The day that 1966 World Cup hero Sir Geoff Hurst, the West German goalie and the ball from the Wembley final were brought together to recreate THAT goal – in Hatfield Heath!
It was one of the most memorable sporting moments in local history.
Shortly after 11am – exactly 25 years ago today (April 28) in 1996 – a limousine carrying England 1966 World Cup hero Geoff Hurst, West German goalkeeper Hans Tilkowski and the original match ball from the Wembley final arrived at Hatfield Heath FC.
The Bishop's Stortford, Stansted and District League side had been chosen because their pitch – the quaintly named Calves Pasture – was located at the end of a remote cul de sac, far away from prying eyes.
They were there as part of a project organised by the Daily Mirror newspaper, which had seen off its big tabloid rival to buy the ball on behalf of the country.
As Hurst emerged from the car that Sunday morning, dog walkers rubbed their eyes in disbelief, wondering what on earth England's World Cup-winning hero was doing on the Heath.
As then club secretary Richard 'Rabbit' Lines said: “It certainly was one of the most memorable days in our history.”
The adventure had started in the German city of Augsburg just a week earlier. In the run-up to the Euro '96 tournament in England, newspapers tried to track down the iconic orange ball used in the 1966 World Cup final.
It emerged that it had not been given – as tradition dictates – to hat-trick scorer Hurst. German midfielder Helmut Haller had quietly walked off with the ball after the game and no-one had thought any more about it.
Thirty years on and with “Football's Coming Home” fever about to hit the nation, a hunt for the ball started. It emerged it had spent three decades languishing in Haller's garage.
A bidding war ensued and despite The Sun offering £100,000 Haller trusted the Daily Mirror, which paid him £80,000.
The ball was brought back to the UK. Herr Haller and his entourage flew into Stansted and stayed the night at Down Hall hotel at Hatfield Heath.
There were plans to recreate the famous disputed “did it cross the line?” goal near Brentwood. But they were disrupted and at 10.30am that Sunday morning Hatfield Heath FC were suddenly asked if their pitch could be used.
The gates were unlocked and 30 minutes later two of the most iconic players in World Cup history were getting changed in the Heath's spartan changing rooms.
Wearing full international kit, Hurst and Tilkowski "recreated” the controversial goal, laughing as they did so.
Then club chairman John Deamer recalled: “Sir Geoff and Tilkowski were fantastic. They spent an hour or so at the pitch – with the original ball. They were very friendly and happily posed for photos. It was a privilege to meet them and touch the ball."
Ironically the Heath's pitch was the exact same size as the Wembley one where Hurst enjoyed his greatest moment.
That morning he described the village club's undulating pitch as “lovely” though his driver may have been more accurate when he chipped in: “Looks like an 'ankle breaker' to me!”
While the Heath players were casually throwing the ball around back in 1996, it now has pride of place in the National Football Museum in Manchester and is so valuable that only curators wearing pristine white gloves can handle it.
* Andy Lines, who is chief reporter of the Daily Mirror, moved to Hatfield Heath at the age of two. He attended the village school and then the former Mountfitchet School (now Forest Hall School) in Stansted. A Chelsea fan, he made his debut for Hatfield Heath FC in 1979 and went on to manage the club; he is now its historian. He lives in The Stewarts, Bishop's Stortford, with wife Lois and they have three children.