20141026

Bobby Moore: new biography delves beyond the veneer of England's World Cup superhero

In the eyes of his most fervent admirers, Bobby Moore enjoys the status of a deity, his greatness only enhanced by the passage of time and what feels like a forever diminishing likelihood that another England captain will reach the pinnacle Moore attained at Wembley on 30 July, 1966.

Some, therefore, have not welcomed Matt Dickinson's new biography of their hero with particular enthusiasm, given the sides of Moore he revealed.

Rob Shepherd, the Mail Online football columnist, took exception even with the choice of cover picture:

"The image makes England’s original golden boy look more like an east London gangster of the Sixties than an icon of whom Pele said was the best, and most handsome, English footballer he had ever seen or played against." 

Throughout his playing career and the life that followed, one that was terminated all too prematurely by cancer, Moore's inherent modesty and reserve enabled him to build and maintain an aura of benign mystery, almost an other-worldliness.  After his death, more than 21 years ago, his supporters, whether driven by sentimentality or in the case of those to whom he was close a sense that they were privy to secrets Moore did not want shared, saw no reason to disturb that aura.

Yet Dickinson was not alone in wondering to what extent the legend that grew around Moore, one that is reflected in the almost gushingly extravagant inscription beneath his statue at Wembley Stadium, concealed a different story, not necessarily sinister but one that would reveal him in greater depth.  The words of a fellow Times journalist, Matthew Syed, rang true when he wrote about Moore as an 'implausible caricature' in which 'authenticity has been obscured by sentimentality'.

Dickinson spent several years seeking to find answers and enjoyed the co-operation of many of those who came closest to knowing the real Moore, not least his widow, Stephanie.  He spoke to friends and business associates, close acquaintances from the entertainment world, among them Kenny Lynch and Jimmy Tarbuck, to journalists who witnessed his career and to many former team-mates and others from within football.  He acknowledges in particular the substantial input from Harry Redknapp, Frank Lampard senior and Rodney Marsh.

The character that emerges is one that some might find hard to recognise.  Far from being a paragon of professionalism, at least not by today's standards, Moore was a heavy drinker who, on away trips, frequently led team-mates astray in breaking pre-match curfews in search of booze and who, on nights out nearer home, had a peaked cap to hand in the glove box of his Jaguar so that policemen who might spot him at the wheel in the early hours would assume he was a chauffeur.

Moore's commitment on the field could not be questioned. His own version of professionalism, moreover, insisted that after a particularly heavy night he served penance on the training field the next day, wrapping himself in bin bags under his tracksuit and pounding out the miles like some manic Michelin Man as he sweated off his excesses.  Yet his lifestyle would never be tolerated in today's game.

There are stories, too, of Moore's tempestuous relationship with Ron Greenwood, his manager at West Ham, with whom he squabbled over money and who denied him the chance to play for Brian Clough at Derby for almost double his wages at Upton Park.

Moore's disastrous ventures into business have been well chronicled.  Less well known were his links with the East End underworld, which makes Rob Shepherd's observation about the cover picture slightly ironic.

As a high-profile figure who enjoyed a night out, it was inevitable that some dubious characters would cross Moore's path.  When Del Simmons, one of his partners in the disastrous Woolston Hall country club project, was forced to withdraw after surviving an apparent attempt on his life, Moore could hardly be blamed.  But his wisdom in buying the Blind Beggar pub in Whitechapel, in which Ronnie Kray had murdered a rival gangster by shooting him in the head, was questionable, not least because Moore's partner in the venture was the brother of a witness to the killing.

Yet none of this is presented by Dickinson in a sensationalist way.  He promises, in his prologue, that he had no intention of "pulling Moore down from his pedestal" merely to "humanise" a man few people could really claim to know.  He is true to his word.  Although he admits to a suspicion that the depth of character he was hoping to reveal perhaps simply did not exist, his narrative is not judgmental at any point, leaving the reader to make up his mind.

Far from diminishing Moore's reputation, in fact the book only enhances it, showing him to be a person of enormous courage and dignity, not only in the way he twice confronted the dreadful disease that would eventually kill him, yet one who was not a caricature but a human being with quite reassuring flaws.

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full, published by Yellow Jersey, has been shortlisted for the 2014 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award, the winner of which will be announced next month.

Shortlist announced for William Hill Sports Book of the Year

Buy Bobby Moore: The Man in Full from Amazon, Waterstones or WHSmith.

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