Last month saw the 27th anniversary of the great Bobby Moore’s death.
Mooro was just 52 when cancer claimed him, and for many people like me, who had the good fortune to know him and work alongside him, or watch him play his own brand of wonderful, intelligent football, he continues to be mourned. On the anniversary day itself, I found myself remembering Bobby – as I always do. For it is also the birthday of my eldest daughter.
And on my own birthday, I also find myself thinking about the great man, for on that glorious afternoon on July 30 in 1966, as I celebrated my first year on the planet, Bobby was lifting the Jules Rimet Trophy. How I still love to watch film of Bobby lifting the World Cup – and seeing Geoff Hurst hammer home that wonderful treble.
I am sure we all have fond memories of the man, regardless of whether we knew him, or whether we turned up, week-in, week-out, and watched him grace the football pitch? The man I remember was softly spoken, humble, intelligent and generous – qualities you don’t often associate with the modern crop of sports stars or the often ghastly social media circus surrounding it.
Bobby was a loyal man. His word was his bond. He didn’t need a contract, negotiated by an army of lawyers, before he agreed to do something. If it sounded good, and it was the right thing to do, he would do it. It was as simple as that. These days, people who behave in such ways are often regarded as naïve. Where I originate from (East Yorkshire), we call such people gentlemen. So what of the Bobby I knew?
I first met him when I worked as a sports journalist for a national tabloid newspaper. It was my first job in Fleet Street. I was just 23-years-old and had only been living in London for a few weeks. To say I was ‘an innocent abroad’ is a major understatement. The truth is I knew nothing about life and London, and even less about real journalism. Thanks to Bobby, I was thrown a lifeline.
My editor thought it would be a good idea for me to have a drink with the great man, who was retained by the paper as its ‘Sports Editor’. In reality, he had little to do with the day-to-day running of the department; he was the figurehead. It was my job – as his deputy – to make things work. Within minutes of meeting me at a Soho wine bar, Mooro had sussed me out. Yet, he said nothing negative, patronising or condescending.
All he did, for more than three hours, was encourage me and give me an insight into his world, so that we could explore areas that would be good for everyone, particularly our readers. We laughed a lot. He wasn’t a teller of jokes, but he saw the funny side in a lot of things. And he had a lot of anecdotes.
This was the way things were every time I met him, or we talked on the telephone. During that time, I never heard him raise his voice. I never heard him talk negatively about anyone, and I never saw him drop his smile. Even when I quit the paper, Bobby was always full of encouragement.
The day after I had left, he called me at home and pleaded with me to stay. England’s World Cup-winning skipper actually said to me: ‘Is there anything I can do, or say, that will make you change your mind?’ That is one of the most humbling moments of my working life.
I didn’t withdraw my resignation. Instead, I went on to enjoy a journalistic career elsewhere. But, on the many occasions our paths crossed afterwards – usually at venues like Wembley, Wimbledon’s old Plough Lane ground, White Hart Lane, Highbury and even the rickety, cold and intimidating Kenilworth Road – Bobby always greeted me in the same friendly manner I had become accustomed to while we were on the same payroll. And, I wasn’t alone.
He treated everyone who he came into contact with in the same manner with the utmost respect. There have been many superlatives attributed to Mooro in his lifetime and in the years since his passing.
In my opinion, all of them are accurate. He was a footballing great, he was a fantastic ambassador for our country, he was a loyal friend, and he was undoubtedly a one-off, the like of which we will never see again. But more than anything else, Bobby Moore was a wonderful human being who never forgot where he came from. And I, for one, am grateful to have had the immense privilege to know a man who still means so much to so many.