Football: Fans' homage to a gentleman: 'He was the coolest man I've ever seen on a football field. He just read the game. If he'd played chess, he could have been world champion'

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST tribute to be attached to the gates of the West Ham ground's main entrance last night consisted of a small bunch of flowers, two club scarves and a sporting icon - a claret and blue shirt, of early 1970s vintage, bearing a white No 6. For any West Ham supporter, that means, and always will mean, Bobby Moore.

What the man himself meant to the fans who had watched him perform so consummately inside the now darkened ground was hard to put straight into words.

The word that came up most often from the growing knot of fans who gathered awkwardly to pay an instinctive tribute was not superstar, not champion, but gentleman.

'We can talk about the likes of Trevor Brooking, but I'm afraid Bobby Moore was Mr West Ham,' Delphis Lefrancois, a supporter of nearly 30 years, said. 'I'm afraid I don't think we will see anyone else lift the World Cup for England in our time.'

Kevin Sheridan, a 40-year-old supporter who had turned straight back to London upon hearing of Moore's death while driving home to Hertford, recalled the days when the England captain had a business near his school in Ballam Street, Plaistow. 'I would get his autograph nearly every night,' he recalled. 'He would never say no. Hurst and Peters used to refuse - I suppose they got so much of that sort of thing - but, for sure, Moore was a gentleman.'

For Alex Sorenson, now 31, Moore had become an idol in 1968 when the player had sold him a pair of boots in the sports shop which he used to own across the road from the gates. Last night it stood blank and empty.

Twenty yards down the road in The Boleyn pub, Leonard Porter, a 68-year-old who has watched the team regularly since before the Second World War, recounted the virtues which the wider football world knew Moore for. 'He was the coolest man I've ever seen on a football field,' he said. 'I've seen the old ones, and I've seen the new ones. He just read the game. If he could have played chess, he'd have been world champion.'

Brian Chattaway, sitting beside him, recalled the time at Upton Park when a referee was knocked unconscious after the ball hit him on the head. Inevitably, it was Moore who thought to take up the fallen official's whistle and blow it, thus halting the game and allowing West Ham's physiotherapist on to the pitch.

Another friend at the table, Graham Ferguson, said: 'I am a Liverpool fan myself but I always admired Moore. He was a gentleman and a man of the people.'

The sad-eyed donor of the shirt, Geoff Marling, and his friend Paul Baldassari were both in their early twenties - too young to have seen and remembered a player who last played for West Ham 19 years ago. Not necessary.

'It's drummed into you,' Paul said. 'It was handed down from my father, and my grandfather. One of my uncles visited from Australia, and he was going on about Bobby Moore. It's folklore, isn't it? Legend handed down. The great man.'

Even before the news broke of Moore's illness, a group of West Ham fans had floated the idea of erecting a statue of Moore, Hurst and Peters at Upton Park. Shane Barber, editor of the West Ham fanzine, On a Mission from God, said: 'A group of us were up in Newcastle and saw they had a statue of Jackie Milburn there. Also they have the Shankly Gates at Liverpool. It made us think, why don't we have something to honour our achievement at West Ham in having three players who reached the pinnacle of world football.

'We wanted to get a top sculptor to produce the work. Obviously it is not cheap to make a bronze. The idea was for all three players to come and unveil it. We're all greatly taken aback to learn that Bobby has died. It is sad to say so, but it will now probably be much easier to find people willing to finance the project.'

Thoughts of a permanent memorial also occupied those who gathered in Green Street last night. 'It's hard to say what effect his death will have on the club,' said Lefrancois. 'But I hope that the new stand on the South Bank, which begins building in May, will be called the Bobby Moore Stand.'

(Photograph omitted)

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