Robert Frederick Moore, 1941-1993: A master of the defensive arts: The player

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE WORST thing anyone in football ever said about Bobby Moore was that he was 'an occasional player'. But what occasions. And what a player. If the primary role of defenders had always been to spoil, he and Franz Beckenbauer elegantly and conclusively spoiled that old assumption by proving that they too could be stars.

In the 1966 World Cup final, Helmut Schon's decision to play Beckenbauer as a spoiler against Bobby Charlton deprived West Germany of their most creative player, while Moore, the wing-half turned central defender, was the fount of England's winning work. The tactical mistake helped turn him into one of the nation's special champions.

Beckenbauer was always the more natural footballer. He was at his noble best going forward. Moore was football's ultimate hunter and distributor. He would predict the movements of his prey and lure them into the snare of his unforgiving tackles. For several years there was not a winger too quick nor advancing midfield player too canny for him. His positioning often seemed based on premonition, but it was founded on the hard work that was essential when at an early age he might have become just another youngster who would not quite reach the top.

Even after he improved his game to youth international standard he was no more than competent at heading, and his speed would not compare with today's young players. But once he had concentrated on his weaknesses he made it almost impossible for any opponent to expose them. Above all, he was rarely involved in a straight race for the ball whether it came on the ground or head high. His anticipation was such that at times he seemed to be a magnet for the opposition's passes.

The core of his ability was in part physical hardness but mainly a serene temperament. In 1966, with England winning 3-2 in extra-time, anyone else would have bashed the ball anywhere to frustrate West Germany and snatch some time. He calculated that with an accurate pass he could put Geoff Hurst in possession and it really would be all over. So it was, but if he is rightly remembered for that day, his contribution to an important period of football evolution in England should not be undervalued. He was a superb conductor, and never more obviously than at Wembley, where he was perhaps more at home than at Upton Park and where even 10 days ago he was still conducting, though merely organising the disentanglement of a jammed car park.

Internationally, his career ran in tandem with Alf Ramsey, who took over as England manager shortly after Moore's first appearance in 1962 and whose own determination to overcome some basic weaknesses as a player, together with his tough upbringing in Dagenham, probably shaped the bond that was to be the basis of a formidable manager-captain partnership.

When Moore first came into the England team they were still managed

by Walter Winterbottom and relied too heavily on the long passing of Johnny Haynes. Moore immediately impressed with the way in which he coped with international football, though at first he and Ron Flowers tended to be too similar. Once Ramsey arrived he was recognised as a potential long-term leader. Those were the days when captains made decisions without reference to the bench. Ramsey said that anything Moore did was always what he would have done himself, though sometimes it appeared that the captain was running the show whether Ramsey liked it or not.

It was a disciplinary matter early in his relationship with Sir Alf which had to be overcome before they came to an understanding. In the summer of 1964 England were touring in North America when Moore had one of his few scoldings for ignoring Sir Alf's tough rules on late nights. Moore was always an insomniac and rarely left the last person in the bar feeling lonely. The incident cleared the air and led to the sort of understanding Moore never really achieved with Ron Greenwood, who nevertheless was a substantial influence on his future.

The England team of those early days in Moore's career was still living in the shadow of the Manchester United air crash. He had to endure comparisons with Duncan Edwards. In spite of West Ham's FA Cup and European Cup-Winners' Cup victories in 1964 and 1965, it was only the 1966 World Cup that brought him full recognition and fulfilled Sir Alf's tactical planning, which was based on his captain's ability to break up the opposition's attacks and construct England's counters.

The arrival of the second defensive centre-half tactic, from which constraints Beckenbauer was later to release himself so majestically, suited the more accomplished defending of Moore, who had played his youth international matches as a defensive wing-half. Greenwood believed he could build a team around Moore and left his post as assistant manager at Arsenal to do so at West Ham. Later, unhappily, he felt that the Moore, Martin Peters, Geoff Hurst nucleus of his initially successful West Ham team really only performed outstandingly when playing for England. The fact that Moore never won a championship medal tended to justify Greenwood's complaint, but Moore would have none of it.

Ramsey's fashioning of the England team around Moore was both successful and controversial. His early use of 4-2-4 was not a system he felt would last. His ideal was a framework in which there would bemore mobility, but finding the players to fit the principle was difficult. He began at the back. Moore was the ideal partner for Jack Charlton, who patrolled across the defence while Moore moved forward into the old left-half position. Although Peters and Alan Ball advanced from midfield along the flanks there were no recognised wingers.

The system is all very familiar these days, but at that time it was a gamble that required the comprehension of Moore to ensure that it succeeded. Doubtless, Moore also had a word in the last tactical master-stroke, which was to bring in West Ham's Hurst, whose three goals secured the victory. He rarely spoke of the decision but was deeply sympathetic when his closest friend, Jimmy Greaves, paid the price. None of Ramsey's plans would have worked without the thoroughness of Moore in defence and his loyalty.

Four years later, the world game had changed, but Moore was completely at home in international football. Indeed, 1970 saw him at his peak and at his most self-assured off the pitch when overcoming the ridiculous charge of stealing a bracelet from a shop he could have bought with his loose change. His performance against Brazil coincided with probably the best seen from any England side. At the end England had lost but Pele and Moore stood as equals, exchanged shirts and laughed together. Later Moore said: 'When you play against people of that ability at the highest level, for those stakes, you don't have to speak the language to come to know each other.'

Sadly, his peak coincided with the decline of England under Ramsey, who, when he took off Bobby Charlton against West Germany, allowed Beckenbauer to command the game and complete the circle of revenge. Moore's career declined and Ramsey was sacked, but between them they had forced respect out of the most illustrious team ever (Brazil) and the finest player (Pele). In a way, that was a more enduring tribute to Bobby Moore than his raising of the World Cup.

(Photograph omitted)