On this day 25 years ago, 24th February 1993, West Ham United lost its greatest and most celebrated player of all-time – Bobby Moore.
Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore was born at 43 Waverley Gardens in Barking on 12th April 1941, the only child of Robert and Doris – he attended Westbury Primary School and Tom Hood School in Leytonstone and joined the Hammers in 1956. With mentor Malcolm Allison recovering from tuberculosis and 17-year-old Moore waiting in the wings to replace him, manager Ted Fenton asked full-back Noel Cantwell for a recommendation on who to play against Manchester United on 8th September 1958. Cantwell, despite being a big friend of Allison’s, famously replied, “play the kid”. Moore made his debut for the newly-promoted Hammers in a 3-2 home win.
Moore would make five more appearances in 1958/59 and 15 the following season. He scored his first goal for the club in a 3-1 home win over Charlton in the Hammers’ first ever League Cup game on 26th September 1960, the first of his 27 goals in claret and blue. A graceful, stylish defender, Bobby became a regular in that 1960/61 season after the departure of Johnny Smith to Tottenham, playing 42 games as West Ham finished 16th in the First Division. Moore, who was voted Hammer of the Year for the first time in 1960/61, was sent off for the only time in his career in a 5-3 defeat at Manchester City in November 1961, by which time Ron Greenwood had replaced Fenton.
Bobby made his England debut at the age of 21 on 20th May 1962 in a 4-0 win over Peru in Lima and played in the 1962 World Cup. He became the youngest player to captain England a year later after Johnny Haynes’ retirement and injury to Jimmy Armfield – Moore was handed the role permanently by new manager Alf Ramsey in the summer of 1964. By then, he had become an FA Cup winner after the Hammers’ defeat of Preston by three goals to two before lifting the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following season – he played in every game en route to the 1964 success and only missed both second round matches against Spartak Prague in the European campaign. Bobby was also part of the side which reached the semi-finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1966 and the two-legged League Cup Final in the same year as the Hammers were beaten on aggregate by Borussia Dortmund and West Brom in the respective competitions. Moore had also been named Hammer of the Year for the second time in 1963 and was voted Footballer of the Year in 1964.
His finest hour was to come on 30th July 1966 – a day etched in English sporting history. Bobby captained the England team, including West Ham United team-mates Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst to World Cup triumph over West Germany. Moore created two of the goals – Hurst and England’s first and last – as the Three Lions triumphed 4-2 at Wembley. In a typical display of gentlemanly conduct Moore, despite surely being beside himself with pride and joy, still had the wherewithal to note on his ascent to the Royal Box that the Queen was wearing white gloves. His only thought was to not dirty them and he wiped his muddy hands on his kit and on the velvet balustrade before shaking Her Majesty’s hand. His receipt of the Jules Rimet trophy is iconic of Moore’s own majesty and his holding aloft of the trophy still symbolises this country’s finest sporting moment. Incredibly, Moore had only recovered from testicular cancer 18 months previously.
Greenwood refused to sanction a move to Tottenham and Moore would be named BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1966. He would be voted Hammer of the Year in 1968 and again in 1970, winning the award four times in total, but the Hammers were entrenched in a period of under-achievement, although they did reach the semi-finals of the League Cup in 1972 with Moore incredibly saving a penalty against Stoke after going in goal when Bobby Ferguson was injured. Mike Bernard did score from the rebound though. An approach from Derby’s Brian Clough for Moore and Trevor Brooking was again turned down by Greenwood. Bobby scored his last goal for the club in a 4-3 defeat at Manchester City on 21st October 1972.
Bobby continued to impress against the world’s best – his performance against Pele’s Brazil in the 1970 World Cup was a masterclass in timing of the tackle and use of the football. With England struggling during qualification for the 1974 World Cup, he was left out by Ramsey – Moore’s last game for England was a 1-0 friendly defeat to Italy on 14th November 1973. He won 108 caps, scoring two goals. He held the appearance record for his country until it was surpassed by Peter Shilton but maintains the joint record for appearances as captain with Billy Wright.
Bobby’s 647th and final appearance for the Hammers came against Hereford in a 1-1 draw in the FA Cup third round on 5th January 1974. He held the appearance record for the club at the time and is now third behind Billy Bonds and Frank Lampard. He left the club two months later in a £25,000 move to Fulham. Ironically, he would face his former club in the FA Cup Final of 1975.
After a spell in the North American Soccer League with San Antonio Thunder and Seattle Sounders, Moore would go on to manage Oxford City and Southend United. He also turned his hand to co-commentary with Jonathan Pearce for Capital Radio. Bobby died at the tragically young age of 51, from bowel cancer, on 24th February 1993. His passing was mourned across the world, a sign of his stature as a player and a man. The gates at Upton Park became a shrine, with scarves, flowers and mementoes being left by thousands of supporters of many different football clubs. West Ham retired the number six shirt for their next game against Wolves, with Ian Bishop instead wearing 12 – the shirt was retired permanently in 2008. West Ham would name the newly-all-seater South Stand after him and a statue of Moore stands outside Wembley. The North Stand at London Stadium is now named in his honour.
On a personal note, despite never meeting him or seeing him play (he left West Ham nine years before I was born), Bobby Moore is one of my all-time heroes. When he passed away I started wearing the number six shirt for my Sunday League boys’ team and continued wearing the number six shirt right up to my university playing days. Bobby’s legacy passes through generations – this legacy continues with the work carried out by the Bobby Moore Fund.