Bobby Moore with the Jules Rimet trophy after leading Geoff Hurst and Co to World Cup glory in 1966
On Sunday, Sir Geoff Hurst is likely to be the only Englishman at Wembley Stadium who knows what it means to win an international football trophy. The boys of ’66 have been sadly diminished in the intervening 55 years of hurt, falling one by one.
But that does not mean they will not be there in spirit. One of them in particular. His presence embraces Wembley constantly, evoked in the statue outside the ground. There Bobby Moore stands tall, foot on the ball, surveying the crowds as they surge up Wembley Way. As a piece of sculpture it perfectly captures his essence: calm, cool, collected. This, after all, was the man who, as he prepared to walk up the steps to the Royal Box to receive the Jules Rimet Trophy that July day five and a half decades ago, had the presence of mind to wipe his hands on his shorts to ensure he did not in any way bespoil the Queen’s immaculate white gloves when he shook her by the hand. Many will gather around his statue ahead of Sunday’s final against Italy, paying their respects to the man who epitomised an era, hoping some of his aura rubs off on them.
The great captain of England’s only World Cup winners died from bowel cancer in 1993 aged only 51. But were he still around to accompany Hurst to Sunday’s game, he would not look remotely nervous. There he would be, immaculately attired in a blazer and freshly laundered white shirt, his trousers fashionably tailored, exuding calm. On the pitch and off it, in the midst of football frenzy, he was invariably the most composed person around.
“It was something that used to confuse me when I went to football matches with him,” says his widow, Stephanie. “He appeared to be totally dispassionate, but was so involved. He wouldn’t leap in the air or shout out in annoyance like everyone else. Somehow, however tense the occasion, he managed to remain impassive. He just didn’t get all emotional. Though I can tell you this: he more than anyone I know wanted England to win.”
On Sunday, as we collectively sink into a morass of nervous anxiety, how we could all use a bit of Bobby Moore. The supranatural ability to keep his head while around him everyone else was losing theirs, was bred into him from the start. His style, his approach, even his tailoring were governed by the standards maintained in his childhood home in Essex.
Moore moments after he had wiped his hands on his shorts to ensure he did not in any way bespoil the Queen’s immaculate white gloves when he shook her by the hand
“Bobby learnt it all from his mother, Doris,” Stephanie recalls. “She taught him his manners, his politeness, the way he looked after things. Everything was fastidious. I believe she even used to iron the laces on his football boots.”
In Moore, however, there was no suggestion that style was a substitute for substance. Captain of England at 23, the finest defender this country has produced, he was also a natural leader of men. Like Gareth Southgate, he led by example and inclusion, not by shouting or chastising. Where Moore went, others followed. And when, at the age of 25, he achieved the ultimate in the world game, he made everything look effortless; easy. So much so that ever since we have all looked back at Moore and wondered why, over the decades, it has all seemed so hard.
“As far as the public is concerned, it did come to define him,” Stephanie says of the World Cup win. “But it didn’t define him as a person. He was always so humble, and always so happy to share in that moment with the fans. Every day someone would tell him what his achievement meant to them. Over the years we met so many people who told him they were at Wembley that day to watch him lift the cup; I reckon there must have been at least half a million people there.”
Moore happily acknowledged how much the victory meant to him. Not least financially. Whenever modern players were disparaged for their earnings, he would readily counter that even for a footballer of his generation, winning the World Cup had given him a lifestyle he could never have achieved otherwise. It was a feeling he shared with his team-mates, and the bond that was created by the win is still around. Even as the players themselves have left us, their wives and widows remain close.
Moore was a natural leader of men, always calm however tense the occasion
“I think as the distance to their success grew and grew as decades went past, the recognition of what they achieved grew in significance for those involved,” Stephanie says. “You value everything as you get older, you certainly value kinship.”
The thing about Moore, however, was that, as the gap grew ever more sizeable back to his success, he always wanted whoever followed him to emulate his achievement. He longed for his moment to be matched.
“The last thing he wanted was for it to be unique,” Stephanie says. “In life, he never looked back, only looked forward, and he always believed England would win. I remember going with him to Italia ’90 and he was so optimistic about that team. He was passionate about England.”
Indeed, just days before he died, stricken with the terminal cancer that had gone undiagnosed for years, he was at Wembley to watch England playing San Marino.
“I remember it vividly, he was really ill but determined to be there, that was how important England was for him,” his widow recalls. “Following the game we went to a function, where he presented a trophy to David Platt. It was remarkably courageous. After he died, I saw in his diary for the following year that he had noted the dates for the 1994 World Cup. If he were around now he would be so excited by the fact this team has got to the final. He so wanted every England team to succeed.”
Bobby Moore's statue outside Wembley is sure to be visited by 1,000s of England fans before Sunday's final
In the 28 years since he died, Moore’s legacy has further flourished in the form of the charity Stephanie established in his name. The Bobby Moore Fund has raised millions of pounds for research into bowel cancer. But she reckons what has been more significant even than the money has been the way in which his name has encouraged so many to overcome their embarrassment and seek advice. Because bowel cancer is a condition that, the earlier it is diagnosed, the better the chances of survival.
“He knew he was dying and said to me, ‘Can we do something to raise awareness?’ I promised him I would, so we set up the fund to work in association with Cancer Research UK,” she says. “We know we can reach men with football, and Bobby’s name still has such meaning.”
On Sunday, Stephanie will be watching at home, as will her 97-year-old father. The two of them will be wearing fundraising T-shirts that proclaim the message: We Believe. It is one with which Bobby would surely concur. And if Harry Kane is able to emulate Moore’s success, Stephanie will eschew her late husband’s approach to watching the game and will leap around her living room in abandon.
“After all the traumas and pain and division of Brexit and coronavirus, it will do us all so much good,” she says. “And I like Harry so much. He’s an incredibly bright, well-mannered, honourable young man.”
Remind you of anyone?
Show you believe in England and tackling bowel cancer with a “We Believe” T-shirt at webelieve2021.com, in support of Cancer Research UK’s Bobby Moore Fund.