Seventy-six years ago today, one of the most iconic sportsmen to have ever graced our shores was born.
With so much made about the current state of the English national side, Bobby Moore’s birthday offers a jarring juxtaposition to the current crop of Three Lions. For, during one historic day a little under 51 years ago, the country that created football reigned supreme.
The image of the West Ham United legend holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft at a sun-kissed Wembley on the 30th July 1966 gleams across a myriad of tourist attractions all over London.
Held up by his teammates on a glorious evening at the home of football, the images are ingrained into the English identity. Though on that day, he was lifted up by the likes of Geoff Hurst and company, you get the feeling he was standing on the shoulders of a nation.
Moore’s importance to the national game cannot be understated. Not only did he lead England to the finest sporting moment in their history, during a decade where life burst into colour in so many different ways, he’s widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders to have played the game.
Waxing poetic about his importance off the field is a hard notion to resist when talking about him. Naturally, the famous images previously mentioned spring to mind at the mere mention of Moore’s name. Still, remembering the man as a just wonderful talent seems fitting on his birthday.
With that in mind, a quote from Celtic and Scotland legend Jock Stein seems fitting. A true Scot and an individual never likely to indulge in hyperbole about England’s success, Stein summed up his wonderful ability in one typically pragmatic phrase.
When you think of an English centre-back. the rather typical image you’ll get forming in the mind’s eye is that of a murderous bruiser, desperately putting his body on the line in the most dramatic of fashions. While the likes of Rio Ferdinand and (to a lesser extent, granted) John Stones would argue with that, it’s a rather unfortunate stereotype.
However, Moore was as cultured as they come. Indeed, perhaps his most famous tackle of all time lends itself aptly to Stein’s description. Faced with the brilliant Jarzinho on one of his mazy runs, the Hammers icon stood his ground and timed his tackle to perfection, cleanly taking the ball from the feet of the Selecao samba star.
Too often do we praise a defender for making a desperate last-ditch tackle, though they are largely down to some poor marking in the phase preceding the challenge. For Moore, however, accurately reading the game was an art he perfected more than most, as fine a craft as some of the most marvelled attacking play across the history of the beautiful game.
Other defensive greats, such as Paolo Maldini will surely testify to that. The AC Milan legend averaged just 0.56 tackles a game across his glittering career with the Rossoneri and the Italian national side, two institutions of masterful defending.
Xabi Alonso, the deep-lying playmaker who operated as one of the midfield pivots in the greatest national side of recent memory, quipped ‘tackling is not really a quality, it’s more something you are forced to resort to when you don’t have the ball.’
Which is exactly what make Stein’s words on Moore back in 1969 all the more poignant. His reading of the game make him a legend and an icon, a fine art honed on the streets of Essex and at the Irons’ Chadwell Heath training base, doing far more for the game than those sun-tinted photos taken at Wembley.
There’s so much that has been talked about in regards to Bobby Moore. So much more that will be as England continue to struggle in the realms of international. But from a hard-nosed Scotsman, born amidst the steel and grit of Lanarkshire, this quote seems fitting.
From one legend of the British game to another, Stein on Moore addresses the man for what he was.