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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

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. 

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