"Immaculate footballer. Imperial defender. Immortal hero of 1966. First Englishman to raise the World Cup aloft. Favourite son of London's East End. Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time."
Anyone who visits the new Wembley Stadium and sees the bronze statue of Bobby Moore standing majestically over Wembley Way may happen to read the above inscription, composed by Daily Mail columnist and personal friend Jeff Powell. In life and in death, the legendary centre-back has received tributes from people of all walks of life, yet all are united by common theme: that this man was a truly remarkable footballer.
Both Pele and Franz Beckenbauer rated him as a gentleman, friend and the greatest defender they ever played against. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said of Moore: “He was a superb footballer. If you wanted a role model from public life, Bobby Moore is a pretty good one to take."
England's 1966 FIFA World Cup™-winning coach, Sir Alf Ramsey, described him as follows: “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."
So, what made Moore so special? For many, he was the complete defender. Strong in the air, clinical in the tackle and boasting impeccable distribution. He was no sprinter, but his ability to read the game meant that he was rarely caught out for pace. Indeed, the legendary Celtic manager Jock Stein joked: “There should be a law against him. He knows what's happening 20 minutes before everyone else!”
The rise to fame
Brought up in Barking, Moore joined West Ham as a 15-year-old and, after progressing through the ranks, made his debut, aged 17, against Manchester United in 1958, replacing his mentor Malcolm Allison, who was suffering from tuberculosis at the time. Moore's precocious ability was evident and he duly established himself as an automatic in the Hammers' backline. Allison, consequently, never played for the club again.
Two years later, Moore received his first call-up to the England U-23 squad and, on 20 May 1962, made his full international debut against Peru in a warm up game for the FIFA World Cup. It proved to be a good day’s work. Not only did the Three Lions run out 4-0 winners over their hosts in Lima, but Moore did enough to impress manager Walter Winterbottom, who duly took him to Chile 1962, where he played in all four of his country's matches during their run to the quarter-finals.
Moore was just 22 when he captained England for the first time in a 4-2 win over Czechslovakia in 1963, a position he held permanently from the summer of 1964 until his final international almost a decade later. In that same year, he lifted the FA Cup for West Ham, was named the Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and successfully treated for testicular cancer.
Further silverware followed in 1965 as West Ham won the UEFA European Cup Winners’ Cup, but it was 12 months later when he truly established himself in the hearts of a nation. His story was made all the more remarkable when one considers that he almost did not play a part in that FIFA World Cup. A dispute with West Ham had left him out of contract and therefore ineligible to play in the global finals.
The intervention of Ramsey, who summoned his club manager Ron Greenwood to England’s hotel to resolve their differences, proved to be crucial as Moore signed a new deal which allowed him to captain his country and lift the Jules Rimet Trophy, after wiping his hands clean of the mud and sweat before shaking the hand of Queen Elizabeth II.
Accolades and endeavours
After being crowned as the first footballer to win the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award in 1966, Moore was also decorated with an OBE. The international caps continued to come and Moore had won 78 prior to the start of Mexico 1970.
It proved to be a mixed yet memorable time for the classy defender. Prior to the FIFA World Cup, England played Colombia in Bogota, where an attempt was made to implicate Moore in the theft of a bracelet from a jewellery shop. Having been arrested, Moore was completely exonerated of all charges and was again clear to play in the tournament following another unseen last-minute hiatus.
Despite the 4-2 victory over West Germany which led England to global glory in 1966, the second group game between Brazil and England at Mexico 1970 is arguably Moore’s most iconic match. Although Ramsey’s men lost 1-0, his perfectly executed tackle on Jairzinho is continually replayed around the world and the photograph of him and Pele smiling and swapping shirts at the final whistle has become a symbol of fair play in the football.
In 1973, Moore earned the distinction of breaking West Ham’s appearances record and also completed his century of England caps. He won a further eight caps for England, with his final one coming on 14 November 1973 in a 1-0 friendly defeat by Italy. Ironically, the goalscorer that day was current England coach Fabio Capello, who rates the goal as the highlight of his playing career.
After a three-year stint with Fulham, Moore played for San Antonio Thunder and Seattle Sounders in the NASL before retiring from the game at the age of 37. A brief but unsuccessful spell in management followed, before his health deteriorated. In April 1991 he underwent an emergency stomach operation. On 14 February 1993, he announced he was suffering from bowel cancer. Ten days later, he passed away, at the age of 51.
Moore’s legacy, however, lives on: in the charity set up in his name to help in the fight against cancer; in the south stand at Upton Park which was dedicated to his memory; in the bronze statue at Wembley Stadium; and perhaps more tellingly, in the hearts and minds of all who saw him play the beautiful game in the most beautiful way.