Aidan Smith: Remembering Bobby Moore

I AM absolutely convinced of this, but please don’t write in if I’m wrong because I almost don’t want to be corrected. Bobby Moore, in my memory, was the cover star of the very first edition of Shoot! magazine. And, one year after the mag launched, in 1970, I’m pretty sure that, when I was pestering my father to make yet another visit to a garage because it was far too risky to let the fuel dial fall below “Full”, the last of the free Esso coins everyone needed to complete their World Cup sets was the one with the regal profile of the England captain.

Moore in the 1-0 World Cup quarter-final defeat by Brazil in Guadalajara. Photographs: AP
Moore in the 1-0 World Cup quarter-final defeat by Brazil in Guadalajara. Photographs: AP

I’ve been thinking a lot about Moore. Firstly, because of Thursday’s big vote concentrating the mind on Scotland’s relationship with England thus far and, crucially, the sporting relationship. Will it change if independence is won? What did we think when England fans in Basel last Monday chanted “F**k off, Scotland – we’re all voting Yes” and will we think differently about it after 18 September? What did we think following the win in their group opener, when the FA immediately began checking out hotels for France 2016? And will our chortling – because there will always be chortling – be louder or quieter in the event of us separating? When you’re pondering the sporting relationship, Moore is never very far away.

Then the other day a new biography, Bobby Moore: The Man in Full by Matt Dickinson (Yellow Jersey), landed on my desk. It seems that being on the front of magazines and yet missing from coin collections was typical of the subject. Highly visible and yet strangely elusive. “How much do we really know of the World Cup-winning skipper?” runs the book’s blurb.

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The other reason I’ve been thinking of him is this newspaper has just moved into new offices with a fabulous Edinburgh vista and as I write I’m able to gaze down on my old playground where Moore was the subject of silly schoolboy rhyme and also the public park where we thought we were stoking the Scotland-England rivalry still further with high-quality, 17-a-side kickabouts. Then, if I look round further to the left, I can see the Western General Hospital. This is where Moore went in secret for treatment for the bowel cancer which would kill him in 1993.

It’s a poignant image, that of the great England hero and the pride of London’s East End with his collar turned up on the streets of the capital of a country where they loved to hate him, battling a disease which is no respecter of status. “It is said that many sufferers of bowel cancer die of embarrassment,” writes Dickinson, although Moore hadn’t been one of the self-conscious ones and had acted early only to be cruelly misdiagnosed.

His cancer could have been caught but Moore’s second wife Stephanie, speaking on the 20th anniversary of his death last year, said they decided to enjoy what time he had left and avoid bitterness. The visits to the Western were post-operative. There was little the Imperial Cancer Research Unit could do for his condition and Moore was taking part in trials which could help future patients.

“We discovered exactly how kind people could be,” Stephanie said. “Take the Scots for example – and Bobby was never the most popular visitor to Hampden as a player. We used to fly up to the Western every fortnight. Taxi drivers recognised him, nurses and doctors recognised him, other patients recognised him and he would lie in bed in this public men’s ward signing autographs and yet not one single person ever spilled the beans to the press. We were very touched by that kind of loyalty.”

Better Together would love this, wouldn’t they? Differences forgotten with quiet dignity. And what differences they were. Every season for as long as he played in it, Moore, more than any other player, ensured the annual fixture with the Auld Enemy was often grudge-filled, sometimes hysterical, always special. He was too handsome, too serene and, dammit, just too cool and we desperately wanted Alan Gilzean or Denis Law or Colin Stein to knock him over and, at the very least, mess up that blond Adonis barnet.

Even among his countrymen, those from “oop north” at any rate, Moore seemed to be, in Dickinson’s description, “haughty”. Jack Charlton, Alan Ball and others returning to their clubs from England duty would be asked: “What’s that Bobby Moore really like?” From the dusty Hampden terraces, the cry would go up: “Bobby Moore, superstar – walks like a woman and he wears a bra.” I bet he laughed at that. And then, in 1970 in Bogota, en route to Mexico, with Moore declaring confidently, if not haughtily, that England would retain the World Cup because they were better than anyone else, he really was rattled.

“What did you do with the bracelet/what did you do with the bracelet/what did you do with the bracelet, Bobby Moore? Put it in your handbag/put it in your handbag/put it in your handbag, Bobby Moore!”

The Hampden wits were quick with that one. But the episode of the alleged jewellery theft still makes sensational reading.

The bracelet containing 12 diamonds and 12 emeralds and worth £650 had disappeared and staff at the Tequendama Hotel fingered Moore.

Threats of the sainted Bob being thrown in a cell brought counter-threats of hell to pay. The compromise was him staying with a Colombian football official under house arrest.

Hugh McIlvanney, reporting on the player’s nightmare, wrote of its “echoes of Graham Greene if not Kafka”.

Colombian law required him to face his accusers. He asked which pocket he was supposed to have snaffled the sparklers into. The left, said the girl from the hotel. There was no left pocket on his jacket.

He had to pay for his own sandwiches to be brought to the courtroom, sharing them with his accusers. He went jogging with his two guards to keep in shape. And then, suddenly, he was sprung, a free man in the nick of time to halt Brazil’s Jairzinho with football’s greatest-ever tackle.

Dickinson’s book is expected to upset those who hold dear the memory of 1966 and England’s greatest day for venturing into the darker side of drink problems, chaotic business forays and unsuitable friends.

For Scots it was always only ever enough that Moore was an English footballer and a bloody good one.

Meanwhile, Scotland versus England hasn’t mattered for years. There’s a very good argument for the fixture’s revival interrupting attempts by both countries to develop styles of play with which they can challenge more sophisticated football nations. A referendum backlash at Celtic Park come November won’t help anyone.

Already the England manager, Roy Hodgson, has predicted it will be “spiky”.

What I think he means is: “I wish we could have Bobby with us that night.”