Extracts of Blagg's football blogs as he follows West Ham United and England through the usual series of near disasters.

Featuring links to the Annual Billy Blagg Advent Calendar of Christmas Songs.

Also featuring guest appearances by 'Captain Olympic'.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full - Book Review

There is an inherent dichotomy at the heart of  Matt Dickinson’s new book Booby Moore: The Man in Full. While the inside cover poses the questions ‘What of the failed businesses, whispers of bad behaviour, links to the East End underworld and turbulent private life?’, the back dust jacket quotes Moore’s friend Sir Michael Parkinson “When you stop to think you realised you knew fuck all about him’ That central issue is the frustration at the heart of any book about the iconic England captain.

It would be wrong to claim that Dickinson, the Chief Football Correspondent for The Times, really answers any of the questions -- in many ways it poses even more -- but it would also be unfair to pretend that the book doesn’t at least try to get to the heart of a frustrating character; someone who is revered even more now than in his lifetime, but also a person whose traits and flaws seem to have grown exponentially since his untimely death in 1993.

With Moore passing tragically early at the age of 51 – the failure of medical staff to detect the early symptoms of the bowel and liver cancer that eventually took him being a strong theme in the book -- there are no new stories to tell, no new insights to be had. All there is a continuation of the Bobby Moore legend , one that grows with every failure by subsequent England teams, and a 21st Century reassessment that wonders how, in a world that still basks in the David Beckham aura, Moore remained outside of the mainstream following his retirement from football.

Looked at today, it’s hard to imagine that Bobby Moore wouldn’t have joined the pantheon of feted sports stars had he lived. There’s surely no way that he wouldn’t have received a knighthood and how would the 2012 Olympics in Stratford gone ahead without his involvement, for example. It’s almost certain that England and West Ham would have utilised his fame too – particularly when current West Ham and former Sunday Sport owners David Gold and David Sullivan were virtually the only people who offered Moore any type of well-paid job during his post-playing career. But although it is generally accepted that it was the failing of the England hierarchy to harness the statesmanlike qualities of Moore after his playing days were finished, there is a nagging sense in Dickinson’s book that the fault lies as much with Moore as the usual suited suspects the fans and media like to snipe at.

Although leaving the reader to judge for themselves, the book comes close to suggesting that perhaps Moore didn’t have what it takes to become a good coach or manager and perhaps, just lacked that certain trait – arrogance being prime, it seems -- to grab the political or diplomatic role taken by compatriots like Franz Beckenbauer or Pele. 

Interestingly though, ‘The Man in Full’ is littered with references to Moore ‘staggering home’, ‘collapsing in an armchair’ or ‘crawling up the stairs’ yet shies away from suggesting that Moore might have had the same problem with drink that Bobby’s friend Jimmy Greaves later admitted tto. And while it’s certainly the case that English football was stuffed with ‘bon viveur’ at the time, chatting to Moore’s compatriots only really highlights the image of the England and West Ham captain as a man out of time as European influences on fitness and diet started to seep into the British game.

The fact is Ron Greenwood’s assertion that he could talk all day about Moore the footballer but would dry up in few minutes if discussing Moore the man, remains pretty much the flavour of the book and Dickinson’s attempts at speaking to some of the people who knew him best: Mike Summerbee, Harry Redknapp, Rodney Marsh and, crucially, Bobby’s first wife Tina actually only serves to muddy the water.

The only glimpse of a man who the general public didn’t know comes with the insights into Moore’s second marriage to Stephanie. Certainly the break-up with Tina and the difficulty the family-man had at leaving his home are a painful and tragic read. But stripped of the uncomfortable ‘love story of the century’ from Moore’s own biography, there is a sense that, for perhaps the only time in his life, Moore was able to become the man he wanted to be, embracing travel, the theatre and opera in a way that doesn’t sit easily to a man used to propping up a bar stool in Bethnal Green. 

In addition, the juxtaposing of Moore’s personality by the two women who loved him is touching and heartfelt; Tina in particular ironically mirroring the theme of Dickinson’s book in being fascinatingly unsure of a man she spent 24 years with. 

At the heart of ‘The Man in Full’ though is a familiar story that we may all know but one that just keeps giving. The tale of a shy boy from Barking who grew to captain his local team to unprecedented Cup and European glory and his national team to the biggest prize in sport, establishing himself as a sporting icon even though he was, by his own admission, a slow defender and a poor header of the ball. 

Set against stories today of players with sublime skill, at the peak of physical perfection, pampered by clubs and feted by fans everywhere, Moore’s rise to the pinnacle of the game seems an even greater story now than it was at the time. References to that day in 1966 still produces Goosebumps and, if the reader’s support extends to Moore’s West Ham career, there are chunks of the book almost guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.

Matt Dickinson’s ‘Man in Full’ is a book that attempts to explain something about a national icon who was always a private person; a man who suffered testicular cancer at 23 but who never told a soul – even hiding himself in the shower on match days to mask his ‘loss’. With such privacy, it would always be a thankless task to try and peel away the layers and reveal something we didn’t already know and although Dickinson doesn’t quite pull that off, he does manage to produce a fascinating and easily-red book that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

Perhaps not a man in full then but still one that, even glimpsed at slightly, will forever be held as a national icon and the pinnacle of sporting success. In truth, that’s pretty much all we want anyway.

Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography - Book Review

Bobby Moore: The Definitive Biography is an updated and expanded version of Jeff Powell’s original book first published in 1976, with the addition of a prologue – inevitably counterpointing Moore’s ultimate World Cup success with England’s inept failure in Brazil this summer – and eight chapters encasing the original book: picking up Moore’s story from where the first publication left-off, taking us through the England captain’s painful retirement, second marriage and on to his illness and tragic death in 1993. 

Powell was one of Moore’s best friends and there is little doubt that England’s greatest player would only ever trust his full story to be told by the award-winning Daily Mail journalist and Powell’s insights into Moore’s personality and behaviour are evident throughout. 

I have long cherished the 1976 autobiography, it’s a book I’ve returned to many times for anecdotes and reference. It left a mark on me when I first read it, differing as it does from most sporting autobiographies in that the thoughts of the subject have been brought to life by the journalistic skills of Powell, writing in the third person as if his ghost writer were actually present to record Moore’s thoughts and actions. This makes the book read almost as a novel and the style can illuminate or jar depending on your point of view and re-reading the original it has to be said that some of the prose now seems anachronistic. 
In one chapter a discussion with old Hammers colleague Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne about the relative managerial merits of Alf Ramsey over Ron Greenwood has Moore contemplating ‘as the huge darkening sun dipped behind the velvet folds of night’. 

It’s not recorded that Powell was there for the meeting, so either Moore described the scene or Powell has used some journalistic licence. Apart from in itself being a clunky piece of phrasing, it’s then hard not to stop and wonder how the description came about and, if you’re someone who can’t simply take what is on the written page and leave it, then the prose becomes annoying and ultimately distracting.

“Hey Bob, that’s an interesting conversation you had with Budgie. I’d like to put that in the book but I need a bit of prose to make it read better. Can you remember anything about where you were or what was happening when you had this conversation”

“Well Jeff, I do remember that behind Budgie I saw a huge darkening sun dipping below the velvet folds of night…”

Nevertheless Moore’s personal thoughts still continue to surprise: following the infamous story dealing with the stolen bracelet in Bogota on the eve of the 1970 World Cup, for example, there is a passage in which Moore – given a gold identity bracelet as an ironic gift by his wife – intriguingly questions why he was left stranded in the Colombian capital by Alf Ramsey. 

Later Moore sits alone in his hotel room after the 1975 FA Cup final in which the Fulham side he represented were beaten 2-0 at Wembley by his old West Ham mates, his ‘bow tie hanging loose on his shirt front‘ Moore looks at his runners-up medal and says “I’m glad I didn’t get many of these!” This is a more realistic situation where Moore would presumably share his thoughts with Powell later and it’s where the book works best. 

The main Aspects of Moore’s life that had only been hinted at or even hidden when they occurred are also illuminating - attempts by Brian Clough to lure Moore to Derby County, how the West Ham captain fell out with Ron Greenwood following the infamous Blackpool incident, how the only England player ever to lift the World Cup was almost ineligible to play in ’66 – these revelations may shock Hammers fans reared on Moore’s supposedly unquestioned loyalty to his local team. 

Powell’s close relationship with Moore is both the book’s strength and major weakness though and it has to be said the extra chapters – although obviously necessary in terms of covering Moore’s life – include a lack of subjectivity that makes for uncomfortable reading at times. 

Returning to the original part of the book years later, there’s a definite feeling that the world has moved on, both in terms of Moore’s standing within the game and – it has to be said – Powell’s ghost-written style. 

For a West Ham fan, the lack of objectivity in Powell’s book will make Moore appear even more of a paragon of virtue. For others without claret and blood in their veins though, some of the eulogising may be difficult to stomach; the linking of Moore’s death with a lowering of standards in English society may enthuse Conservative thinkers – the capital c intentional with Powell’s political leanings in evidence in the extra chapters – while more liberal others may baulk at the comparison of Moore’s upstanding virtues with the ‘brutishness of Johnny Rotten’. This is a comparison both wrong and unnecessary.

The collapse of Moore’s marriage to first-love Tina - Powell was actually best man at the former England captain’s wedding to his second wife Stephanie, while Moore reciprocated at Powell’s – makes for uncomfortable reading in all senses. Powell’s eulogising of it as ‘one of the great love affairs of our time’ may force some to question the benefit of Powell’s closeness to the subject, and it’s left to the reader to consider if Moore’s frustration with the lack of opportunities available to him as a retired footballer didn’t ultimately impinge in his personal life. Moore, to be fair, blamed himself for the collapse of his marriage and there is a stoicism and candour in this aspect that seems very much part of the Bobby Moore legacy.

It’s for the football that most will turn to this book though and there is a fascinating debate to be had about the failure of football’s hierarchy in the latter quarter of the 20th Century to embrace Moore as a statesman or – as Germany did with Franz Beckenbauer – use their greatest player as a springboard for a new regime. 

The sad indictment of the book though isn’t that Moore’s coaching and ambassadorial skills were ignored during his lifetime, but rather changing attitudes and the failure of successive England campaigns, surely indicate that - had Moore lived beyond the cruelly short 52 years he was given – England’s captain probably would have gained some position of power within the game.

The rise of celebrity culture best signified by David Beckham has changed the way we view past success and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to consider Moore may even have had the England job when the controversial postings of Sven Goran-Eriksson and Fabio Capello were being made. Had he lived, Moore would now only be 6 years older than Roy Hodgson. 

Bobby Moore: The Definitive biography is then, an essential read for anyone interested in the life and times of English footballers greatest captain and is worth the price for that alone. Powell’s style and personal views may irk some but there is little doubt that his personal friendship with the great man has elicited confidences that are lacking in other books about the man whom the rest of the football world still view with some awe. 

Ultimately though, there is a profound sense that the 21st Century has revised Moore’s legacy in a way that England and West Ham’s greatest captain would have been proud of.