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Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Bobby Moore: The Man in Full - Book Review

There is an inherent dichotomy at the heart of  Matt Dickinson’s new book Booby Moore: The Man in Full. While the inside cover poses the questions ‘What of the failed businesses, whispers of bad behaviour, links to the East End underworld and turbulent private life?’, the back dust jacket quotes Moore’s friend Sir Michael Parkinson “When you stop to think you realised you knew fuck all about him’ That central issue is the frustration at the heart of any book about the iconic England captain.

It would be wrong to claim that Dickinson, the Chief Football Correspondent for The Times, really answers any of the questions -- in many ways it poses even more -- but it would also be unfair to pretend that the book doesn’t at least try to get to the heart of a frustrating character; someone who is revered even more now than in his lifetime, but also a person whose traits and flaws seem to have grown exponentially since his untimely death in 1993.

With Moore passing tragically early at the age of 51 – the failure of medical staff to detect the early symptoms of the bowel and liver cancer that eventually took him being a strong theme in the book -- there are no new stories to tell, no new insights to be had. All there is a continuation of the Bobby Moore legend , one that grows with every failure by subsequent England teams, and a 21st Century reassessment that wonders how, in a world that still basks in the David Beckham aura, Moore remained outside of the mainstream following his retirement from football.

Looked at today, it’s hard to imagine that Bobby Moore wouldn’t have joined the pantheon of feted sports stars had he lived. There’s surely no way that he wouldn’t have received a knighthood and how would the 2012 Olympics in Stratford gone ahead without his involvement, for example. It’s almost certain that England and West Ham would have utilised his fame too – particularly when current West Ham and former Sunday Sport owners David Gold and David Sullivan were virtually the only people who offered Moore any type of well-paid job during his post-playing career. But although it is generally accepted that it was the failing of the England hierarchy to harness the statesmanlike qualities of Moore after his playing days were finished, there is a nagging sense in Dickinson’s book that the fault lies as much with Moore as the usual suited suspects the fans and media like to snipe at.

Although leaving the reader to judge for themselves, the book comes close to suggesting that perhaps Moore didn’t have what it takes to become a good coach or manager and perhaps, just lacked that certain trait – arrogance being prime, it seems -- to grab the political or diplomatic role taken by compatriots like Franz Beckenbauer or Pele. 

Interestingly though, ‘The Man in Full’ is littered with references to Moore ‘staggering home’, ‘collapsing in an armchair’ or ‘crawling up the stairs’ yet shies away from suggesting that Moore might have had the same problem with drink that Bobby’s friend Jimmy Greaves later admitted tto. And while it’s certainly the case that English football was stuffed with ‘bon viveur’ at the time, chatting to Moore’s compatriots only really highlights the image of the England and West Ham captain as a man out of time as European influences on fitness and diet started to seep into the British game.

The fact is Ron Greenwood’s assertion that he could talk all day about Moore the footballer but would dry up in few minutes if discussing Moore the man, remains pretty much the flavour of the book and Dickinson’s attempts at speaking to some of the people who knew him best: Mike Summerbee, Harry Redknapp, Rodney Marsh and, crucially, Bobby’s first wife Tina actually only serves to muddy the water.

The only glimpse of a man who the general public didn’t know comes with the insights into Moore’s second marriage to Stephanie. Certainly the break-up with Tina and the difficulty the family-man had at leaving his home are a painful and tragic read. But stripped of the uncomfortable ‘love story of the century’ from Moore’s own biography, there is a sense that, for perhaps the only time in his life, Moore was able to become the man he wanted to be, embracing travel, the theatre and opera in a way that doesn’t sit easily to a man used to propping up a bar stool in Bethnal Green. 

In addition, the juxtaposing of Moore’s personality by the two women who loved him is touching and heartfelt; Tina in particular ironically mirroring the theme of Dickinson’s book in being fascinatingly unsure of a man she spent 24 years with. 

At the heart of ‘The Man in Full’ though is a familiar story that we may all know but one that just keeps giving. The tale of a shy boy from Barking who grew to captain his local team to unprecedented Cup and European glory and his national team to the biggest prize in sport, establishing himself as a sporting icon even though he was, by his own admission, a slow defender and a poor header of the ball. 

Set against stories today of players with sublime skill, at the peak of physical perfection, pampered by clubs and feted by fans everywhere, Moore’s rise to the pinnacle of the game seems an even greater story now than it was at the time. References to that day in 1966 still produces Goosebumps and, if the reader’s support extends to Moore’s West Ham career, there are chunks of the book almost guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye.

Matt Dickinson’s ‘Man in Full’ is a book that attempts to explain something about a national icon who was always a private person; a man who suffered testicular cancer at 23 but who never told a soul – even hiding himself in the shower on match days to mask his ‘loss’. With such privacy, it would always be a thankless task to try and peel away the layers and reveal something we didn’t already know and although Dickinson doesn’t quite pull that off, he does manage to produce a fascinating and easily-red book that will delight and intrigue in equal measure.

Perhaps not a man in full then but still one that, even glimpsed at slightly, will forever be held as a national icon and the pinnacle of sporting success. In truth, that’s pretty much all we want anyway.


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