Bobby Moore died in 1993 aged only 51.
A year before I was stumbling boozily through the back streets of Stockholm with a couple of QPR fans I had met in Malmo, ahead of England’s make or break Euro ’92 showdown with Sweden in Solna (Tomas Brolin scored the winner in a 2-1 win for the hosts which knocked England out and ended Gary Lineker’s international career).
As we walked over a bridge, one of them called, “There’s Bobby!” and sure enough, strolling beneath us in short sleeves on that warm summer’s day, alongside his wife Stephanie, was the legend himself.
In my young fan’s fervour I grabbed my camera and yelled out to said icon, asking for a snap.
Bobby Moore stopped and looked upwards long enough for me to take my photo, noble and accommodating as any gentleman could ever be to a wide-eyed sycophant forgetting his manners.
How ironic the demi-god was literally looking up to us mere mortals instead of the other way around.
Moore slipped away a year later to everyone’s horror- the announcement he had cancer had only arrived a couple of days before his death.
51 was of course tragically young for a hero to leave the QQ stage and time seemed somehow dislocated when the first member of that sacred eleven who won the World Cup for England on the hallowed turf of Wembley was the most significant.
I recall how the tidal wave of tributes thought Moore was the last of his kind – a Corinthian gentleman in contrast to the car-crash stars of the ’90s like Paul Gascoigne.
When he died in 1993 England were struggling again, and ended up not qualifying for the 1994 World Cup, which made him appear even greater, and this year’s 50th anniversary of the win over West Germany will surely make Bobby Moore’s star shine yet more brightly in the football firmament.
Who knows, in another half century’s time he might still be the only Englishman to have lifted the World Cup into the sky.
The blond cavalier, as noble as any medieval knight of folklore, on a summer’s day on a field in England, aloft upon his comrades’ shoulders, clasped the ultimate golden prize for the homeland of football, and in the process created one of the seminal images in his country’s history.
That photo has become Bobby Moore, a moment’s image cast in gold forever. Of course, no hero is flawless and no person so superficial as a photograph, but a nation starved of subsequent soccer success and the football world at large has been content to live with that fleeting image of ultimate glory as a fitting summary of a man’s life.
When Moore died, the legend remained intact, a narrative cemented by the imposing twelve-foot statue that is centre-stage at the new Wembley, an effective replacement for the twin towers.
But as Matt Dickinson explores in his fascinating biography, Bobby Moore the Life in Full, this natural born icon led an amazing double existence.
The national icon did an extraordinary job in keeping his beer-fuelled evenings, every bit as bibulous as those of more famous drinkers like his pal Jimmy Greaves, from encroaching on his public persona.
Moore mastered the art of appearing in control at all times, apart from the odd occasion when he crashed his car after a night of excessive boozing.
He would stand calmly by the bar, apparently able to hold his drink, dressed immaculately and when he eventually stumbled back home, he would fold his clothes neatly before bed, however many units he had downed.
Even when the bizarre Bogota bracelet scandal threatened to keep him out of the World Cup, an incident to which Dickinson devotes an intriguing chapter, Moore stayed cool as a cucumber when the world’s media buzzed around an England captain arrested on suspicion of shoplifting. In all probability it was a local scam perpetrated on more than one unsuspecting tourist at upmarket hotels.
His famously gentlemanly conduct can be reasonably traced to the sense of good manners and decorum prevalent in pre-war working-class British culture. Such chivalry in a soccer star seems dated now, and did by the 1970s when Moore was reaching the end of his career.
The years following his retirement cast West Ham and specifically the Football Association in an appalling light, as they carelessly casst aside their greatest asset by not awarding him a ceremonial role or using him to front campaigns.
The F.A. hierarchy seemed excessively pompous and out of touch in that decade, ignoring England’s World Cup winning captain because he was a popular Cockney lad who had met some unsavoury characters in the East End, and scandalously dismissing Brian Clough’s England managerial ambition because he was overwhelmingly wanted by the general public!
At least the Wembley statue is there to commemorate Moore now, but they should have done more for him when he was alive, as he was reduced to local radio and a sleazy tabloid for money in his final years.
Moore the perfect World Cup-winning skipper remains his life’s universally accepted abbreviation and the rest he was happy to keep to himself.
Moore the inner soul still remains an enigma, but Dickinson’s digging has got as close as anyone could get to defining him in depth.