By Henry Winter
Across town at Wembley, setting for Moore’s finest hours, the flag of St George will fly at half-mast. A skilled surgeon operated on Moore’s colon in 1991 but the cancer would not yield. It spread to the liver. Moore never complained. He simply set about delaying its pitiless impact.
Eventually, on Feb 15, 1993, England’s World Cup-winning captain released a statement, revealing his illness was terminal. Two days later he was at Wembley, commentating on England’s game against San Marino for Capital Radio, his collar turned up to hide his paleness. A week later, on Feb 24, 1993, Moore passed away. He was only 51.
West Ham fans held a vigil outside the Boleyn Ground, the gates became a shrine and two of the others in that Heroes statue, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst, carried a floral replica of a claret-and-blue No 6 shirt to the centre-circle before the next home game against Wolves. West Ham mourned. The country bowed its head in grief.
Yet football had treated Moore disgracefully. The man who lifted the World Cup should not have been working for £150 a game for local radio at Wembley. Moore should have been on the bench, advising the England manager, inspiring the players. Or he should have been backstage, an ambassador for the Football Association or a sounding-board for those members of the governing body who never played the game. Moore’s knowledge should have been tapped into.
He just should have been cherished more.
The FA scandalously ignored the individual who brought it most glory. When Don Revie abruptly departed the England scene in 1977, Moore applied for the manager’s job. “I have gained considerable experience in assisting with coaching both with my clubs in England and abroad during the latter stages of my playing career,” he wrote to the FA. “I know you are aware of how proud I was of my years with the England team.”
Jeff Powell recorded in his eloquent biography Bobby Moore: the Life and Times of a Sporting Hero that “if the FA sent a reply to the hero of 66, it never arrived’’. Whether he was a serious contender for the post or not, Moore deserved the simple courtesy of a response.
It is because of the FA’s dismissive past treatment of Moore that the current administration is commendably so aware of the need to embrace former internationals more quickly and constructively.
The modern game can learn much from the memory of Moore. Every apprentice seeking to become a master of his craft should take inspiration from Moore’s career, from his pursuit of perfection that underpinned 642 games for West Ham, 150 for Fulham and 108 for England, 90 as captain.
Academy novices should study Moore’s game. Many young players do strive diligently to enhance their technical repertoire. Many are involved in admirable charitable enterprises. Unfortunately, some just train and speed back to their gated retreats, thinking they have made it simply with a first contract or a first cap. Those who rise highest are those hungriest for self-improvement, for staying on after training, accentuating assets and overcoming weaknesses. Moore did.
His left foot was the weaker so he worked on it. What many senior observers believe to be Moore’s supreme performance for West Ham, the 1965 European Cup-Winners’ final win over 1860 Munich at Wembley, saw him step out of defence frequently, conveying the ball to team-mates with left foot as well as right.
He also mastered the knack of distributing the ball accurately with the outside of his right foot, a trick Ron Greenwood told him to watch in Real Madrid’s full-backs. Moore listened and learned, practised and expanded his expertise.
Regularly questioned during his formative years about aerial inadequacies, Moore used his uncanny awareness of the ball’s arrival time to position himself perfectly, often dropping off and meeting the ball with his chest. Moore turned a deficiency into a strength. Rather than heading the ball clear, perhaps risking losing it, Moore would introduce it back calmly into circulation.
Composure, intelligence, anticipation and timing: all the Moore traits defined his approach to tackling which he made an
art-form. Interception was the Moore calling-card, the brandishing of the rapier not the broadsword. The image of his celebrated dispossessing of the Brazilian winger, Jairzinho, in Guadalajara in 1970, should be imprinted in the mind of every aspiring academy player or at the very least presented to them as a screensaver.
As Jairzinho accelerated, touching the ball nine times, Moore waited and waited for the optimum moment to pounce. He back-pedalled, keeping his balance, keeping his eye on the ball, eventually crouching and then uncoiling, stretching out his right foot to appropriate possession. It took timing and nerve. A fraction’s misjudgement would have gifted Brazil a penalty.
“Good tackle by Moore, the perfect timing,’’ intoned David Coleman. Twenty-six summers later, Skinner and Baddiel sang “but I still see that tackle by Moore” in their emotional chronicling of the mounting years of hurt.
Moore’s style of regaining the ball would make him even more of an idol in the modern game where referees disapprove of forceful challenges. He was not infallible, though. He was nutmegged by Tostao as Brazil built for Jairzinho’s goal in Guadalajara.
He suffered frustrations for club and country but will always be remembered as a footballer who invariably rose to the most demanding occasions. Some players can be intimidated, retreating into fragile shells and not delivering. Not Moore.
He seemed made for Wembley: imposing his elegant influence on the 1964 FA Cup final victory over Preston North End, the 1965 Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph and of course against West Germany in 1966 (if not the 1975 FA Cup final for Fulham against his old club).
Academy kids should study footage of Moore in possession. He always played with his head up, looking around, scouring the horizon for movement like an alert officer on a conning tower. He noted team-mates’ positions or runs, applying that old Greenwood command of keeping “a picture” in your mind of players’ locations. In the ’66 final, Moore acted swiftly after being fouled by Wolfgang Overath, finding Geoff Hurst with the free-kick. He knew where Hurst would be. It was a goal created on the West Ham training ground.
Moore’s attention to detail could also be found after the final whistle sounded whether flicking the mud off his tie-ups, keeping them for use through the season rather than discarding them, or later on brushing down his Mohair suit after a night out at the Ilford Palais.
He took pride in his appearance just as he took pride in his work on the field. On July 30, 1966, Moore journeyed through two hours of fluctuating football and still looked pristine as he climbed up the steps, scarcely a hair out of place, no trace of sweat, just a few grass-stains down the left side of his shorts.
Famously, he spoke afterwards of how he spotted the Queen’s white gloves and wiped any hint of sweat or mud from his palms before shaking hands.
This was one of the many iconic images Moore bequeathed, another worthy of inspection by ambitious footballers. England’s captain continued down the august line, acknowledging a few more dignitaries before finally holding up the World Cup. This was no doffed-capped reverence to royalty; this was simply Moore’s courteous nature. He treated people of low or lofty birth with the same respect.
Moore was a sporting icon in every sense. He played the game with a will to win and respect for the opposition, a balance not all modern players have managed. Respect filled Tostao and Jairzinho as they joined Pele in saluting Moore at the final whistle in Guadalajara.
Dignified in defeat, Moore smiled and congratulated them, swapping shirts with Pele, another special image that should serve to inspire the next generation of England hopefuls.
Bobby Moore: twenty years gone, never forgotten.