World Cup legend opens new centre

THE England hat-trick hero who fired the team to its greatest ever triumph in the 1966 World Cup final was in Suffolk on Saturday for a special event.But Sir Geoff Hurst, who visited Bury St Edmunds to officially open the town's refurbished leisure centre, was the only person unwilling to speculate on the country's chances in the sports biggest competition this summer.

THE England hat-trick hero who fired the team to its greatest ever triumph in the 1966 World Cup final was in Suffolk on Saturday for a special event.

But Sir Geoff Hurst, who visited Bury St Edmunds to officially open the town's refurbished leisure centre, was the only person unwilling to speculate on the country's chances in the sports biggest competition this summer.

For bound by his role in the FA, the former West Ham United player declined to comment on a possible victory in Germany - but instead concentrated his efforts on taking the time to test out the state-of-the-art equipment installed as part of a massive £6.5million facelift.

His visit came at the end of an 18-month project to rebuild and improve the leisure centre, owned by St Edmundsbury Borough Council, following a devastating fire in September 2004.


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Drawing massive crowds, Sir Geoff and borough mayor Stefan Oliver performed the official opening ceremony a month after the centre opened its doors to the public once more.

“The facilities here are terrific, fantastic,” said Sir Geoff, after testing out one of the brand new rowing machines. “I spend a lot of time in gyms to keep up my fitness regime as I have not played football for 15 years, so I visit five to six times a week.

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“For a council-owned facility, this is as good as any I have worked out in, and I hope the people of Bury appreciate it and use it, as it is second to none.

“It is important not just for youngsters but for people of all ages. A gym like this is great motivation for all activities, with all the latest equipment and the brands you would see in the best gyms in the country.”

A range of free family activities were on offer throughout the day, which later turned into a time of reminiscence as Sir Geoff was reunited with one of his former opponents.

For 62-year-old Vince Walsh, from Thurston, near Bury, attended the opening to meet up once more with the man he played cricket and football against as a schoolboy in the 1950s.

“I used to mark him and I can remember kicking him a few times,” joked Mr Walsh. “In those days, I think he was a better cricketer than football, but he went to West Ham when he was 16 or 17 and I went off to Southend United.

“I watched him all the way through the World Cup final, which was brilliant considering I had played against him.”

But Mr Walsh did not provide the only connection to the past for Sir Geoff, as Saturday's visit saw him following in the footsteps of his former manager Sir Alf Ramsey, who opened the original centre in 1975.

“He was a great man and a fantastic manager, and I was very fortunate and privileged to be selected by him to play for England,” added Sir Geoff. “It's great to follow on more than 30 years later and open the centre again.”

Terry Clements, who sits on the council's cabinet, described the whole day as “absolutely brilliant”.

He said: “It is real coup to have Sir Geoff here. I would like to say it is all over, but we have only just started.

“I think it is a good omen for this year's World Cup - something just seems right about it this year.

“It is brilliant Sir Geoff believes in sport, and hopefully he will be an inspiration to youngsters in the future.

“I am pleased he is impressed with the centre, as we have spent quarter of a million on gym equipment alone. It has been absolutely superb since the centre reopened, with 25,000 people coming through the doors.

“Everyone has mentioned the fire, but we always planned to do this work and had already committed the money.”

And Eric Armstrong, chief executive of Abbeycroft Leisure, which runs the centre on behalf of the council, said: “It is brilliant to have Sir Geoff visit in the 40th anniversary year of the World Cup of 1966 when he scored that great hat-trick.”

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