My history hero: Bobby Moore

Author Tony Parsons explains why he admires a footballing great

England captain Bobby Moore

This article was first published in the October 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine 

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Bobby Moore, OBE, captained the England football team that won the 1966 World Cup, and is regarded as one of the greatest defenders of all time. Born in Barking, Essex, he joined West Ham in his teens and captained the club for more than 10 years, leading them to victory in the 1964 FA Cup. He retired from professional football in 1977 but struggled to make the transition to management. In early 1993 he revealed that he had cancer; he died less than two weeks later, aged 51. His statue stands outside the entrance to Wembley Stadium.

When did you first hear about Bobby Moore?

My mum had six brothers, all West Ham fans, who took me to Upton Park from the age of five, so I grew up watching him every other Saturday. I remember that he always carried himself with enormous dignity on the pitch – not so much like a footballer, more like the sheriff in the film High Noon – and he just struck me as the epitome of all manly goodness.

What kind of person was he?

He was an incredibly brave man – made of East End concrete. In a way he bridged the gap between the war [he was a war baby] and the modern era. He was one of the first modern British heroes, and had a sixties glamour about him, but in some respects he was a very old-fashioned man. I don’t think he would have been out of place on the beaches of Normandy.

What made him a hero?

He’s one of the greatest English sporting figures of all time, and he’s been a hero to me ever since that rainy day in 1966 when he led England to victory against West Germany at Wembley. As captain, he played a huge part in that famous win. To learn that he had secretly battled testicular cancer (only a handful of people knew he had it) just a few years earlier made him even more of a hero in my eyes.

Plus he had those Hollywood good looks. On my bookcase I’ve got a photograph of him standing alongside Sean Connery and Yul Brynner – yet Bobby’s the one who looks like the film star!

World Cup
England captain Bobby Moore celebrating with his teammates after winning the FIFA World Cup against Germany in Wembley Stadium, London in July 1966.

What was his finest hour?

That World Cup final on 30 July 1966. He was very much a leader of men, and people like George Best who played with him spoke about him with real reverence. People loved him, and he helped inspire England to victory. But he also captained the West Ham side that won the FA Cup a couple of years earlier – which as a Hammers fan means a lot to me.

Even now, his battle against testicular cancer when he was just 22 isn’t widely known. Typically for that time, he dealt with it quietly and stoically. And yet, despite that, he went on to lift the World Cup just a couple of years later. If he’d achieved that today, he’d be held up as an incredible role model for people of all ages.

Is there anything you don’t particularly admire about him?

I wish he’d had a more successful career beyond his playing days. Everything was a bit of an anti-climax after the footballing came to an end. I don’t think he was cherished in the way he should have been, and his managerial career sadly rather fizzled out. And in contrast to the Rooneys of today, he didn’t make enough money as a player to be able to retire after hanging up his boots.

Can you see any parallels between his life and your own?

Only that I came from the same sorts of streets that he did, so I have a degree of tribal identification with him – my family were also East Enders. But I wouldn’t want to go beyond that. It would be like comparing myself with Jesus! Nonetheless, I think any man can aspire to be like him – that’s why we have heroes, isn’t it? – even if we can’t quite match up to him ourselves.

If you could meet Bobby Moore what would you ask him?

If I had the courage, I’d like to ask him why he never made public the fact that he had cancer before the 1966 World Cup. Because, if he’d done so, it would surely have made him an even greater hero in the eyes of the nation.

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Tony Parsons was talking to York Membery. Tony Parsons is a bestselling author, well known for the novel Man and Boy. His latest book, The Murder Bag, is published by Century