Brian Moore

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Brian Baden Moore, football commentator : born Benenden, Kent 28 February 1932; married 1955 Betty Cole (two sons); died Orpington, Kent 1 September 2001.

The death of Brian Moore at his home in Kent on Saturday, a few hours before the England football team's stunning success in a World Cup qualifying game against Germany was cruelly ironic. Nobody would have obtained a greater thrill from England's vibrant performance than a man whose enthusiasm for the game and adherence to the principles of fair play helped to establish him as an outstanding television and radio football commentator.

Over three decades, Moore's was the principal voice of ITV's football coverage, and with an expansion of his knowledge came the respect of many leading figures in football, including Brian Clough, with whom he had a long and mutually rewarding friendship, shaped in part by loyalty to their humble upbringing. Born to agricultural workers, Moore never allowed the benefits derived from comparative fame to impinge on political instincts that remained to the left of centre, if somewhat less vigorously stated than those of the controversial former Derby County and Nottinghamshire Forest manager.

A scholarship to Cranbrook College in Kent not only provided Moore with the education to be at better than even money to make something of his life, but also to indulge a passion for sport that thrived with his appointment as First XI captain of cricket and would later show itself in a response to the joys and humiliations of golf.

I'm not sure whether it was before or after a stint with the Exchange Telegraph (1956-58) but he was employed for a while as chief reporter by Dixon's Sports Reporting Agency where we were briefly colleagues. He was as thorough then as he would become behind a BBC radio microphone after a three-year spell with The Times (1958-61).

If most of his work at Dixon's involved the recycling of golf material (the agency was influenced by two redoubtable golf writers, Geoffrey Coussens and Tom Scott), football was in Moore's blood, and he was introduced to the game internationally by an assignment to cover England's participation in the European Youth Championship, hosted that year by Spain. England were coached by a former Arsenal and Southampton player, George Curtis, who held romantic views about football to which Moore was immediately receptive. "I was given insights that proved invaluable," I remember him saying.

I knew Moore well but not intimately. Sometimes our paths would cross in the fields close to Farnborough in Kent where he walked his dogs and occasionally on a golf course, but he was essentially a private man, sparing with his friendships and devoted to his family.

Moore's career in broadcasting really took off in 1968 when he was recruited from the BBC by London Weekend Television, where he formed productive alliances with Jimmy Hill and John Bromley. Soon Moore was a major figure in the broadcasting of football, both as a commentator and presenter, despite the restrictions imposed by the Football League, whose splenetic secretary, Alan Hardaker, was aggressively opposed to the live transmission of matches.

A blip occurred in Moore's career when he was stood down as the presenter of ITV's flagship Midweek Sports Special in 1986, but with the growth of live action he was again established as the company's leading football commentator.

If there was sometimes too much of the enthusiastic fan in Moore's work, and a reluctance to be openly critical, his integrity could never be questioned. The trick, as he saw it, was to be clear without defusing the excitement. It was one that he mastered.

Along with others of his generation, Moore grew weary of changes in football and came to fear, as some of us do, that it will suffer from saturation. "This is a great game, but you have to wonder where it's all leading," he said. "There's so much emphasis these days on getting big time action and fresh angles that we don't give players the respect they deserve."

Moore's last match was the 1998 World Cup final between France and Brazil – "It was unnerving to think of how many millions of people would be listening to my voice" – but his favourite experience as commentator was England's defeat by Argentina in the same tournament. "That match had everything," he said in an interview after his retirement. "Michael Owen's stupendous goal, David Beckham's sending off, the nail-biting tension of a penalty shoot-out that saw England eliminated."

In 1999, Sky Television provided Moore with an opportunity to pursue his enthusiasm for the type of sports programme that no longer has much currency, what he called "proper conversations". Many of the Brian Moore interviews were gems of respect and admiration, involving such past notables of the game as Tom Finney, Dave Mackay and Cliff Jones. They touched on a time before the onset of relentless commercial activity, obscene salaries and corporate disfigurement. "Not peak viewing stuff, just the sort of programme I like to watch for half an hour before going to bed," Moore said.

The former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson, on hearing of his death, spoke for those who knew Moore. "I don't think there is anyone in the world of football, and football is a big world, who had a bad word to say about him."

Ken Jones