When Sir Geoff Hurst was a lad it really was a case of jumpers for goalposts.
The 1966 World Cup winner used to play the beautiful game in the street as a boy and later warmed up for club games on West Ham United’s concrete car park.
But it’s a slightly different playing surface for young footballers of today.
Sir Geoff was at Castleford Academy last Friday to celebrate a pitch project worth nearly three quarters of a million pounds and to search for grassroot stars.
During the visit, the school was presented with a £376,928 match-funding cheque from the Football Foundation. The Ferrybridge Road academy hopes to break ground on its state-of-the-art 3G pitch at Easter. It will be used by 1,250 pupils, local clubs and the wider community.
Wembley hat-trick hero Sir Geoff took time out last Friday to speak to the Express and reflect on playing football now and then.
He said: “Looking back on the pitches of our time – in fact I wouldn’t call them pitches as that sort of means grass is involved.
“I played football in the street as a youngster, having to chip the ball up the kerb so you could get to the goal. Even at West Ham, on a Friday morning before a league game, we’d play our five-a-side out front on the concrete car park.”
But he said today’s children could play on the “fun and safe environment” of a 3G pitch.
The football knight added: “The more young kids like these playing on 3G pitches, the better. It’s good to improve their technique and their skills.
“At the top end of the football pyramid we are going to produce more players, and hopefully in seven years’ time some at the kids at the school – if they progress and play on these pitches – might be around when we get round to playing in Qatar (for the 2022 World Cup).”
On his whistle-stop visit, Sir Geoff toured the school’s current sports facilities and spoke to players, coaches and staff.
He joked with youth team players from Castleford White Rose Ladies FC: “Do you know who I am?” suggesting they Google him.
The ladies team was part of the reason for Sir Geoff’s visit. Last year they won a national prize in The FA Community Awards, which Sir Geoff is heavily involved in via his ambassadorial role as McDonald’s Director of Football.
Last Friday marked the launch of the West Riding County FA’s search for the unsung stars of 2015.
Sir Geoff also met with Castleford White Rose’s patron, Yvette Cooper. She said: “I’m really pleased that the FA are investing in new facilities at Castleford Academy and how fantastic to be able to launch the scheme alongside World Cup legend Sir Geoff Hurst. It’s great that this will help get more girls into football too at a time when the game is growing and getting more and more attention at last.
“Castleford White Rose FC already does a brilliant job of getting girls to play and enjoy the sport; we should be proud they are the biggest women’s club in the whole West Riding! We’ve got a great record round here of encouraging more girls, not just into football but other sports as well, so this is a great chance for the club and school to benefit and expand.”
After the visit from football royalty, Castleford Academy headteacher George Panayiotou spoke about how it all came about.
He said: “The school was successful in a match-funding bid for a 3G Astroturf pitch where we basically got over £376,000 from the Football Foundation and we’ve matched that with some school funding to have a state-of-the-art facility.”
Mr Panayiotou added: “To have some somebody of Sir Geoff Hurst’s calibre come to the school (to help celebrate the project) is a real coup. He was fabulous during the occasion. He made a real fuss of the kids, the quality of the facility and the impact it is going to have on kids.”
The West Riding FA added that: “Senior staff and governors of Castleford Academy have been extremely focused and determined in their delivery of this project to not only be of significant benefit to the academy Pupils, but also the footballing community.
“Between the two major partner clubs, Castleford Town and Castleford White Rose, there are currently 17 teams catering for all formats of football for male and female players.
“After the football development plan has been delivered over a five-year period, there will be an estimated combined total of 45 teams using the site - 33 from the partner clubs and 12 via the County FA Flexi Football League.”
Pictures by Mike Porter and Jane Carter.