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Viva Bobby Moore: Jonathan Pearce

Filed: Thursday, 21st February 2013
By: Chris Scull

KUMB.com caught up with Match of the Day presenter Jonathan Pearce, a former colleague of Bobby Moore's at Capital Gold, for a chat about the former West Ham captain on the 20th anniversary of his passing. Firing the questions on behalf of Knees up Mother Brown was Chris Scull...

Jonathan - thank you for talking to us. Why do so many consider Bobby Englandís finest?

I think it was the way he played and the way he conducted himself on and off the pitch. He was a master of the 'steal' tackle - he used to steal the ball but very rarely went to ground, you'll remember that fantastic tackle in Mexico 1970 against Jairzinho but also in the 1975 Cup Final for Fulham against West Ham when he nicked the ball there. He was fantastic at that art and a fantastic passer of the ball but it was just the way he led people, let alone the West Ham and England teams. Beckenbauer and Pele have said that he was the best defender ever and he was certainly the best defender I ever saw play.

Were you in awe the first time you met him?

Not really, because Bobby was so easy with everyone. He made you feel special right from the first moment you met him, he built you up to be as important as he was in any given situation. Your ideas were as valid as his, your suggestions and thoughts on football were equally valid. He just put people at ease and treated me the same way as people he'd won the World Cup with, great legends of the game. And he was an unbelievable person really, the finest man I've ever met in football and one of the finest I've met in my life.

What was he like as a colleague?

He loved being part of a team. At that time we ran Capital Gold very much on the same lines as a team; we had our season, we had our pre-season, we had our Christmas do, our end of season bash. We worked week-to-week and had a lot of young reporters coming through, most of whom are now working in television and Bobby was great with them.

He wasn't an overly vocal captain. Did he ever have any advice for you as a football commentator?

What he did, he wouldn't sit and say "this is a tip for how you should commentate on football" because he didn't know commentary and he was very good at commenting on defensive performances. He wanted defenders to play the way some are playing now; he didn't ever want them to lunge in with a challenge. But what he would do was tell the younger reporters stories of the past and he just used to enchant people like that. Because of that he increased their overall knowledge of the game, he enriched your experience of it.

It came about because a friend of mine called Mick Lowes, who used to work with me - probably the best radio commentator I've ever worked with - who's now up at BBC Radio Newcastle. I had a friend called Steve Lillis who worked at the [Daily] Sport newspaper and Steve said that Bobby wanted to do more from a social situation. We then progressed it, spoke to Bob and from the minute he came to speak to us he wanted to come in and join us.

Was I surprised that he didn't have a role in football? Yes I was and to this day I'm astonished and disgusted by the fact that football ignored him for so long. People say "oh, he'd never make a manager, he's too nice" - that's utter rubbish. He was never given the chance at a club with resources and I think he could have passed on his knowledge to footballers of any age. He certainly could have played the same ambassadorial role that Beckenbauer did with the German Football Association.

He was chronically underused by the game so was I surprised that he was available to us? Yes. Was I surprised that he wanted to come and join us? No. It was almost as if he was back in the dressing room again and he loved that.

What was the reaction when you walked down the street with Bobby?

You get a lot of double-takes, you know and then inevitably you'd have people... When we used to go to away games we'd sit on a wall somewhere or stand outside a fish and chip shop eating chips from paper or go to a cafe or service station on the way like ordinary fans and he loved that. He'd never experienced that side [of the game] as a player and he really enjoyed it.

Inevitably fans would come up and talk to him, he'd talk the hind legs off a donkey if they wanted to talk about football. He really concentrated on the football of there and then, he never talked about himself or his own career. He was more interested in talking about the current players and he'd ask fans what they thought. That was it really; he always used to listen to the thoughts of other people and those thoughts were as important to him as his own. He was very good with fans and if they were ever bothering him on a train he used to say "excuse me boys, a man of my age needs to shut his eyes now and again - I must have 40 winks" - and he'd close his eyes and pretend to be asleep until they'd gone when he'd open his eyes and say "have they gone Pearco?" and carry on the conversation! Because he was Bobby they used to take that on board!

It's funny, but he was a devil at cutting people up on the road in his car. If you hit a traffic jam or something like that on a motorway Bob would always be roaring along in the outside lane then cut in late. People would be honking their horns but as soon as they realised who it was they'd pull up alongside him again, pull an autograph book out of the window and ask him to sign it! One minute they were enraged by him, next minute they saw it was Bobby Moore and they were enchanted again. He had the ability to enchant anyone; as soon as he entered a room, heads turned.

Did he have as much humility as people say?

Yeah, I think that's what made him so special really; he was so humble. World Cup '66 wasn't about him; World Cup '66 wasn't about Peters and Hurst, the goalscorers in the Final - it was about George Cohen, Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton. He used to talk about all of them, he used to talk about the forgotten squad members. He used to talk to me about those people.

I can't remember where we were but I remember saying... The context was that someone had said to me about playing, or something, and I said "no, I wasn't good enough". Although I trained at Bristol City when I was a kid I never had any pace, couldn't head a ball or get over the half way line and back in the same week! Mooro, quick as a flash turned round and said "well neither could I Pearco and look what happened to me!"

He was just like that, very self-deprecating. He'd had a wonderful career; this was a man who captained his country for a joint record amount of times. In fact, thinking back to it I remember having a conversation with him about that and he was so proud that he'd captained his country as many times as Billy Wright, I think it was. He was very proud of that record, I know that but he was a very modest man.

When you were sat with Bobby at Wembley against San Marino, did you get a sense that he was saying goodbye to the scene of his many triumphs?

No. In fact he was, but no I didn't. I only found out how seriously ill he was the previous Saturday morning when a newspaper man phoned me up and said the papers were going to run a story saying that Bobby was terminally ill. I was just about to go out the door to an Arsenal versus Nottingham Forest Cup tie and Bobby was off to Chelsea against Villa, I seem to remember. When I spoke to him on the phone he told me what the situation was and I was absolutely distraught, because the previous day I had been in hospital and had the all-clear from a cancer scare. I'd phoned him up on that Friday, talked to him and he never even let slip. Then, the following day, he told me what the score was and I was in an awful state.

He asked me to come over to the house to do an interview. He was going to do two interviews; one with me for the radio and TV around the world and another one that Jeff Powell was going to do for the newspapers. So I went down on the Monday and he was still very positive; he wanted people to think that he believed he could beat the illness because he didn't want people to give in if they had cancer, he wanted people to fight against it. He didn't want to appear defeated even though he knew he was dying. I don't think either he nor I thought it was going to be so quickly from that moment.

On the Wednesday he went to Wembley and he was fine during the game, absolutely fine. The pictures that went round the world clearly shocked the world and Stephanie, his wife and I decided that he shouldn't go to West Ham on the Saturday against Newcastle because they'd have had a camera lens in his face and we just didn't think that it would be fitting. We thought it would be very upsetting for the family, so I phoned him up and told him I didn't think he should go. He respected me - he didn't agree with the decision but was happy with it. He respected everything that I'd always said to him and that was it really. Sadly I never got the chance to speak to him again because he died the following Wednesday.

I was out of the country in Goa when he died. So I'm pretty convinced that he didn't know that night would be his last Wembley. I think he knew he'd never see England win another trophy but I think he'd have known that since Euro 1992. So he knew that he'd never see them win anything which deeply saddened him. But he was so incredibly positive, even in the last days. He took it remarkably stoically, an incredibly brave man.

Youíve mentioned with regret that you persuaded Bobby to stay away from the Newcastle match shortly before he died. If you could turn back the clock, would you have changed this?

No. No, I wouldn't. The fact is I never had the chance to speak to him again and that will live with me for the rest of my life. But I've spoken to Stephanie about it - we've had long conversations about it. Bobby didn't hold anything against me for it, he respected my decision and that was it. I wish he was here today; I wish he had lived to see my kids and I wished he'd live to lead his son Dean down a healthier path. I wish he'd lived to see his grandchildren on Roberta's side, I wish he was here today - but unfortunately that cannot be. But would I have exposed him to that circus on the Saturday? No I wouldn't - and it would have been a circus. It would have been too much for his family to take at that time.

Do you recall the tributes at Upton Park in 1993?

I was out of the country and didn't come back for ten days afterwards, so missed a great deal of it. Everything was taped for me; I watched the first two minutes of film footage of the floral tributes, the scarves and the shirts outside of Upton Park but it was too much, I couldn't watch any more. It was too hard for me to watch. I've still got the tapes; I've not watched them since. It's still too raw. You know, I wasn't in Bobby's family - I was only a friend but he had that effect on people. I thought it was a remarkable testament to the man, the way the game came together and the way the minute's silence was meticulously observed around the country. The way the football world came together.

I think it was the first time really that that had happened, that the football world came together for one man. It's happened subsequently but not to the same effect and I think it was just unparalleled, really. It just spoke volumes about his importance to the world game and his standing in the world game.

How should have the FA and West Ham United used Bobby while he was alive?

He should have had an ambassadorial role, like I said earlier, at least. He could have been fantastic going into schools and encouraging kids to play football. I think he would have certainly been a person worthy to have in your back room staff or even as a manager at a club but he was never really given the opportunity. He had that spell at Oxford City where he introduced Harry Redknapp to football coaching - that was Harry's first job, so there's a legacy. He had a dabble at Southend and then became a director there but there was no money so he was on a loser right from the start. I think he would have developed, he was very young at that stage. People come in now in their 30s, late 30s as manager and people say they're too young. AVB came in, "oh he's far too young to be a manager". Bobby was still young then and had he been trusted with a role in his 40s I think he would have done it very well.

If he were still alive, what do you imagine heíd be doing now?

I think he would have carried on doing what he did with me as long as he wanted, as long as I was there. I think he would have got more TV because suddenly, with Sky, TV blossomed and there were more opportunities. He certainly would have got more media work. Then, with Sky blossoming there were more commercial opportunities through sponsors, boot companies and things like that. I think they would have got Bobby on board in some way or another. Would he have been used by companies like McDonalds in the same way Geoff Hurst had been to flag up their coaching scheme? Probably, but I donít think the FA would have used him because have they used Bobby Charlton? Trevor [Brooking] is the figurehead, Trevor's a different sort of character. He might have been used by a club.

I think Bobby was very content. He was never bitter towards the game, he was never bitter towards players making a lot of money than he ever made. I would imagine if Bobby was still here today on a Sunday he'd be looking forward to going to a game with myself or someone else and afterwards, we'd find a little bar and have a glass of chilled white wine. That was Bobby, really.

How should Bobbyís memory be enshrined if West Ham move to the Olympic stadium?

There's a lovely statue of Bobby at Wembley now and the statue of the World Cup winners outside the Boleyn pub, but I'd like to see a whopping great big statue of Bobby Moore as you walk into that Olympic Stadium so that Bobby is honoured there with a major statue. I'd love to see West Ham put up other statues of great legends around the whole ground; Billy Bonds, Frank Lampard, people like this. Trevor Brooking, Phil Parkes, Malcolm Allison, who played such an important part in Bobby's life. But Bobby should be the centre piece of it, definitely.

How would you like the world to remember Bobby Moore?

As the greatest English captain of all time. In any sport. The greatest English captain of all time in any sport.

* Extracts from this interview may also be heard in Episode 3 of the KUMB.com Podcast - a Bobby Moore special.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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