EVEN PEOPLE who never miss an opportunity to declare that they are utterly uninterested in sport could hardly fail to identify Bobby Moore as a national hero; he was famous not merely for great prowess on the football field, most conspicuously for leading England to victory in the 1966 World Cup final. Beyond anything else he conveyed the clear sense of an integrity that was entirely his own, a combative kind of integrity that is as unusual in football as it would be unusual anywhere.
The great player forever wages conflicts against himself, matching or, ideally, surpassing his last virtuoso performance. Around him the critics bray. And always the tireless assault of time. Each memorable display is therefore something of a miracle that can only happen when the artist is 200 per cent prepared to make it happen. This, above all else, was Moore's most significant strength.
He was at his best on the big occasion, matching minds with some of the most accomplished players in history, and to hear of his death yesterday, barely a week after he had announced that in spite of a worsening condition he would continue with his work for radio, evoked that sense of deep loss felt with the passing of a close relative or a good companion.
Everybody who had kept in touch with his plight - old colleagues who admired him both as a great player and a considerable man, friends, acquaintances, sports writers of that generation who felt privileged to be in his company - knew things were bad. Earlier this week, Frank McLintock, the former Arsenal and Scotland player, spoke of how he was almost overcome by emotion when telephoning Moore's home for the latest bulletin. 'A lump came into my throat,' he said, 'and I had to quickly break off the conversation.'
For McLintock and so many others the game will be different now. Bobby Moore won't be around. Moore was one of the best footballers I have ever seen, the most astute defensive talent, a profound influence in the game who dwarfed most of his contemporaries. One of the most treasured privileges I have had was knowing him and sometimes going about with him.
Moore was a restless sleeper. Sometimes he took off in the night for long walks. Once, in the early hours in Moscow, I came across him sitting alone on a park bench. Does that seem a curious thing to tell about him now? It isn't, really, because it was so characteristic. It required no analysis. He was what he always intended to be. Individual.
A year before the 1966 World Cup, a football writer asked Ron Greenwood, who managed Moore's club, West Ham, what he thought the outcome would be. Greenwood pointed across to where Moore was practising with the team. 'England will win,' he said, 'and that man is the reason why. He can already see in his mind's eye a picture of himself holding up the World Cup, and he's calculated down to the last detail just what that will mean to him and his career.'
Born in Barking, east London, in 1941, Bobby Moore attended the Tom Hood school, Leyton, and aspired to the notion of a career in professional football that came naturally to boys growing up in a working-class environment. At first it seemed he would be disappointed. 'I was choked when the time came to leave school,' he recalled. 'All my mates had gone off for trials with clubs around London but nobody seemed to want me. I thought I'd missed out. . . then West Ham called me up for a trial.'
Later, envious contemporaries would occasionally point up flaws in Moore's game; he lacked genuine pace and was fallible in the air. Wickedly, there was the suggestion that he would struggle if called upon to engage in the furious activity of midfield play. However, Malcolm Allison, then a player at West Ham who would become an outstanding coach, recognised qualities in the young Londoner that suggested the flowering of a marvellous career. Moore ran the first yard in his head, taking up the most advantageous defensive position so quickly that he seemed to have built-in radar. For such a young player he was astonishingly cool; when necesssary he could be hard. 'You are looking at a boy who could captain the England team for many years,' Allison said. The accuracy of Allison's prediction was borne out in all the great arenas of football as Moore came to occupy a special place in the lore of the game, leading West Ham to an FA Cup success in 1964 and the European Cup-Winners' Cup a year later.
What began as an uneasy relationship with Alf Ramsey became such an important alliance that the England manager declared, 'Bobby Moore is my representative on the field. He is responsible for seeing that the plans we have worked on are carried out.'
The shock that crossed Ramsey's face when Moore was led away on a trumped-up charge of stealing a diamond bracelet from a boutique at the Tequendama Hotel in Bogota, Colombia, a week before England began their defence of the World Cup in Mexico, in 1970, showed just how much he valued his captain. Not believing it for a moment, Ramsey said, 'This is the worst experience I've had in football.'
When Moore was eventually released from house arrest to rejoin the England squad in Guadalajara the sporting world saw the full measure of his stature. Sitting alongside Ramsey at a press conference attended by hundreds of reporters, he answered every question so coldly that no opponent could confidently expect to get the better of him. 'When our players come up against this man they will not enjoy the experience,' said Joao Saldanha, a former manager of Brazil who was in Mexico as a broadcaster and journalist. If Moore's influence in 1966 was central to England's success, the World Cup of 1970 saw him at his peak, an estimate endorsed by Pele, of Brazil, the greatest footballer in history. After a marvellous duel between the two countries, one that moved even neutrals to a flood of emotion, Pele said, 'Bobby Moore has proved himself to be one of the most important figures who have ever played the game. We won, but it was very difficult. I am proud to think of Bobby Moore as a friend.'
Because Moore sometimes appeared not fully to accept assignments in West Ham's colours, he came in for criticism, in fact persuading the coaching staff at Leeds United that their covering central defender Norman Hunter had a substantial claim to Moore's role in the national team. Whenever the late Les Cocker returned to Elland Road from his duties as an England trainer he was bombarded by that opinion. 'When they got on to me, pressing a case for Norman, I would tell them about Bobby's presence in the England dressing-room. If it came to a full league season with Cup ties and everything, maybe I would have gone for Norman. But at international level Bobby was in a class of his own. When everybody else was jumping about, their nerves showing through, he just sat there. When the buzzer sounded to call the team out, he simply picked up the ball and said, 'Let's go.' Believe me, I'm talking about the World Cup final.'
Once, when we were sitting in a bar close to the Daily Mirror building at Holborn Circus, in London, mulling over the details of an interview, Moore was approached by a belligerent and more than slightly inebriated Scottish printer who insisted that the former England captain had frequently got away with murder. 'I've seen us tear youse apart. We've hit the bar, the bloody post. And lost. And then you leaving the field with hardly a hair out of place.' Carefully contemplating the lager left in his glass, Moore looked up and said, 'Yeah, something like that.'
On the rare occasions that Moore scored he had no truck with wild celebrations, characteristically deeming them to be a waste of time and energy. In a game for West Ham when play was still proceeding after the referee had been knocked out, he took it upon himself to call a halt with the official's whistle. Cool, gracious, intelligent, dead-pan and infinitely amused, Moore developed the trick of answering questions with questions. Interrogators did the best they could.
Ironically, Moore, for all his renown, made no great impact as a coach and manager, and was disappointed in a number of business ventures. A second marriage brought him happiness and provided added strength for the battle against cancer that began two years ago.
When George Cohen, the right-back in Ramsey's team of 1966, was asked to describe his fellow defenders he spoke wonderously of Moore. 'Ray Wilson was the best left-back in the world, and Jack Charlton got everything in the air. Bobby? Bobby invented ways of defending. He was just simply special.'
A champion in any sport has the right to choose how he goes out. Typically, Bobby Moore was on his feet almost to the last bell. By any standards, a real man.
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