BOOK REVIEW / A king among captains: Bobby Moore: The Life and Times of a Sporting Hero by Jeff Powell, Robson pounds 16.95

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The Independent Culture
THE MATCH is over. On a football pitch in Mexico, two men embrace. White man, brown man, torsos bared, each left hand holding the gift of the other's shirt, right arms around each other's necks, their identical smiles - open, joyful - three inches apart. One is the winner, the other is the loser. But nothing in the bearing of Pele or Bobby Moore tells you which is which. Here, for a moment, victory and defeat are meaningless.

Bobby Moore is remembered for his great triumph with England at Wembley in 1966, but it was in defeat, four years later and a continent away, that he gave us an image (reproduced in this book) to sum up, unbeatably and imperishably, the beauty and value of sport - qualities usually hidden from non-believers behind the facades of sweat, spite, greed, brutality and general all-round blokeishness. It was in defeat, too, that he again seized the nation's attention, although defeat is the wrong word for the manner in which he eventually fell to the cancer that took hold in 1991 and killed him two years later. He died as he had lived his public life, with dignity and grace. And the timing of his death, in the shadow of the murder of James Bulger, forced a nation to examine itself.

Jeff Powell, the Daily Mail's chief sportswriter, was Moore's close friend. This is the authorised instant biography, its proceeds directed to the Moore family trust; not surprisingly, it is fond and sometimes sentimental, occasionally tinged with purple. But that's not a bad colour for Moore, whose regal air made him the ideal captain of the national team in its finest hour.

As well as joy and dignity and finest hours, though, the story also includes business failures, a broken marriage and a decline through the Danish third division, the Isthmian League, Sunday Sport and Capital Radio. Powell does not gloss over any of it (he's most interesting on the difficult relationships with Alf Ramsey and Ron Greenwood, the managers respectively of England and West Ham); nor does he airbrush Moore's opinions of his fellow players. But a slight remoteness was one of the qualities that made Moore a great leader, and Powell never brings him too close for comfort.