x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sir Bobby Moore deserved more from football

As English football prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of Bobby Moore's death, Will Batchelor asks whether the 1966 hero's wilderness years were really so bad.

West Ham and England's Bobby Moore.
West Ham and England's Bobby Moore.

On Sunday, dignitaries from the English Football Association will lay a wreath at the Bobby Moore statue outside Wembley Stadium, to mark the 20th anniversary of his untimely death.

West Ham United officials have arranged a similar ceremony at their own Moore statue, outside the Boleyn Ground, more commonly known as Upton Park, plus a minute's applause before Monday's home match against Tottenham Hotspur.

All these events will be impeccably observed. Even the most hard-line Spurs fan or patriotic Welshman (Wembley will be awash with Swansea City fans for the League Cup final against Bradford City) knows that some moments transcend tribal animosity.

The tributes will, however, take place to background of disgruntled muttering: if only you had shown him a fraction of this respect when he was still alive.

Such is the traditional take on the Bobby Moore story - that, once he had passed his sell-by date, the gentle and unassuming hero of England's 1966 World Cup win was tossed aside by club and country, forced into a humiliating role as a tabloid newspaper hack and lowly radio pundit. This view has some foundation.

Harry Redknapp claims to have witnessed Moore being ejected from a half-empty Boleyn Ground - which now has a stand named after him - for not having a ticket. From both a moral and a business perspective, such shabby treatment of a club legend is shameful.

There is also the long-held gripe that Moore was not knighted. That is true, although it says more about the British establishment's belated understanding of the emotional power of sport than any specific preference for Sir Bobby Charlton (knighted in 1994) or Sir Geoff Hurst (1998).

"And what about the FA?" we cry, "Couldn't they have found him a suitable role?"

Well, maybe they could and maybe they should. Certainly, if Moore had not died at the ludicrously young age of 51, they would have by now. West Ham would, too.

Just like Hurst, Moore could be earning pots of money by promoting sports websites or helping an American fast food chain sell fat and sugar to English kids. Just like Charlton, he could be a club ambassador, lending a veneer of authenticity and continuity while the "franchise" is bought, sold, leveraged.

He would have got his knighthood by now, too, allowing the government to ride up on his golden coat-tails for a day or two. What an honour. Personally, I would sooner be a lowly newspaper and radio hack than a mascot in a gilded cage.

Fortunately that is exactly what I am, so perhaps I am biased. However, I have also been privileged to see several stars of yesteryear at work: Ian St John of Liverpool, Graeme Sharp of Everton, Mickey Thomas of Manchester United.

Stellar names in their day (well, St John and Sharp were), now "reduced" to the allegedly shameful fate of slogging away in the media for a relative pittance. And yet they never seemed to see it that way. From what I witnessed, admittedly more in passing than at close quarters, they seemed to enjoy it.

Commercial radio stations, in my experience, do not have massive budgets. The tiny sports departments are generally run on a little money and a lot of caffeine, good will and a shared passion for the game.

Is it as much fun as actually playing the professional game? Of course not. Is it more fun than playing golf all day, or rehashing your old war stories for the after-dinner circuit? Quite possibly.

Players of the modern era will never be treated as shabbily as Moore was in retirement. That is a good thing. Because of their enormous wages, nor will they ever need to slum it in the lower echelons of the media. That is a shame. They don't know what they are missing.

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