Football: Curtain falls on champion

The Anniversary: Bobby Moore played his 108th and last game for England 25 years ago
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The Independent Online
HE deserved a sweeter farewell. He had adorned the England team for more than a decade and for most of that time had never been less than magisterial. Usually, he had been a lot more besides.

Perhaps the end should have come sooner. Perhaps he had travelled a few games too far. But Bobby Moore's journey had been monumental and it was perfectly understandable that he should be allowed to continue it.

Three minutes remained at Wembley on 14 November, 1973, when Italy broke rapidly. They had been confined to their own half and mostly their own area, but their catenaccio defence had been imperiously regulated. Suddenly, they surged down the pitch and swept into England's box, where Fabio Capello applied the touch which mattered.

It was Italy's first away victory over England (at the fourth attempt) and it was Bobby Moore's 108th and last international. That number of appearances was then a record for the national team and remains so for an outfield player.

From an early age, Moore, who joined West Ham United in 1958, was destined to be a footballer of auspicious achievement. He played in 18 matches for England Youth, a record, and in eight for the Under-23 side. He was first picked for the senior team as a 21-year-old defender on the eve of the 1962 World Cup and in the 11 years which followed was to miss only 11 of their matches. He was made captain at 23 and did the job 90 times.

The verdict on his career would have been rhapsodic had he not led England to glory in the 1966 World Cup. That triumph merely ensured eternal status as a legend. His crisp timing of a tackle, his immaculate and unfussy passing, his calmness and his noble bearing were the main qualities which conspired to make Moore one of the greatest of all defenders. That he was also modest, did not possess high pace and was one of the boys off the field only heightened his reputation.

But by November 1973 he had betrayed signs of frailty. This had been alarmingly illustrated in Chorzow that June. England's World Cup qualifier match against Poland had burgeoned in importance after a tame draw with Wales at Wembley. But the proceedings went awry early and Moore was at the fulcrum. In the ninth minute his outstretched foot diverted a shot from Wlodek Lubanski towards the goal. Worse followed. Early in the second half Moore utterly misjudged a tackle on Lubanski, who left him floundering, sped clear and increased the lead.

Still, Moore and the England manager, Alf Ramsey, had been together too long for these rare mistakes to fracture their liaison. The mutual respect between them was binding. Moore duly won his 106th cap, equalling Bobby Charlton's record, in a friendly against the USSR in Moscow four days later, and his 107th in another friendly four days after that against Italy in Turin. They won the first of those matches and lost the second.

Moore then missed the next two matches. The first was a routine 7-0 win against Austria. The second was the final World Cup qualifying match against Poland. The 1-1 draw famously denied England a place in the finals. But Ramsey was still not done with his captain, the one player who had been with him throughout his tenure as England manager.

Another World Cup was surely beyond Moore's 32-year-old legs but maybe Ramsey wanted him for the impending European Championship campaign. In the event, neither made it that far. After the encounter with Italy at Wembley, England did not have another match for five months.

This was against Portugal in Lisbon when FA Cup ties and late withdrawals weakened the team. Ramsey awarded first caps to five players, including Moore's West Ham colleague, Trevor Brooking. England sparked occasionally and came away with a 0-0 draw.

It was not enough. The manadarins at the FA were restless and ruthless. Three weeks later, Ramsey was sacked, a decision whose logic has failed to become sounder in the years since. An era was ended. There followed the interregnum in which Joe Mercer was at the helm and the eventually calamitous stewardship of Don Revie. But for Moore it was all over as England's standard-bearer a quarter of a century ago this weekend. And still nobody has achieved what he and Ramsey did together.