English Heritage will unveil a blue plaque later this year at an unassuming house in Barking, east London, to commemorate the sporting achievements of Bobby Moore – not that many will have noticed the announcement at the end of December.
It is 23 years tomorrow since Moore lost his battle against bowel and liver cancer and there remains a widely held belief within the game that the only Englishman to have lifted the World Cup passed away without the appropriate recognition of his achievements.
There was no knighthood, no position within the Football Association, either as a coach or ambassador, just a co-commentator role on Capital Gold and a column in the Sunday Sport.
The 20-foot bronze statue of Moore outside Wembley Stadium, by the royal sculptor Philip Jackson, was only unveiled in May 2007, so nothing has come quickly for the man whose image will become increasingly visible as the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup triumph approaches this July.
The blue plaque which will adorn Moore’s childhood home in Barking is one element of the efforts to mark the heroes of 1966, with the former England captain becoming the first footballer to be afforded the distinction of being recognised in such a fashion by English Heritage.
Yet English Heritage is not connected to the national game and its decision to honour Moore has nothing to do with the FA, which is faced with the challenge of striking the right tone in the build-up to 30 July, when it will be exactly half a century since Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick, with the help of linesman Tofik Bakhramov, secured the World Cup for Alf Ramsey’s players and the nation.
But how should the FA treat the anniversary? Should it be a celebration of English football’s finest hour or would that merely offer a reminder that the 50 years since have amounted to nothing more than missed penalties in Turin, Saint-Etienne and Gelsenkirchen, with the odd tear-stained shirt thrown in?
The FA certainly cannot ignore 1966, but as one senior figure within the organisation suggested to me, “the Germans would probably laugh at us if we decided to shout about it from the rooftops”.
So will Moore and his team-mates be overlooked again, having become an inconvenient burden for the current generation, or is there a way for their unique achievement to be trumpeted as something positive, for both past and present?
With the Fifa Congress set to vote for a new president later this week, there is a sense within the FA that a new start in Zurich following the toppling of Sepp Blatter chimes perfectly with the efforts to use 1966 as a launch pad for the future.
There will be none of the perceived English “arrogance”, which did little to help the failed World Cup bids of 2006 and 2018, rather an attempt to start anew, with 1966 acting as a point in history when English football was respected on a global stage, both on and off the pitch.
The surviving players from Ramsey’s 1966 squad will be supported by the FA in their own collective venture to mark the anniversary, with dinners and exhibitions due to be staged throughout the year, while the FA will attempt to oversee a year of celebration which will reflect the steps now being taken to ensure a repeat of ’66 is not merely an impossible dream.
The women’s game will be held aloft as an example of the progress being made at St George’s Park, with Mark Sampson’s players returning as the third-best team in the world last year, having beaten the Germans to claim the bronze medal position in Canada.
And the drive to meet the FA chairman Greg Dyke’s target of World Cup glory in Qatar in 2022 will be centred on the success of Moore, Hurst, Bobby Charlton and Co 50 years ago.
Ray Wilson, now 81, will be celebrated as the only Englishman to have won the FA Cup and World Cup in the same year, while Charlton and Nobby Stiles will also be recognised as the only Englishmen to have claimed winners’ medals in the World Cup and European Cup.
But there will be no tub-thumping ahead of France 2016, with a month-long build-up to the day when England ruled the world.
If France goes well, then the 1966 anniversary could prove the centrepiece of a glorious summer, but if Roy Hodgson’s men head back across the Channel with their heads bowed after another early exit, wallowing in the nostalgia of when we were kings would almost certainly have the Germans chuckling from the Baltic coast to Bavaria, not to mention the Italians, Spaniards and French – and maybe even those Danes and Greeks who have hoisted silverware in the 50 years since Moore cradled the Jules Rimet Trophy.
But the blue plaque for Moore is a good start in what should rightly be a year of celebration.
It is a subtle and understated gesture, but there is no harm in that, even if it has taken far too long for English football’s most iconic figure to be recognised. And maybe it is time for a year ending in six to have a happy outcome once again for England.
Diego Maradona’s Hand of God brought an unsavoury end to English ambitions in the 1986 World Cup, while Euro ’96 was all about those grey shirts and Gareth Southgate’s missed penalty.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s wink after seeing Wayne Rooney sent off prior to another penalty shoot-out disappointment in 2006 was another inglorious episode, so perhaps quiet celebration of 1966 is the way to win over the sporting gods.
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