Bobby Moore - English football's 'golden' defender

Bobby Moore remains the only English captain to lay hands on the World Cup.

England's national soccer team captain Bobby Moore holds aloft the Jules Rimet trophy as he is carried by his teammates following England's victory over Germany in the World Cup final in 1966   -  AFP

Bobby Moore was walking up to the newly laid, impeccably manicured turf at the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta on a bright February afternoon in 1984. In swift, agile strides he covered the ground to the elevated playing area to present the Jawaharlal Nehru Gold Cup to the Polish team that had just beaten China in the final.

Then, as Moore turned around and stood on the stage of the ceremonies, the posture was compelling. Attired in a navy blue jacket and grey trousers, every strand of the blond hair in place and the body leaning in the time honoured traditions of the English ruling class.

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It was the kind of posture that was the trademark of the English during long voyages across difficult oceans to colonise some remote part of the globe and it was the same posture that some of their greatest heroes from Nelson down to Winston Churchill, had struck.

It was the 'attitude of body' with which Moore himself had walked up to the Royal Box at Wembley to become the first English captain to lay hands on the World Cup in 1966. And it was the attitude with which he walked out of prison in Bogota, Colombia, after being incarcerated on a trumped up charge of stealing an emerald bracelet before the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

 

In modern sport, no English sportsman has been as English as Moore. Best of times or worst of times, Moore was in control of himself. And if someone had to announce an award for the most intelligent footballer of all times, it would go to Moore posthumously. If, after the Mexico World Cup, a Brazilian forward called Pele said Moore was the best defender in the world, it was because Moore had the best football brain in the world.

Moore had the rare gift of being able to think faster and better then anyone else on the field. To put it simply, Moore had a quality that is as rare in football as it is in life itself: class. The economy of effort in Moore's play often made the doubting Thomases wonder if the golden boy of English football was at all giving his best.

Writes Jimmy Hill in his book Great Soccer Stars

"At times, down at Upton Park, West Ham fans must have thought he was not in top gear but that was because of his economical way of playing the game. Not many opponents would agree with a claim of lack of commitment."

"The truth was that while others had to rush about to be effective, Bobby, as the consequence of his fantastic football brain, was able to defend successfully while moving only the minimum number of yards."

"Yet when he was stretched in world competition against players like Pele or Eusebio, we were able to see defensive football at its very highest level."

 

Indeed it was defensive football at its summit in the 1966 World Cup in England as Moore played at the summit of his skills to be picked the player of the tournament. As captain, he led by example rather than by sermons and there was no greater instance of Moore's genius than a little piece of action late in extra time in the final against West Germany with England leading through the controversial third goal (3-2).

Deep in his own half, Moore had the ball at his feet. Almost any other defender in the world would have knocked it far out of the ground or played possession because England had already wrapped the tension-filled game with just a few minutes left to play. But not Moore. It was just not his style. He was the game's aristocrat. In that moment of extraordinary tension when quite a number of English players were afraid to even touch the ball, rather unsure of themselves, Moore quietly found the match hero Geoff Hurst with his trademark through ball. Moments later the scoreboard read 4-2 and the World Cup was decisively England's.

Moore, bom in Barking in 1941, went to school in Leyton and was just as skilful on the cricket field as in football. He captained the South of England schools against North but then quite intelligently opted for a career in football as he knew that was where the gravy was. Before turning professional with West Ham, the club he would stay with through his entire career (the relevant part, at least, for by the time he switched to second division Fulham, his international career was as good as over), Moore represented Young England a record 18 times.

The earliest influence in Moore's career was Malcolm Allison, a West Ham player who had to end his playing career early because of poor health and turned coach. "Be in control of yourself. Take control of everything around you. Looking big. Think big," Allison told the young Moore.

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