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Richard Jolly profile picture Posted by Richard Jolly
Aug 25, 2014

Bobby Moore: The natural leader

The ESPN FC crew looks back to the accomplishments of Bobby Moore, who played for West Ham United for more than 10 years and was captain of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup.

Who is the greatest captain of all time? From Aug. 18-29, ESPN FC will reveal its 10-man shortlist of the finest skippers to have graced the game, before conducting a vote for the winner. The result will be revealed on Sept. 1.


It is one of the defining images of an England skipper. His shirt is soaked in blood, dyeing a white kit red. His personal courage made him the epitome of a thou-shalt-not-pass ethos that enabled his side to keep a clean sheet.

That was Terry Butcher against Sweden in 1989, the personification of the warrior-captain the Brits often prefer. Yet England's greatest leader was Butcher's antithesis. Twenty-three years earlier, Bobby Moore's top was dirtied, too, but only because on his way to receive the World Cup from the Queen, he had the presence of mind to wipe his hands on his shirt. That was Moore, a player with the presence of mind to remain immaculate.

Bobby Moore

Teams captained: West Ham, England.

Trophies won: 1964 FA Cup, 1965 European Cup Winners' Cup, 1966 World Cup.

He was an understated skipper with an air of authority. "He was not a ranter or a raver or a fist-pumping captain," said Sir Geoff Hurst, his former West Ham and England teammate, in 2008. "If he didn't like what you did he would show some disdain by just giving you a sideward glance. And he wouldn't give great praise to players unless they absolutely earned it."

Moore was the most natural of leaders. He was fast-tracked to take the England armband at 22, making him the youngest man to wear it, and while more experienced players such as Bobby Charlton were overlooked. Not that the Manchester United man had grounds for complaint.

"Bobby Moore had captained England as a youth player and had grown into the role as sure-footedly, as apparently effortlessly, as he performed on the field," wrote Charlton in "My England Years." "He carried a huge burden of expectation but he could hardly have borne it less lightly."

Coolness and calmness were the central tenets of Moore's captaincy. "I liked being captain," he said in 1966. "I liked the feeling of responsibility." The bigger the occasion, it seemed, the better he responded. In the closing minutes of the 1966 final, with England defending a 3-2 lead and in a situation in which many defenders would have hoofed the ball clear, Moore had the composure to spot an unmarked Hurst, pick him out and send the striker away to complete his hat trick.

His preparations for the 1970 World Cup were disrupted when he was arrested in Colombia and accused of stealing a bracelet. The rest of the squad proceeded to Mexico without him. Moore could have been under intolerable pressure. Instead, when he was released, his game reached new levels. His performance in England's 1-0 defeat to Brazil led Pele to deem Moore the greatest defender he faced. His most famous challenge, to halt Jairzinho's superb solo run, came in the same game. It was wonderfully timed.

All-time greatest captains

Tony Adams - Aug. 18
Franco Baresi - Aug. 19
Franz Beckenbauer - Aug. 20
Francisco Gento - Aug. 21
Steven Gerrard - Aug. 22
Roy Keane - Aug. 25
Bobby Moore - Aug. 26
Carles Puyol - Aug. 27
Obdulio Varela - Aug. 28
Dino Zoff - Aug. 29


Vote: Aug. 29
Result: Sept. 1

"His judgement was sensational," said Charlton. It lay at the heart of Moore's success, as both a leader and a defender. Moore wasn't quick, outstanding in the air or two-footed. He simply read the game better than anyone else. Coupled with his supreme confidence in his own ability and his nerveless excellence, it gave him the aura of a man who was invariably right. "He didn't have to work on projecting authority," said Charlton. "The natural captain."

A former West Ham colleague, Harry Redknapp, concurred, saying in his book "Harry": "He led by example. As a captain he was brilliant, but quiet." Moore's trophies as a captain all came on the same ground, Wembley, and in three successive summers. He lifted the FA Cup in 1964 and the Cup Winners' Cup the following year. "This was Bobby Moore's greatest game for West Ham," said the Hammers' manager, Ron Greenwood. "He should play at Wembley every week." Once again, Moore performed when it mattered most.

He secured the greatest prize of all, but comparatively little silverware. West Ham contributed three members of England's World Cup-winning XI and, through Hurst and Martin Peters, scored all four goals, but a self-deprecating Redknapp quipped: "Even when they had Moore, Hurst and Peters, West Ham's average finish was about 17th. It just shows how crap the other eight of us were."

West Ham didn't let Moore leave until 1974, long after his prime. It is a reason that, apart from in London's East End, he is more associated with England. He led his country a joint-record 90 times, all in Alf Ramsey's reign.

"In so many ways, he was my right-hand man, my lieutenant on the field, a cool, calculated footballer I could trust with my life," said England's greatest manager. "Bobby is an extension of myself on the field."

Moore is associated with most of West Ham's greatest moments.
Moore is associated with most of West Ham's greatest moments.

In their professional detachment, the unruffled Moore and the unemotional Ramsey seemed natural allies. Behind the scenes, they weren't soulmates. The centre-back was closer to the dressing room than the dugout. He had more of a social life than the single-minded manager. Moore felt he never knew the private Ramsey. The older man realised the younger one was capable of providing a different kind of leadership off the field.

"He captained the England football team, but he would have captained an England drinking team, if we had one," said Redknapp. Jimmy Greaves, Moore's closest friend in the international side, once stated: "Mooro got me into a lot of scrapes."

George Cohen, England's right-back, once overheard Ramsey. "Alf, who did not trust either of them, said: 'I'll win the World Cup without either of those two.'" Famously, he did win it without the omitted Greaves. As Ramsey subsequently admitted: "If people say England would not have won the World Cup without me as manager, I can say it would have been impossible without Bobby as captain."

He was right. The case for Moore rests not just on what he won, but the way he did it. Moore was the ultimate big-game captain: quietly inspirational, elegantly classy, performing with perfect precision.

Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly is a football writer for ESPN, The Guardian, The National, The Observer, the Straits Times and the Sunday Express.

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