By Matt Dickinson
“He is undoubtedly the icon of English sport. He has a statue outside Wembley. And yet I felt I knew so little about Moore. I felt I didn’t know the man.”
It was this thought that sparked Matt Dickinson’s biography of Bobby Moore.
Moore has become a giant figure in English sport after his death. His name evokes an England that no longer exists – an England where players were honest, didn’t dive, and played with heart. An ancient time where the English national team won, and where clubs held the whip hand over players.
His days writing for the Sunday Sport or sinking beers didn’t rate a mention in the inscription beneath the 12ft-high statue of Moore outside Wembley Stadium:
Immaculate footballer. Imperial defender. Immortal hero of 1966. First Englishman to raise the World Cup aloft. Favourite son of London’s East End. Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Gentleman of all time.
The veneration of Moore after his death has given rise to a simplified view of Moore.
Every legend starts as a truth. Moore was a fantastic footballer. A perfectionist, who never shed the body image issues he developed as a chubby child. He was unflappable – almost cold – on the pitch.
This tells us nothing about the man himself.
The facts of his life are well-known. Born during the Blitz. Grew up in East London. Played for and captained West Ham United. Captained England to its only World Cup victory in 1966. Died from bowel cancer aged 51.
His shabby treatment by West Ham is less well-known. Dickinson traces Moore’s troubled relationship with the club through his playing days, finishing with an shameful incident that led to Moore turning his back on the Hammers forever.
Dickinson turns over every stone he finds, however the book is not a muck-raking exercise. He seeks out all sides to each story. We are left with an account that is frank and unbiased yet somehow gentle towards its subject. There is none of the self-indulgence and score-settling we see in sportsmen’s autobiographies. The book is balanced and well-researched.
The infamous Bogota incident. The Blackpool incident. The booze. Oh the booze. The Krays. All are given the same care and attention as Moore’s playing career…and his career in football management.
Moore was something of a dichotomy. Perhaps the most reclusive public figure to grace the world’s stage.
The fact that Moore had testicular cancer only came out after his death. Here’s a man who played his cards close to his chest. He shared his emotions and inner thoughts with no-one – a challenge for any biographer when the subject is alive, let alone twenty years in the grave.
As for his time writing for the Sunday Sport, Moore loved it by all accounts. It was during a time when he couldn’t get arrested, and he was grateful for the opportunity for paid work. He was a shunned figure.
Dickinson has crafted a well-paced, thorough book that is never dull. Even for a non-English, non-West Ham supporting reader.
“He was an enigmatic character,” said Dickinson of Moore – an understatement if ever there were one.
Or as Sir Michael Parkinson put it: “When you stopped to think, you realised you knew bugger all about him.”
Interview with Matt Dickinson, talking about Bobby Moore: