Footballing experts have oft en condemned Bobby Moore’s time in football management but I’ve tracked down some of Moore’s former players from his two and a half year spell at Southend United in a bid to set the record straight. Th ere is little doubt that having received the FA Cup, the Cup Winners, the World Cup, as well as racking up 108 caps for England, Bobby Moore is the most decorated captain in the history of West Ham United and probably will be for some years to come.
Legendary tales of Bobby’s time with both the Hammers and England have been much maligned both by those who stood on the terraces as well as the footballers who were fortunate enough to share the greenery with him. Nevertheless, after Moore had hung up his boots the picture oft en painted is very different.
At the conclusion of his career, Bobby’s wealth of experience at the top level of the game was sure to be of use in some kind of coaching capacity. But during seemingly uneventful stints in the hot seat at Oxford City, Southend United, as well as a spell with Eastern AA in China, England’s most coveted captain, saw his stock fall as he struggled to make an impact as a manager.
That famous football platitude that a good player doesn’t necessarily replicate that as a manager was oft en spoken of when terrace dwellers referred to Bobby’s time in the dugout. As a Southend United supporter, however, who was lucky enough to find myself largely at the epicentre at the time, I wanted to conduct my own investigation and perhaps disperse for once and for all the footballing blemish that has blighted one of the English game’s finest ever footballers.
It’s now more than 33 years since Bobby Moore took the reins at Roots Hall. Troubled Southend United was not so much sliding, but hurtling towards relegation to the old Fourth Division, and following a winless run of nine matches hapless manager, Peter Morris, had been shown the exit door.
A statement issued on the front cover of the Blues match programme on February 20, 1984, wrote: ‘We are fortunate to have as Chief Executive, Mr Bobby Moore, who has agreed to assume day to day responsibility for team matters on a temporary basis until the matter can be discussed more fully by the board.’
In the short term, Moore was handed the almost impossible task of steering the ailing club away from the drop zone. Nevertheless, the immediate effect of his appointment was clear to see. His first game in charge, an Associate Member Cup tie against runaway Fourth Division leaders Reading, ended in a resounding 5-0 victory in front of a paltry 1,597 curious spectators.
Despite the club’s difficulties, both on the pitch and financially, the new man in charge was keen to place his own stamp on the team.
A midfielder, Glenn Pennyfather, fondly recalled the first training session under Moore: ‘We were languishing towards the bottom of the Third Division when he came in. Bobby suggested that we played a small-sided match amongst ourselves, just so that we could all get to know each other. ‘Of course, he played and it was clear to us all that he was still more than capable as a footballer.
‘The training game ended in a draw, but Bobby insisted that there had to be a winner. Th e goals were only a couple of feet apart, we had to drill the ball between the posts from the halfway line, similar to a penalty shootout but without a goalkeeper. ‘We’d all had quite a few attempts, the balls were flying everywhere except between the posts. In the end, Bobby tossed a ball in front of his and said “Th is is how it’s done” .
We all stood openmouthed as he sent his first shot straight through the target. That was the class of Bobby, and that was what he was like the whole time he was with us at Southend. He ended up always being the first pick in five-a-sides. Everyone wanted to play in his team.’
Unfortunately, much of the damage was done during the early part of the 1983/84 campaign and Southend were relegated to the Fourth Division, winning just 10 of their 46 league matches. With finances and attendances at an all-time low, life didn’t get any easier for either Bobby or Southend in the basement division
Nevertheless, despite another hugely problematic campaign that saw Southend only avoid re-election by virtue of a narrow victory over Torquay United on the final day of the 1994/85 season. Blues players from that era were quick to deflect the blame away from Bobby and focus on the positive influence he had on them.
To this day one-time Southend goalkeeper, and huge Hammers supporters, Jon O’Brien, can’t quite believe that he played for his all-time hero: ‘We stood and watched him training one morning, crossing and finishing. I don’t think he played one bad ball in two hours, it was incredible.
‘I’d played the season before for the reserves as a non-contract player under Peter Morris. When Bobby took over I played three or four more reserve matches but seemed to do really well in each of them. ‘Perhaps I was lucky, but Bobby invited me to train with the first-team and I recall him noticing my West Ham tattoo. “North or South Bank?” he asked me. “South Bank, Bob”, I replied. He just made me feel at ease.’
O’Brien continued: ‘I’d played a reserve game on the Tuesday and had a decent game. Bobby called me asking if I could training the following few days with the first team.
‘He didn’t say much, but then on the Friday he pulled me to one side and told me I was playing on the following day against Peterborough United, who were towards the top of the table: “You won’t let me down? he asked. “Of course I won’t,” I quickly responded.
‘Blues were struggling towards the bottom of the old Fourth Division and had let in 16 goals in the four games prior to Peterborough. We were under a bit of pressure. However, with the spotlight on me the other players played with a little more freedom. We went on to beat Peterborough 2-1, it was fantastic.
‘After the game, I went to the bar and Bobby put his arm around me and said “Brilliant, have a pint mate”. We stood chatting for about an hour, I was like I was walking on air. I had just signed for my hero and played for him. It was like a dream come true for me.
O’Brien, who now plies his trade as a decorator, also recalled how Bobby had helped him improve as a goalkeeper by pulling in a favour: ‘I had a good job when Bobby signed me on a six-month deal. ‘He explained to me that football was unpredictable and that I should try to keep my job on a part-time basis, which I did.
‘I told to Bobby that I was keen to learn and improve my game and asked if he could help in any way. ‘I couldn’t have wished for a better response from the man. He sent me on a goalkeeper course at Lilleshall where I worked with David Beasant and John Burridge.
‘I came back to Southend buzzing and asked Bobby if he could get me some regular coaching. ‘“Leave it with me”, he said. Two days later, Bobby hands me a phone number saying that everything was sorted. ‘Naturally, I assumed I’d be doing some sessions with Ernie Gregory, which suited me because I’d trained with him as a kid when I was at West Ham. But later that day when I looked at the number more carefully, he had set me up with Peter Bonetti at Chelsea.
‘I ended up training with Peter for about eight weeks, It was brilliant. I was working with Eddie Niedzwiecki, Les Fridge and Steve Francis. ‘The training was absolutely different class. It was all down to Bobby for setting it up for me. I’ll certainly never forget what he did for me, he was brilliant.’
I spoke to one-time Southend defender, Warren May, who also couldn’t quite believe who he was sharing his day-to-day routine as a footballer with. He said: ‘When Bobby first came to the club, it was apparent in training that he could still play. ‘He could play with his hands tied behind his back. In fact, he could probably have walked into the team if he had wanted to, he was easily up to the level we were playing at.
Although he never portrayed it, I often wonder if Bobby thought to himself: “What am I doing here? ‘He must have found it very frustrating that something that came so natural to him appeared to be so difficult for us. However, as a person, he was on a different level. He did whatever he could for us as individuals as well as a team.’
May, who is now a company director based on Canvey Island, added: ‘He would play in the five-a-sides with us and wouldn’t even break a sweat. Meanwhile, we were all running around like lunatics. He just had that aura about him, he was a terrific footballer even then.
‘Personally, Bobby was always fair with me. He gave me a good run in the side. I had the privilege to be on the same training pitch as Bobby. For two years I was in the same company as the only man who has lifted the World Cup for our country, simply incredible.’ Having been taken over in the final stages of the 84/85 campaign, the start of the 1985/86 season was viewed as a clean slate for everyone connected with the club.
Moore brought in experienced campaigners such as Frank Lampard senior and Barry Silkman. He also pulled off a masterstroke, capturing exciting striker, Richard Cadette, from Leyton Orient for just £4,000. Another signing was Roy McDonough who had returned for a second spell at Roots Hall having previously served under the beleaguered Peter Morris.
He clearly remembered the day he linked up with Moore on the south east Essex coast. He said: ‘I was lucky enough to lead out Colchester United as play-manager, and win, in an FA Trophy final at Wembley during my career, but signing for Bobby at Southend was way up there with it. ‘He was my absolute footballing hero. I remember going into his office to finalise moving back to the club following spells at Exeter City and Cambridge United.
‘Not once did we discuss wages the day I joined the Blues. It was all about football and from my perspective, playing for Bobby. ‘He was an extremely charming man. Although we didn’t achieve everything we would have like to have, he clearly knew what he was talking about and had a vision as to how he wanted us to play. ‘Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same ability that had made him one of the world’s most iconic footballers. Nevertheless, I will forever treasure the time we spent together, the chats over a pint. I’ll cherish them forever.’
Although Moore had initially taken the role on a temporary basis, Moore had remained Southend’s manager for more than two and a half years. Despite a notable improvement in the standard of their football, an inconsistent final third of the campaign saw the Blues fall away from the promotion places and eventually finish ninth. Bobby had stated his intention to stand down at the end of the season. A moment Pennyfather recalled with a heavy heart.
‘I remember walking around the perimeter of the Roots Hall pitch as Bobby told me that he was to stand down as manager. ‘He had done so much for me as a person and a footballer. He had taught me to give myself time and how to think about my next pass one step ahead, he was always encouraging me. ‘I learnt such a lot in a short space of time about the understanding of the game. I don’t mind admitting that I had tears in my eyes as was walked together that day, I was devastated.’
Former Chelsea hard man, Dave Webb, would take over from Moore at Southend, and with most of the same players led them to promotion at the first attempt. As for Moore, he continued to serve on the board directors the role until his untimely death in death February 1993. Bobby Moore’s win ratio of just 28.95 per cent from 114 matches in the Roots Hall hot seat would suggest that he was not best suited to a position in management.
I’d like to think my own findings, brought directly from those who played under him, suggest that it is simply not the case.