Twenty years on: The legacy of Bobby Moore

On 24 February 1993, English football was deprived of a true icon when Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore lost his battle against bowel cancer at the unreasonably premature age of 51
By Graham Lister

To mark the 20th anniversary of Bobby Moore's passing, West Ham United, the club for whom he made 544 league appearances, plan to celebrate his life on the occasion of the Hammers' Premier League fixture against Tottenham at the Boleyn Ground on Monday evening.

It is a fitting gesture, though it is sadly ironic that West Ham, as well as the Football Association, have been far more fulsome in their tributes to Bobby Moore since he died than they ever were in the years following his retirement as a player in 1978 until his untimely death. During that time, his contribution to the national sport was shamefully undervalued, and his vast experience and astute footballing brain unaccountably wasted by those in positions of influence within the game.

Fortunately, however, the English public never lost sight of Moore's unique status; his legacy endures as one of the genuine greats, a man who modernised football with his ability, humility and sportsmanship, yet who was the antithesis of the excesses and egotism of some modern players. Steadfast and generous, private and unassuming, Moore was once asked why he didn't make more of his fame. "If you're quite good at something, you don't have to tell everyone," he replied. It typified his modesty - and his class.
Moore holding aloft the World Cup on 30 July 1966 is the most iconic image in English football. It was a perfect moment in the country’s sporting history, and the captain – composed, immaculate, stylish – was its perfect hero. Alf Ramsey, the national team manager, said of Moore in the aftermath of that triumph: "My captain, my leader, my right-hand man. He was the spirit and the heartbeat of the team. A cool, calculating footballer I could trust with my life. He was the supreme professional, the best I ever worked with. Without him England would never have won the World Cup."

Ramsey's use of the word 'cool' captured the essence of Bobby Moore. On the pitch or off it, he always looked the part: an unruffled, natural leader who exuded calm authority and never seemed under pressure. That dignified exterior disguised a burning ambition to prove and improve himself – a quality that made him an inspirational captain who scaled the peaks of greatness.

There were deficiencies in Moore's game: he was never the best header of a ball, lacked pace and, despite playing on the left of central defence, was predominantly right-footed. He improved his technique by devoting hundreds of hours to extra practice. Such relentless application and lightning speed of thought ensured that his strengths emphatically and consistently overcame the weaknesses. He quickly metamorphosed from promising youngster to indispensable member of the senior West Ham and England sides, taking in his stride with impressive maturity the responsibilities of captaining first club, then country.

Born in Barking, east London, he was signed by West Ham as a 16-year-old apprentice on £7 a week. Youth-team coaching was then undertaken by a few senior professionals, notably Noel Cantwell and Malcolm Allison, which proved fortuitous for Moore, who had an insatiable hunger to learn tactics and technique.

Allison told him to focus on the "next pass", even when the ball was 100 yards away. "Always keep a picture in your mind where everyone is. That way, when you get the ball you don't have to think what to do with it," was the advice. It shaped and came to define Moore's game to such an extent that he seemed to possess extra-sensory footballing perception.

Indeed, Jock Stein, the legendary Celtic and Scotland manager, said of Moore: "There should be a law against him. He knows what's happening 20 minutes before everyone else." That ability to read and anticipate the play accounted for Moore's exceptional positional sense, his uncanny use of space, and the timing and precision of his tackling. He rarely went to ground when making a tackle and was such a good judge of high balls that he often didn't need to head them; he would position himself expertly to chest the ball down and in one smooth movement deliver a measured pass to a team-mate further upfield.

Bobby made his debut against Manchester United in September 1958, in place of tuberculosis victim Allison, and never looked back, going on to make the No.6 shirt his own at Upton Park for the next 15 seasons.

Picked for England youth and Under-23 teams by Ron Greenwood, who in 1961 became his club manager, Moore was selected for the senior squad that travelled to South America for the 1962 World Cup. He made his debut in the final pre-tournament friendly, a 4-0 win over Peru, and retained his place throughout England's progress to the quarter-finals.

"He was a born captain, he was a leader."
"The best defender I have ever seen."
"He was my friend as well as the greatest defender I ever played against."
"I'd do anything for Bobby Moore, there will never be a player like him again."
"He was the supreme professional... Without him England would never have won the World Cup."
In May 1963, the 22-year-old Moore became the youngest man ever to captain England – in only his 12th appearance. The following summer, new manager Alf Ramsey handed Moore the armband on a permanent basis.

That summer of 1964 was momentous for Moore, who lifted the FA Cup for West Ham after a thrilling 3-2 Wembley victory over Preston North End, the day after receiving the Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award. But in a dark foreboding of what would later befall him, he was also treated for testicular cancer, unbeknown to the public.

In 1965 he was again hoisting silverware at Wembley as the Hammers defeated TSV Munich 1860 2-0 in the European Cup Winners' Cup final. The following year he completed a unique and glorious Wembley treble by leading England to World Cup glory.

Astonishingly, on the eve of that tournament, Ramsey learned that Moore would be technically ineligible to participate unless he immediately signed a new contract with West Ham. He was in dispute with the club. He wanted £10 a week more in wages, and his contract was due to expire on 30 June. Ramsey summoned Greenwood to the England team's hotel and told him and Moore they had one minute to sort it out. Moore signed a one-month contract that satisfied Fifa's rules and paved the way to World Cup history.

England reached the final, though Moore spent the morning of the showpiece event consoling his friend Jimmy Greaves, who'd learned he would miss the final. Moore's club-mate Geoff Hurst had got the nod. On what proved to be a great day for West Ham as well as England, Moore's awareness saw him direct a quickly-taken free-kick onto Hurst's head for an England equaliser against West Germany.

Another club-mate, Martin Peters, made it 2-1 before Wolfgang Weber netted a last-gasp equaliser to force extra-time. Hurst then scored the most controversial goal in World Cup history before, with seconds remaining and the Germans applying pressure, Moore took possession on the edge of his own penalty area. Team-mates urged him just to belt it into touch, but Moore had more style. Coolness personified, he played the perfect 40-yard ball for Hurst to run on to and lash home.

On his way up the steps to the royal box to receive the coveted trophy from Queen Elizabeth II, Bobby famously wiped his hands on the velvet drape to avoid soiling Her Majesty’s white gloves. It typified his appreciation of an immaculate turn-out.

The 25-year-old captain became a symbol of rare national success, was voted BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year  and awarded an OBE in the New Year's Honours List. The FA gave the players a £22,000 bonus for becoming world champions; Moore insisted it be split equally among every member of the 22-man squad, whether they'd played or not. It typified his sense of fair play.

5/1 Mark Noble is 5/1 to be West Ham's top scorer this season with BetVictor
So too did an incident in a First Division game for West Ham against Wolves at Upton Park in November 1970, when his clearance smacked into the head of Welsh Fifa referee Gerrard Lewis, knocking him out. The ball was sent upfield and West Ham attacked the Wolves goal. But Moore grabbed Lewis' whistle and brought play to a halt. Only after the ref had recovered did Bobby return his whistle and hand back control.

He had remained a fixture in the England side after 1966 and was the first name in Ramsey's squad for Mexico 1970 to defend the World Cup. In Colombia ahead of the tournament, Moore's coolness under pressure was put to the test when he was falsely accused of stealing a bracelet from a Bogota hotel's jewellery shop.

He was arrested then released, earned his 80th cap in a 2-0 win over Ecuador in Quito, but was promptly detained and placed under house arrest for four days when the team plane stopped in Colombia again en-route to Mexico. Lack of evidence saw the charge dropped and Bobby exonerated, free to lead his team again. He endured the whole ordeal with stoic dignity. It typified his composure on and off the field.

In the group game against Brazil, he executed a 'steal' tackle against Jairzinho so clean and well-timed that it is still revered as an example of ball-winning perfection. At the end of that game, Pele, who called Moore the greatest – and fairest – defender he ever played against, sought him out to swap shirts, their show of mutual respect creating another iconic World Cup image. It typified the way his peers regarded him.

However, England's quest ended in quarter-final despair against Germany, and back at Upton Park, despite his frustration at Greenwood's failure to mount a credible league title challenge, Moore set a club record with his 509th West Ham appearance in February 1973, winning his 100th England cap in the same month. But later that year, after England had failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup, he made his final appearance for his country. Two months after that, he played his last game for the Hammers before joining Fulham on a free transfer in March 1974.  

In a double irony, he played against West Ham for Fulham in the 1975 FA Cup final (his last Wembley appearance as a player); and against England for Team USA (alongside Pele) in the summer 1976 Bicentennial Cup tournament. The last of his 124 League games for Fulham was in May 1977, and he played for two teams in the North American Soccer League - San Antonio Thunder in 1976 and Seattle Sounders in 1978, as well as for Danish semi-professional side Herning Fremad in 1978 to help promote Denmark's transition to professional football.  

Billy Bonds went on to surpass Moore's appearance record for the Hammers, while Bobby's landmark of 108 England caps (90 of them as captain, a record shared with Billy Wright) was eventually overtaken by Peter Shilton and then David Beckham.

He had brief, undistinguished spells in football management at Eastern AA in Hong Kong, Oxford City and Southend United, teams whose circumstances meant they lacked the resources, patience and foresight to capitalise on Moore's football intelligence and coaching prowess. He also endured some failed business deals and the end of his first marriage, to Tina.

Many felt that the FA should have found a productive or even ambassadorial role for its only World Cup winning captain. Typically, Moore himself kept his own counsel and made no fuss.

He joined London radio station Capital Gold as a football analyst and commentator in 1990, underwent an emergency stomach operation in 1991 and later that year married Stephanie Parlane-Moore. On February 14, 1993, he publicly announced that he was suffering from bowel cancer. Three days later, he commentated on England's match against San Marino at Wembley. It proved to be his final public appearance; the following week he died.

At West Ham's next home game, with the Boleyn Ground bedecked with flowers and football memorabilia sent by fans from around the country, his fellow World Cup winners, Hurst and Peters, laid a floral replica of Moore's No.6 West Ham shirt on the centre-circle.

Moore was only the second sportsman to be posthumously honoured by a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, attended by all the other members of the 1966 England team. The charity Cancer Research UK set up the Bobby Moore Fund to raise money for bowel cancer research in his memory, and a bust of Moore was erected in the entrance foyer of the stand now named after him at the Boleyn Ground. There is also a statue nearby depicting Moore the World Cup winner, while the rebuilt Wembley Stadium boasts a statue of him looking down Wembley Way, unveiled in May 2007 by Sir Bobby Charlton.

Named the 'Colossus of Wembley', it is a fitting monument to a player of whom his friend Franz Beckenbauer said, "Bobby was my football idol. I looked up to him. I was so proud to have played against him." Beckenbauer rated Moore "the best defender in the history of the game", and there is no question that the England captain, who could read a game so well, was the ultimate class act.