Conservative MP Damian Collins has told Blowing Bubbles that making West Ham and England legend Bobby Moore the first ever recipient of a posthumous knighthood would be the ultimate way to mark the 50th anniversary of England’s 1966 World Cup win.
There have been repeated calls for captain Moore, who died in 1993 aged just 51, to receive the highest honour the country has to offer, which has been given to his 1966 team-mates Sir Geoff Hurst and Sir Bobby Charlton. At the moment, the only circumstances in which honours can be given posthumously are military awards for gallantry, but Mr Collins says Moore’s achievement, stature and contribution are such that he merits the award he was denied in his lifetime.
‘This year is a very special anniversary of what is one of the iconic moments of 20th century sport, so we as a country should do something appropriate and significant,’ said the MP for Folkestone and Hythe, who was elected chair of government’s culture, media and sport committee last month. ‘Bobby Moore is one of the central figures. Had he lived, he would have been knighted and received the recognition that others have, so I think some posthumous recognition would be a fantastic part of the celebrations of the anniversary.’
As chronicled in Matthew Lorenzo’s recent film Bo66y, Moore was largely sidelined by the world of football following his retirement, and the rest of society treated him little better. Although he received an OBE, honours for sportsmen and women were far less commonplace in the 1960s and 70s than they have become now something, Collins says, which reflects a changing recognition of the social role of sport. The way honours were given to sports people in the past were that there were some which were seen as good enough for them, but the knighthoods and other titles went to people who had done something more serious,’ he explained.
‘The world has changed now, though. Cultural leaders are seen as massive part of our national life, so they deserve the same treatment. ‘I think it’s down to a wider recognition of sport and its contribution, and a realisation that these people can be community leaders as well as ambassadors for our country. In the past, they weren’t regarded that way.’
Awarding a posthumous honour would not be straightforward, however, as there is no precedent for it. ‘It may require a change in the law, it would certainly require a change in the process of how honours are bestowed and we wouldn’t want a situation where retrospective honours are being awarded all the time,’ he explained.
Mr Collins cites Sir Alex Ferguson’s knighthood and honours for England’s 2005 Ashes-winning cricketers as similar examples to what he hopes to do for Moore – ‘those were acknowledgements of singular achievements that moved the entire country,’ he explained. Whilst a campaign to honour Moore would be sure to be a popular cause, mere public feeling is not enough to make it happen on its own but Collins adds, it could help.
‘Anyone can set up a petition through the Government petition website which can show support, but nominations need to be made through the Cabinet office. Letters of support certainly help, though, I’ve certainly done that for constituents who have been put forward,’ he explained. Moore is honoured by statues outside Wembley and West Ham, but Collins says – provided the system made it possible – it would be appropriate for there to be a lasting national memorial as well, in the form of a knighthood.
‘That huge statue outside our national stadium shows what a significant presence he is in English football, but he looks a bit solitary, so we need to put an arm around him in some way. ‘It would be recognition not just on an extraordinary achievement, but also an extraordinary life which touched so many people across the whole country, and which wasn’t honoured properly in his lifetime – and what better time than the anniversary?’ he explained.
‘We don’t want to have a situation where posthumous honours are being granted all the time, but let’s say that once a year, the country has the chance to honour a person who was overlooked in their lifetime – I’d say Bobby Moore would be the perfect first person for that.’