To get the juices flowing ahead of England’s adventure in Russia each week in Football Fancast we’re going to be looking back at a unforgettable moment from the Three Lions’ World Cup canon.
This time out we revisit a perfectly timed interception by a half human, half Rolls Royce.
When looking through the scrapbook of England’s most cherished World Cup moments goals leap from the page. There’s Joe Cole’s wonder-volley against Sweden and Hurst’s hat-trick strike (funny how many of these moments involve West Ham links). David Platt’s hooked late effort that downed Belgium in 1990 is suitably lingered on. Michael Owen’s solo act of sensationalism takes up two whole pages and runs into a third.
What is so strange though – so wonderfully, brilliantly strange – is that amongst our favourite memories of iconic splendour courtesy of our national side on the biggest stage of them all is a tackle. A well timed yes, but a tackle nonetheless.
That basic detail however omits the context and the context in this instance is the protagonists involved: the tackler and the tacklee, otherwise known as one of the world’s greatest ever footballers and England’s finest ever defender. Jairzinho and Moore. The heat-shimmering haze of Mexico doesn’t half help raise its stature too.
The year is 1970 and England are world champions but that doesn’t mean of course they are the best in the world. That title indisputably belongs to their opponents under the searing sun of Guadalajara: the flamboyant, extravagantly magnificent Brazil – Rivelino, Pele and all – a collection of exhibitionists who are two weeks away from winning their third crown and thus forever keeping the Jules Rimet trophy. They are just five games away from securing immortality and being widely regarded as the most complete football team planet Earth has ever produced.
Paired together in Group 3 both sides began their World Cup campaigns with a win and now whoever came out on top here would guarantee passage to the knock-outs. For the defeated a battle remained for second spot, and the chance to play West Germany in the quarter finals. A lot then rode on this but let’s cut to the chase and offer up a spoiler because this is hardly obscure fare: Brazil win 1-0 despite England arguably being the better side. With the game in the balance Gordon Banks pulls off a save for the ages that is so destined for the net Pele jumps up and shouts ‘goal’.
As for the tackle, in reality there are three. On three occasions Pele and co romp forward only to be denied in consummate fashion by a fair-haired centre-back half human, half Rolls Royce. Add in several blocks, anticipated interceptions, and cool-as-f*** strolls out of defence and it amounts to a masterclass of his art-form. Factor in the significance of the game and the other-worldly opponents and it makes him legend.
Even so, when Frank Skinner and David Baddiel wrote Three Lions thirty years later and included the line ‘that tackle by Moore’ they did not feel the need to specify which slice of defensive brilliance is being referred to. We all knew. One stood out.
It’s the second half and Brazil have recently taken the lead. The humidity is stifling. With England in search of an equaliser they briefly forgo their shape and Jairzinho races down the right flank. It is two v two. Taking long strides the winger pounds rather than glides, eating up the turf. He faints to go inside as the penalty area looms into view.
The whole time Moore is watching, jockeying, waiting. He doesn’t buy the dip of Jairzinho’s shoulder. He knows the lightning quick, tricky wide-man favours his right.
The pair are now inside the area. It’s now or never and the commitment to a challenge simply has to be perfect. It is.
Moore leads with his right leg, his wrong leg if adhering to a coaching manual. Instead he relies on experience. Bags and bags of experience.
The tackle is clean as a whistle. It’s so clean no part of Moore’s boot or leg touches the winger who flies over into a somersault not through any intention to deceive the referee but because of physics.
It is a thing of beauty comprising of composure and immaculate timing. It’s as beautiful as a wonder-volley or hat-trick strike. That tackle by Moore.
England finish second in the group necessitating a tough tie with West Germany, their defeated foe from four years earlier. Despite going two up the Three Lions collapse in the second half and head home to a nation’s exasperation.
Brazil – Rivelino, Pele and all – duly achieve immortality.