World Cup Legends #5: Bobby Moore

Not as skilful as some, but immensely strong, supremely intelligent and utterly unflappable, he was the man for the big occasion

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Bobby Moore: a vignette. Scene: the bar of the hotel in Leon, Mexico, where England in the fierce heat and breathless height of noon were due to meet West Germany in the quarter finals of the 1970 World Cup.

Seated at the hotel bar, though not drinking, Bobby Moore is talking of the match. He is above all preoccupied with finding a hotel room for two of his London friends, Morris Keston, a devoted Spurs supporter, and Phil Isaacs, owner of a London West End club.

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That over-used word “cool” might have been invented for Moore. Nothing on or off the field ever troubled him. Only weeks earlier, he had been under house arrest in Bogotá, Colombia, falsely accused of stealing a bracelet from a shop in the Hotel Tequendama where the England team stayed.

Released to re-join the England squad in Mexico, he behaved as though nothing had happened. He was famous for answering a question with another question.

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As a player, it was his formidable strength. As a potential club manager, he was perhaps doomed to fail, given his supreme detachment. He had properly been chosen foremost player of the 1966 World Cup in which he had captained England to success. He was arguably still more impressive in 1970.

Yes as a player, 108-times capped by England, he was perhaps a triumph of mind over matter. As a young centre-half at his local club West Ham United, he lacked pace and ability with his head.

Ron Greenwood, the famously progressive West Ham manager, turned him into a defensive left half, what might be called a second stopper. There, any lack of physical speed was compensated by supreme quickness of thought: he read the game impeccably.

His long, sweeping passes began many an attack for West Ham and England. As a captain, he led by example rather than exhortation.

Now and again, that supreme self-confidence could betray him, as it did in a costly defeat against Poland in Katowice in a qualifying match for the 1974 World Cup.

Holding the ball too long, he lost it to the quick Polish attacker Włodzimierz [accent on l] Lubański [´accent on n], who ran on to score.

It was as a precocious 21-year-old right-half that he came into the England team against Peru in Lima in May 1962, en route to the World Cup in Chile. His subsequent relationship with Alf Ramsey, a dominant coach, was not always harmonious.

In 1964, when England went on tour to the Americas, Moore led in New York before a game against the US a brief players’ rebellion against Ramsey’s demanding training. Not one easily to forget, Ramsey at the start of the following season, before a match against Northern Ireland, refused to confirm Moore as captain till the eve of the game.

While just before the 1966 World Cup, Ramsey actually and briefly replaced Moore with the combative Leeds United player Norman Hunter. “Pushed Bobby Moore,” one heard him remark with a smile. Pushed him to the heroics of the 1966 World Cup tournament.

Ron Greenwood once described Moore as an “occasion” player. The greater the occasion, the more he rose to it. His retirement proved a sad anti-climax, business enterprises failing, managership eluding him.

But as a footballer, his career had been a triumph. His premature death from cancer saddened the game he graced.

The Story of the World Cup: The Essential Companion to Brazil 2014 by Brian Glanville (Faber & Faber) is out now

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More Football:
World Cup Legends #4: Franz Beckenbauer
World Cup Legends #3: Zinedine Zidane
World Cup Legends #2: Pelé
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