Viva Bobby Moore: Paul Walker

KUMB columnist Paul Walker was lucky enough to meet his hero, Bobby Moore, on three occasions...

I'm one of the lucky ones - I saw Bobby Moore play. Not just once, or twice, but hundreds and hundreds of times. And for my club.

It's hard to believe that he passed away 20 years ago today. It reminds me just how old I am getting too. For this was the footballer, not just any footballer but the best defender England has ever produced, who dominated my life way back then in the '60s. And now, too.

I suppose Moore has always been in my head, every day. I only have to look around my office to see five books about him and his life, pictures of our great side of the '60s, and an old framed picture of what the Boleyn used to look like.

I feel I am writing this piece on behalf of the many thousands of old-time Hammers fans who like me were so proud that this local boy was captain of our club, captain of England and the man we all idolised.

To say I was chuffed when Graeme Howlett, the KUMB editor, asked me to write something about Moore this week, was an understatement. I've covered half a dozen European finals, World Cups, European championships and hundreds of top games in a long - now ended - journalistic career. But nothing compares to the sheer joy and pride I felt when Bobby Moore was in my team.

The young lads I watch West Ham with now are half my age and have only fleeting memories of the man. I probably bore them with boozy chatter about the good old days. Their memories are from film of the World Cup Final and England, and maybe our great finals of '75 and '80. The rest comes from old pictures and scrapbooks.

It's hard to explain just how good he was, just how important he was to East London and our club. I was lucky, he was eight years older than me and had just been made captain by Ron Greenwood when my teenage years started.

I remember how proud I was of him when he was selected for the 1962 World Cup squad in Chile by Walter Winterbottom. I'd watched his formative years slowly making his progress into our first team. A couple of years learning his craft, he made just five appearances in his debut season, '58-'59. But Matt Busby was full of praise for him on his debut, and that says it all.

It wasn't until October the following season that he made much more impact, but he made our winner for Malcolm Musgrove at Everton on October 17. The next two seasons he made 42 and 44 appearances respectively. A star was born. And at 21 Greenwood made him our captain, and his England debut came in the build-up to the '62 World Cup Finals, playing in a friendly against Peru in Lima. He did so well that he stayed in the side through the finals in Chile.

People tend to forget that 1966 in England was, in fact, Moore's second World Cup Finals, and he was still only 25.

The swingin' sixties were just getting into their stride, my music culture was being taken care of by the Beatles and the Stones, plus the wonderful Motown and soul stars from the States. My football education, and heritage, was being written by Bobby Moore and the rest of our heroes of the past.

But it was his club football that really inspired me. I was watching virtually every Irons home game by now, queuing at midday to get into the ground, squeezing into the swaying Chicken Run.

It didn't matter that we were as unpredictable as the weather and were prone to suffering terrible defeats. We had Bobby, captain of England, so you could stick your Spurs, Arsenals, Liverpools and Manchester Uniteds.

1964,'65 and '66, came and went. We won the FA Cup, the European Cup Winners' Cup and the World Cup, by which time I was 17, having the time of my life and believed that the world would always be like this. We all now know it wasn't, but we still had Bobby Moore.

My sons have suffered my ramblings about Moore, Hurst and Peters. But however hard they try, they've no real idea of what I'm talking about. West Ham were playing wonderful football and England were virtually unbeatable. Not quite the same now!

Even this week that was underlined, when the excellent Ex magazine dropped through the letterbox with a wonderful little DVD of Geoff Hurst's six goals against Sunderland in 1968. I watched it initially with tears in my eyes, the old ground, packed South and North Banks and those square goalposts that almost touched the terrace walls.

I made my lad watch it that evening. He understands about Moore and his old man's obsession. But seeing the great man playing made him sit up. 'What's the number six doing on the right wing?' was a telling remark. Central defenders don't do that. Well Moore did. The dvd was supposed to be about Hurst. But Moore scored a 30 yard free-kick that day and helped set-up goals and clever passing moves deep into Sunderland's half.

It showed, just fleetingly, what Moore was really about. He could do anything. He dominated games from back to front.

I make no excused for being star-struck. I actually spoke to him three times. All are so fresh in the mind. Firstly when he came to sit on the Chicken Run wall waiting to take a throw-in, right next to me. We were losing and someone was getting treatment. I plucked up the courage to say ' come on Bobby, get this lot sorted out.' He looked down at this kid and smiled one of those knowing looks grown-ups do. He was saying he wasn't superman! Well he was in my book.

Then in my working career in Birmingham on the local sports Argus, Moore came to town to promote Escape to Victory, and we were giving away tickets for the show. I badgered my boss to let me go to meet him. I was probably more tongue-tied then than when I was as kid in the Chicken Run. But I still have the photo of the two of us waving free cinema tickets for the camera. Hero worship doesn't even cover it.

The third time was during the 90-91 promotion season, and Moore was working in the press box at Oldham, the game was a 1-1 draw and they just pipped us for the title. I ushered my lads up to the press area at the end, determined they would meet the great man. I mumbled something about wanting my sons to meet the best player I had ever seen. He must have had that a million times, but he was kind and polite, and signed their autographs.

But he looked poorly even then. I felt sad afterwards, even the boys could see he wasn't well. That was the last time I saw him before he died two years later. These are just little tales of an ordinary fan, I'm sure you all have similar memories, equally treasured.

I know I had seen the best of him for more than a decade and a half at my club. The picture is still in my mind, Tall, elegant Moore in that beautiful kit of white socks, white shorts and the round-necked long sleeved shirt without a badge or any hint of a sponsors name.

People talk of the '64, '65, '66 era as the best. But I saw far more of the late 60s side, the one that never won a raffle but still produce amazing football. And I got thinking of what was the best West Ham team.

And that brings me back to the '68 match against Sunderland. That team had Moore, Peters, Hurst, Bonds and Brooking in it. Plus John Sissons and Harry Redknapp.

It was two eras colliding. From the debuts of Bonds and Brooking, within weeks of each other in 1967, we had just three years of our five greatest modern day players performing in the same team, up until when Peters was the first of the World Cup heroes to leave in 1970.

Hurst was next in 72 and Moore battled on until 1974. The last time that famous five played together in a West Ham side was against Coventry, a defeat, in February 1970. We will never see their like again.

That '67 to '70 side was the best in my eyes. And when Moore left in '74, the days of real glory had gone. His first game was against Manchester United in '59, his last the 1-1 home FA Cup draw against Hereford in January '74.His last league game for the Irons was a 4-2 home win over Norwich on New Year's Day, '74.

When he finally left for Fulham in March 1974, the football world as I'd known it, came to an end. A couple of years earlier Moore had figured in that famous League Cup semi-final, four matches against Stoke - I saw them all - and that memorable penalty save from Micky Barnard at Old Trafford when we finally lost to the Potters.

I am sad to admit now I left that game five minutes early, I couldn't bear to watch them celebrate after we had got so close to Wembley (all Geoff Hurst had to do was beat Gordon Banks from the penalty spot in the second-leg and we'd had done it. I recall driving back across London that night with my kid brother, neither of us spoke the entire journey.)

All these pictures are still so vivid in my mind. None more so than Moore. My age-group cherish memories, the younger fans just have the legend. And maybe our club failed to treat him properly when he had left and finally ended his playing career.

Many have a few about all that, but just for now as the 20th anniversary of his passing nears, old hands like me just know he was the best and just being there when he was our leader, our hero, is something that will never die.

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