Like so many people I’ve met, my Dad is the reason I’m a Fulham fan. He took me to Craven Cottage when I was two, apparently, after the vociferous protests of my mother, who felt football wasn’t a place for a little girl. I think he had hoped he’d have a boy enjoy walking along Stevenage Road on a Saturday afternoon with – but neither me or my sister were able to oblige him – and he was genuinely surprised when I loved it just as much as he did.
When I was about six and had started playing football at school, he took me to Wembley for the first time. I remember staring at the old arch in awe before he nudged him as a smartly dressed man walked past. Dad explained, as the man was smiling and shaking hands with people who came up to great him that the friendly gentleman was England’s greatest ever defender. I think I must have given him a quizzical look because he also told me that he captained England when they won the World Cup and he played for Fulham. ‘That’s our team,’ I said. My Dad smiled.
Until my Dad died, it was a little family tradition that we would watch England at least once a year. A few years later, we had great seats for a game against San Marino – presumably because nobody else was that excited by the opposition – and, now having started high school, I had a bit more confidence when we bumped into Bobby Moore again by chance just as he was preparing to commentate on the match. I told him I was a Fulham fan and that my Dad said he was the best defender he’d ever seen. He laughed. ‘I’m not sure he’s telling you the truth,’ and signed my autograph book. That turned out to be Moore’s last public appearance, as he died a week later – 25 years ago today – after a brave battle against cancer. When I realised the date today, I fished out my old autograph book and found the inscription, ‘To Sarah, Well done on supporting Fulham. Best wishes, Bobby Moore’. It is all the more poignant now as my father also was taken too soon by bowel cancer, the disease that Stephanie Moore launched such a public campaign about after Bobby’s death.
I was obviously far too young to appreciate just how great Bobby Moore was, but I remember thinking he was a very friendly man. My Dad scolded me on the way back to our seats for interrupting Mr. Moore ‘whilst he was working’. He then told me of his joy of leaving work to find out that Moore had signed for Fulham, having been let go by West Ham. He told his mates at the pub – and they all thought good old Tony had been taken in by a prankster or something, until they read the next day’s newspaper. It was no coincidence that the Whites reached Wembley during Moore’s first season in the team, where of course they were beaten by his old club in the 1975 FA Cup final.
When you read the two excellent biographies, one written a while ago by Jeff Powell and a more recent but superb volume from Matt Dickinson, you realise how badly Moore was treated by the English footballing authorities after he retired. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of the people he played with and watched countless videos of him action, being far too young to have seen him myself – and have seen or heard nothing to dissuade me from my father’s admittedly impressionable view. It seems a terrible waste that he died in Putney contributing to radio commentaries alongside his good friend Jonathan Pearce in the final years of his illustrious life as a way of giving something back to the game he loved.
I spent far too long browsing on the Fulham website this morning, looking at the photos of Moore’s time at Craven Cottage, which is usually relegated to something of a footnote after those famous years with the Hammers in the retelling of his extraordinary career. There’s an excellent feature with Les Strong recounting the experience of playing alongside Moore, which seems the most magnificent privilege. Apparently, there’s more in the programme for today’s game against Wolves, which makes it a must purchase for me.
My Dad wasn’t given to much hero worship. He was a simple man of few words, who spent most of his working life driving buses, which is probably why his praise for Moore has always stuck with me. I played centre back at school, for a local girls’ team and at university, and that meant I was subjected to many sermons on the art of defending. I’d always have questions and eventually my poor Dad shrugged his shoulders and made me watch videos of Moore. I can hear him now: ‘Look how much time he has. How easy it is. And he could pass. You must be able to anticipate, Sarah. You can see it all from defence’. I must have looked a right idiot to emulate Moore’s composure on the football field.
In today’s game, I’m sure Moore would be worth millions. From everything I’ve read, he was one of the game’s best defenders. I’m sure he would have been at home in Slavisa Jokanovic’s defence, with his reading of the game and extraordinary range of passing for a centre half. I’m pleased to have met Bobby Moore, even if it was for a few fleeting seconds. He’s a part of Fulham’s fine history. He was wasn’t just my father’s hero, he was a whole country’s. There’s only one Bobby Moore.