he was knighted by his beloved Liverpool kop – the banners around Anfield when the faithful applauded their great star in remembrance rang out ‘Sir Roger’. They all knew what a legend had passed.

I was lucky enough to see Roger play twice – once for Liverpool at West Ham in 1966, when I stood behind the goal and shook hands with Liverpool ‘keeper Tommy Lawrence and probably didn’t wash my hands for a week, and again at my team Charlton Athletic’s ground, the Valley, after Roger had left Liverpool and was playing for Bolton. I have never forgotten how he ran out onto the pitch, it seemed with a sort of aura about him. How poignant that on the day he died Charlton played Bolton at the Valley once more.

Charlie, Nanci, John (Boycie!) and sadly Jimmy and Roger. Over time, every generation loses its heroes. Although it is inevitable and the sadness remains, we also must never lose sight of the great pleasure and wonderful talent they, and so many more we have lost, have brought into our lives.

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