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Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Friday, 26 February 2010

Jonathan Pearce on his memories of Bobby Moore

Bobby Moore celebrating England's World Cup win in 1966
Bobby Moore famously holding aloft the World Cup in 1966

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

What a crying shame! In a week of more salacious headlines about feuding England internationals and high profile marital infidelity, no-one had any time to even mention the anniversary of the death of the greatest man the English game has ever produced.

Forget Matthews, Finney, Charlton or Gascoigne, only one English player has ever hoisted the Fifa World Cup aloft.

Bobby Moore remains a global icon, he was a national treasure and he was also one of the closest friends I have ever had.

He died 17 years ago this week. What would he have made of the sordid tales that keep emerging from the ego-inflated bubble-world that cocoons the modern football superstar?

Make no mistake. Bobby wasn't a saint. His own first marriage ended in failure but it was not because of an affair with a team mate's partner or a squalid series of dalliances. There were genuine and heartfelt reasons. He once told me what had happened but the conversation will remain private.

He liked a drink - several. He told me one story about Sir Alf Ramsey finding his senior players in a bar. Criticising most of them for quaffing pints, he questioned: "Why can't you be more like the captain? He's simply drinking halves. What an example he is to you all." What Sir Alf didn't understand was that Bobby had 20 more halves lined up under the table!

Not that he was always the darling of the manager. After breaking a curfew on the eve of an away game leading up to the 1966 World Cup, he returned to his hotel room to find his passport on the bed.

Ramsey's trainer and enforcer Les Cocker informed him that he was being sent home - that his World Cup dream was over. Bobby spent the whole night sweating. In the morning he apologised and he never crossed the manager again.

Perhaps that was why Sir Alf was so utterly convinced of Bobby's innocence when Colombian officials alleged the skipper had stolen a bracelet in Bogota and imprisoned him for four days ahead of the 1970 World Cup finals.

So he did have controversial and saucy interludes in his life. Supporters of Ashley Cole, John Terry and all the other big names who've fallen into the gutter might also point out that the media is far more cruelly intrusive these days but that's missing a point.

606: DEBATE

In the years we travelled the world together working for Capital Radio he never once spoke of Bogota even when I asked him to confirm what a former England room-mate claimed - that Bobby took the rap to protect a young 1970 squad member. He just smiled ruefully and kept a dignified silence.

And that was Bobby all over. I have never met a more immaculate man, his clothes were always pristine and instantly packed away in drawers in far-flung hotels while mine were left slopping out of a suitcase. He was gentle, kind and considerate.

At Euro 1992 when he found that a Capital reporter was being recalled from Sweden for financial reasons after England's elimination, Bobby paid for the young man to stay on to watch the last week's action. His only stipulation was that we didn't tell the reporter as he didn't want any fuss.

He would talk football to princes and paupers in the same engaging way. He introduced me to Pele in the same way he introduced me to a mate from the "Chicken Run" at Upton Park.

He had a wonderfully infectious dry sense of humour and a deep love for football and football fans and would never have knowingly hurt the game. He would never have willingly engaged in any activity that outraged public morals and was a man of the people and never forgot that.

I was once told that John Terry, another boy from Barking in East London, used to stand outside Bobby's old house and stare in wonder. I'd love John to sit down with me and chat about his old hero.

For all the criticism of Terry, he's not a bad lad. Bobby would have frowned at some of his behaviour but he would never have been morally judgmental. He would have applauded the bravery of Wayne Bridge's decision and poured scorn on those who have condemned the full-back for not putting the country ahead of emotional affairs.

I'd love to tell them both how he dealt with being captain of his country at just 22 and for a record-equalling 90 games, how he coped with the public expectancy levels of 1966, how proud he was when he broke Bobby Charlton's cap record, how distraught he was to his dying day of his costly error in the 1974 World Cup qualifier in Poland and how dignified he was in facing his final fight against cancer.

In April 1991 he underwent stomach surgery. He told me it was routine and over the next two years while he gave me unstinting support and friendship during my own suspected cancer scare, he never told me the awful truth about himself.

Bobby Moore in his West Ham days
Moore made 544 League appearances for West Ham

But on 13 February, 1993 he phoned, just as I was leaving for Arsenal against Forest in the cup. "I've got bowel cancer "Pearco". There's nothing they can do. I'm dying old son."

I cried out loud and I weep every time I remember him. He was peerless.

We went to Wembley together one last time to see England against San Marino. I pulled him out of the following Sunday's West Ham v Newcastle game after a plea from his second wife Stephanie to keep him away from the media circus. I never spoke to him again.

On Wednesday 24 February I arrived in Goa on holiday. The hotel told me that I had bad news from England, but I couldn't call internationally on their phones. I had to go to the village post office instead.

For some reason I told my taxi driver that I was sure my friend Bobby Moore had died. I didn't tell him anything more about Bobby. I didn't need to.

The post office had a corrugated roof and just three walls. The front opened onto the dusty street.

After three or four minutes into the call, as the news of Bob's death at 6.36 am that day sunk in, I turned to face the street. I was astonished. In that small village, in the middle of a jungle tens of thousands of miles away, scores of faces were looking at me hoping that I'd tell them it wasn't true.

Bobby Moore simply meant that much for so many people in so many places. He was a shining beacon.

These are different days with different aspirations and standards. But I just wish the modern footballer was more like Bobby Moore and I wish that in this hectic era of so much inconsequential nonsense, more people still had time to remember a man of real substance.


Jonathan Pearce will commentate on Chelsea v Manchester City for Match of the Day on Saturday. The programme will be broadcast on BBC One and online at 2230 GMT and repeated on BBC One and online at 0745 GMT on Sunday.



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