In east London, the statue of him on Green Street is 16 feet high and over the other side of town at Wembley, it measures 20 feet in height. Twenty-two years after his death from bowel cancer at the age of just 51, the legend that is Bobby Moore still casts a long shadow over all those who follow in his footsteps and attempt to emulate his feats in the colours of either West Ham or England.
The Irons have done their bit to ensure Moore’s memory endures by retiring his number six shirt and naming a stand after him, but in the wider world it is the Bobby Moore Fund, set up by his widow Stephanie in partnership with Cancer Research UK, that keeps the legend alive. And she never ceases to be amazed at where the support comes from. ‘I’ve had letters from as far away as Tanzania and Goa – it’s incredible how far his name and reputation spread – everyone around the world has heard of Bobby Moore,’ she told Blowing Bubbles.
‘Fans always used to come up and want to shake his hand and talk to him, which was nice as it seemed that so much of the game had ignored him, but even despite having had lots of experience of that, I could never have anticipated the massive public interest there would be after his death. ‘I didn’t want loads of people who were nothing to do with him cashing in and that’s why we decided to set up the charity, to keep his memory alive for some public good. Twenty-two years of fundraising and helping save lives later, I’m very glad that we did.’
Never one to court publicity unnecessarily, Moore only went public with his illness a matter of days before he died. ‘In those days, bowel cancer was a disease that wasn’t talked about – it was hard to diagnose and even harder to treat,” Stephanie explained. ‘More people get it now – it’s the second highest cause of cancer death in the UK – but at the same time, more people survive it than did in Bobby’s day.
‘There’s still loads to be done, but since we set up the charity, massive strides have been made. We’re only responsible for a tiny part of that, but even then, the difference we’ve made has been enormous.’ To be precise, the difference the charity has made during the course of its 22-year existence is to raise more than £22m towards research and understanding of the disease.
‘To put that in perspective, though, Cancer Research UK spends over £33m every year on bowel cancer alone. That shows how serious the problem remains,” she added. One grim irony of Moore’s death is that the wave of fundraising and donations it provoked have helped bring about such advances in treatment that, were he to be diagnosed today, the result would have been very different.
‘Most likely he would survive,’ Stephanie admitted. ‘Probably the biggest advance the Fund has brought about is the introduction of a national bowel cancer screening programme – if we’d had one back then, it could have saved his life. It’s no longer something people are ashamed to talk about, and vitally, we’ve raised public awareness of the symptoms – that’s hugely important, as early diagnosis can make all the difference.’
With Moore’s name, likeness and story so permanently associated with the club, there are probably few football fans as familiar with the work of the Fund as West Ham’s. But even amongst their ranks, there is one who stands out head and shoulders above the rest – or rather he would do, if he wasn’t still 13 years old; cancer fundraiser extraordinaire Jonjo Heuerman, who spent his spring half term completing an 800 mile bike ride around all 20 Premier League clubs, in aid of the Bobby Moore Fund. Stephanie is in awe of his work.
‘Jonjo is a remarkable human being,’ she said. ‘He is an exemplary role model to the youth of today – what he has achieved in his five years of fundraising is nothing short of astonishing. He’s brought in over £200,000. ‘He’ll never know how many lives he has saved. We’ve had support from fans all over the country, and I’m hugely grateful for every donation that’s been made, no matter how small, but for obvious reasons, West Ham fans have always been incredibly generous.
‘The Fund is kept going by the extreme hard work of a small but dedicated group of people, so every penny donated makes a difference, and it makes me very proud that people still care so much about Bobby.’ Although Jonjo’s round the grounds trek may be at an end, the fund raising events continue – and one of the next ones lined up is Blowing Bubbles for Bobby, an ice bucket-challenge style bubble-blowing chain event, dreamed up by Blowing Bubbles magazine’s own David Blackmore.
‘I’m really looking forward to how it turns out,’ said Stephanie. ‘It will be great to see pictures of so many West Ham fans coming together and uniting in memory of Bobby as they blow their bubbles, and I hope we’ll also see plenty of claret and blue shirts for our Football Shirt Friday event on April 17th.’ With the 50th anniversary of the 1966 World Cup win just over a year away, Moore’s legend is only going to receive more attention, and with it, the work and resources of the Fund are sure to grow.
One headline-grabbing fund-raising event that is already being arranged is an England v Rest of the World match to take place at Everest Base Camp – the highest football match ever played – on what would have been Moore’s 75th birthday. And the woman who knew him best says the man himself would definitely approve of what was being done in his name.
‘Bobby would be very touched and extremely proud,’ Stephanie explained. ‘He may have come across in public as a very reserved character, but he was brought up very properly and always had time for people. ‘I never saw him give a fan short shrift or refuse an autograph – football is all about the fans – so the thought that so many of them are so respectful of his memory and keen to help keep it alive is a really comforting thought.’