When I was young, my mother used to threaten me with emotional blackmailing along the lines of “You’ll miss me when I’m gone” in order to get her own way. Naturally, most children, of any age, miss their parents when they’ve shuffled off the mortal coil, but much can be said for the dear departed Bobby Moore, who died 20 years ago. There’s been plenty of emotional and heartfelt tributes to the great number six of his, or any other, time in recent weeks. Never has posthumous praise been so lavish as it has been for England’s only World Cup winning skipper.
Is there an element of guilt around Moore, and the fact that he was never truly appreciated while he was still alive? When he passed away in 1993, he was a commentator on a second-tier radio station. He was curiously absent in the media for years, rarely seen in the highest circles and ludicrously missing from the game itself. Moore may have epitomized the theory that great players don’t make great managers, but his name and his achievement had genuine currency.
I witnessed this when I saw Bobby Moore in the mid-1970s at his pub, Mooro’s, in Stratford, East London. He was perched at the end of the bar, dressed in a dinner suit, and surrounded by burly, dark-suited East End boys eager to be seen with the West Ham and England legend. There was an aura around the great man. I could not stop talking about the fact I had seen Bobby Moore, who at the time had just finished his playing career at Fulham. But when he hung his boots up there were few tangible offers coming Moore’s way. Southend, Oxford City….with the greatest respect, this was a man who had kept Pele quiet.
The nation’s ingratitude was similar towards the entire England 1966 team. For years, the media denigrated their achievement, calling Sir Alf Ramsey’s team “wingless wonders” and “boring”. Ramsey’s men may have had the dice loaded in their favour and basically “did a job” at the 1966 World Cup, but it’s the only time England have gone remotely close. It was only some 20 years later that true praise came England’s way, once we started to realize that it may be a “once in a lifetime” event. Not long after Moore, Alan Ball (the youngest of the Boys of ’66) also died. I was lucky enough to meet Ball at a Sportsman’s Dinner a few months after England’s World Cup winning captain had gone to the great dressing room in the sky. “He was one of the greatest,” Ball told me, with no small amount of emotion in his choirboy’s voice. “They should erect a statue to the man.” Ball called a toast to Moore on that night and shook his head in disgust the Moore had not been given a fitting role in the game. He would be pleased to know that Moore’s memory is now preserved with a statue at Wembley Stadium (far more appropriate than his urine-stained memorial underpass outside the tube station!).
In many ways, however, the understatement of England’s achievement in 1966 was very much of its time. Today, in the age of mass media, wall-to-wall football and the hubris that accompanies it, a World Cup win would be celebrated with the sort of reaction that would make VE-day seem like a Reading Group session extolling the virtues of a Kate Atkinson book. Similarly, if Moore was alive today, or had just finished his career, he would doubtless be as over-exposed as people like Alan Shearer, Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson.
England may never win the World Cup again, indeed qualification may become something of a chore in the years to come. And with every tournament that passes, the legend of England 1966 becomes even more ingrained into our sporting neurosis. Likewise, the memory of Bobby Moore and how we never truly valued him. Never mind your JT (Captain, Legend, Leader) and #5 Ferdinand, number 6, Bobby Moore was your man…