The recent news that former Norwich City great Martin Peters has been suffering from Alzheimer’s over the past three years yielded an affectionate and very genuine outpouring of sorrow and sympathy from many Canary fans.
Sympathies that would have been fuelled by the experiences some of us will have felt as the condition steadily erodes the mind and personality of our own loved ones.
There are, or will be, few of us who have not been touched by this sort of personal loss. It’s one that, for some, be almost as painful as death itself; the steady realisation that someone close to you, someone you loved and shared a life with, no longer knows who you are.
The sort of hurt that the family and friends of Martin Peters will doubtless be feeling right now.
In his pomp, Peters was one of England’s finest footballers; the complete midfielder, peerless and courageous, a man famously described as being ‘ten years ahead of his time’ by former England manager Sir Alf Ramsey.
A player who earnt the nickname ‘the ghost’ for his seemingly supernatural ability to be at exactly the right place and at the right time to do exactly what was needed at any point of the game. Even today you can watch Peters in action and appreciate this; a passage of play will take place with his having no part in it, no presence or influence. He is passive, a spectator.
Yet, at the moves denouement, he is the King.
Peters was, rightly or wrongly, denied footballing immortality by Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup Final. Hurst, and Wolfgang Weber whose last minute equaliser in that game took it to extra time, meant that, rather than being one of an elite handful of men who have scored the decisive goal in World Cup Finals, his is now a supporting role in that pantheon of scorers in football’s biggest game.
Hardly a consolation prize. But then again, whenever 1966 is mentioned in footballing terms, which name most readily comes to mind first?
Hurst of course. And maybe those of Charlton, Moore and Ball. Peters scored in the final yet was never the symbol of that afternoon that the aforementioned quartet have become, or an icon of the tournament in the way that Eusebio, Rattin and a Russian linesman ultimately became.
Not that it will have bothered him of course. He has a World Cup winners’ medal and nothing to prove to anyone.
Much has been said and written about his £50,000 move to Norwich from Tottenham in March 1975. He’d hardly been agitating for a move and, at just 31, Peters might, rightly, have felt that he still had to offer the club in terms of his playing ability and influence on younger team mates, the likes of Jimmy Neighbour, Neil McNab and Keith Osgood.
How might they have benefitted by his continued presence at the club? Neighbour, as it turns out, eventually did but only when he joined Peters at Norwich eighteen months after Peters had done so himself.
Norwich manager John Bond knew that Peters, ever the professional, needed little to no supervision or management. As far as he was concerned, his new acquisition could have the run of the place, live where he liked, train as hard or as often as he liked and say what he liked – there’d always be someone to listen to him, including Bond himself.
Yet Peters made little to no use of the indulgences that Bond would have afforded him, training hard and moving to rented accommodation nearer to the club where, in time, his poolside parties would become much looked forward to events for his team-mates and the club’s coaching staff.
His impact at Carrow Road was immediate. He saw out the 1974/75 season in imperious form from the off, hitting the ground running and playing a big part in ensuring the clubs return to the top flight in England after a year’s sabbatical back in Division Two.
The ten league games he subsequently appeared in for Norwich that season were, up to then, the first he had ever played in outside of Division One, a career that, ultimately, saw him make 724 league appearances for his four English clubs, of which all but 35 were played in the top division.
He would have played more as well had he not joined Sheffield United as player-manager in 1980. Peters later admitted that he thought he could, on reflection, have carried on playing for Norwich in the First Division for a bit longer and that, had the club offered him any sort of opportunity on the coaching side, he would have been more than happy to commit himself to Carrow Road for as long as he was needed.
But this was not to be.
He is, rightly, remembered with great affection at West Ham, Tottenham and Norwich, something which will always remain the case; three clubs whose fans will all acknowledge that he was “one of us”.
And, despite the passing of time and the Alzheimer’s that has denied him the opportunity to, amongst other things, enjoy some of the anniversary celebrations of England’s triumph in 1966, that will remain the case.
Martin Peters was, and remains, one of us. A true legend of the yellow and green, the greatest player to have ever played for our club.
We remember him and we wish both him and his family well.