by Roy Dalley.
One suspects if you dumped a fluffy white cat onto Matt Dickinson’s lap he would pass an audition for the next James Bond movie.
He’s the journalist who emerged from the disgruntled press pack to apply the coup de grace to Glenn Hoddle’s tenure as England manager when his critique of Hoddle’s rather extreme interpretation of Karma was splashed on the front page of The Times.
As if to prove he hasn’t mellowed, Dickinson stuck the boot into Brian Clough on the Times’ sports pages last month while almost everyone else paid nothing but tribute on the 10th anniversary of his passing.
And he as good as admits his forefinger was hovering above a metaphorical big red button as he sat down to research and write Bobby Moore The Man In Full.
Dickinson writes in his Prologue: “He is held up as a man without blemish but could he really be that perfect? Could anyone? To me, the idyll seemed implausible. It wasn’t that I thought the eulogies were untrue; rather I could not believe they represented the whole truth. There is chaos and complexity in every life. Shit happens, even to saints.”
Certainly it soon becomes apparent that Moore was blessed and cursed in equally monumental measures. Music folklore contains the legend of Robert Johnson, a blues guitarist and singer of modest repute, who only found his chops and success after selling his soul on a crossroads in the Mississippi Delta.
It’s just as preposterous, of course, to suggest Moore found his own crossroads somewhere in the Thames Delta, yet there is no doubt his rise and fall contains all the chief ingredients required of a Hollywood film script.
Moore was born into a world at war in an area a few miles east of London that was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe. (Talk about trying to get your retaliation in first.) He was a chubby schoolboy who suffered from taunts of ‘Fatso’ from the back of the class, and the scouting report that earned him an apprenticeship at West Ham was hardly glowing: “Whilst he would not set the world alight, this boy certainly impressed me with his tenacity and industry.”
But the planets seemed to align in Moore’s favour. First he was thrust into the orbit of one of the game’s most progressive and imaginative thinkers in senior pro Malcolm Allison. The random good fortune of geography meant he got lifts home from training from Big Mal, which doubled as confidence boosting exercises as Allison opened Moore’s eyes to new possibilities on the field of play.
That luck was multiplied when Ron Greenwood arrived as manager and effectively changed the way the game was played in England to accommodate Moore in the first-team, parachuting him in as a second central defender in an era commonly deploying only one centre-half between two full-backs.
The rest, as they say, is history… but Dickinson is quick to remind us that the brightest light produces the darkest shadow. Battles with cancer, Greenwood, the bottle, England manager Alf Ramsey, and even the Colombian Police, would follow. Then there were arson attacks on no less than three of Moore’s business premises as he tried to rebuild his life after the game he served so well effectively washed its hands of him.
Moore’s contemporaries queue up to offer their loving reminiscences and anecdotes, yet also speak of a private man seemingly cocooned by his thoughts and fears.
Perhaps Moore really was fully aware of his destiny all along?
He seemed lost in his thoughts on the couple of occasions I encountered the great man. The first time was after a midweek match at Brentford sometime in the very late 70’s or early 80’s, and although his star was inexplicably on the wane it felt incongrous to see him standing alone at the rear of the main stand, staring at nothing in particular.
Coincidentally I was with Rob Shepherd, founder of Bobbyfc, who I had to cajole into going over to introduce ourselves, at that time a couple of teenage football-writing wannabes. Shep, I can reveal, is no shrinking violet (on another occasion we bumped into Little Richard while he was flogging his autobiography and Shep demanded: “Oi Little, Little! Gissa book!”) but such was his awe, as a West Ham fan, he took some persuading.
The last time I saw Moore was in the press room at QPR during the 92-93 season. It was an area about 20 feet square with a bar in the corner pumping out free pints of Guinness (QPR’s shirt sponsors at the time) and populated by about 20 journalists.
Moore, as is the wont of all great footballers, had found space, though now it was in order to stand alone, leaning with his back against a wall, almost hiding under a cap with his collar turned up. His skin was yellow.
I sat quietly and stole glances and wondered if I should ask if he’d like a cup of tea or something, yet his body language suggested, very politely, to Leave Me Alone. He was only weeks from making his final pass though we didn’t know it. But it was obvious something was seriously wrong and it was also heart breaking. Moore, as always, kept his woes to himself, but who can blame him for that having already given everything of himself to his country?
Like that famous image of Moore held aloft by his team-mates with the World Cup in his clutch, he remains the England captain head and shoulders above all other England captains.
As Michael Caine pointed out: “It was the cometh the moment, cometh the man. It’s a bit like a messiah. You know, out of the gloom of the fifties… he just came, like a gleam of light.”
(*Dickinson, thankfully, plays a blinder in what is I daresay a fair representation and portrayal. The book jacket informs of a £20 cover price though I got mine in a supermarket for just nine quid. Yet after reacquainting myself with Moore once again I can think of no good reason not to send the balance to the Bobby Moore Fund.)