By Daniel Margrain
Last Saturday (July 30) marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most historic sporting moments in history – when England beat West Germany 4-2 after extra-time to lift the World Cup. Avid football fans from all over the country joined legends Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, George Cohen and others from the 1966 team at Wembley for a special celebration. Ill-health kept others away.
Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson have all been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s amid fears that their condition was caused by years of heading heavy footballs. Both Alan Ball and Captain Bobby Moore, the latter who raised the Jules Rimet Trophy aloft on that memorable day, have died.
As a West Ham fan, my memories of the mercurial Moore are vague. I remember, at age eleven seeing him play one of his last games in a West Ham shirt against Arsenal at Upton Park. It is widely accepted among West Ham fans and the wider football fraternity that with the English trio of Moore, Hurst and Peters acting as the spine of the England team, it was West Ham who effectively won the World Cup for England in 1966.
Few people would have envisaged that four years after lifting the most prestigious of all football trophies, England’s world cup winning captain, West Ham United legend and international football superstar, Bobby Moore, would have had a major accusation of theft hanging over him. The accusations against Moore would last for a further two years.
The weight must of been hanging heavily on Bobby’s shoulders and that of his family during that period. In an era when colour hit many of our television screens for the first time in which a new decade premised upon optimism and hope was ushered in, professional football had become elevated to the kind of media spectacle that we have become accustomed to today.
In many ways, the changing face of football during this era became the defining feature of a society in a state of flux that had finally shaken off its post-war shackles of conformity and austerity. For the first time, foreign travel was to become the mainstay of the many not just for the ‘exclusive’ few.
No aspiring jet-setter could be seen without the trappings that came with it. For many of the working class beneficiaries of the post war boom who were fortunate enough to be in the financial position of being able to enjoy a yearly foreign holiday, this was a golden period.
It was the first time that I can remember excess being celebrated in such a gregarious, if at times, ostentatious manner. The media jumped on the bandwagon with their promotion of the ‘exotic’ lifestyles of the rich and famous most notably on the travel documentary programme, ‘Wicker’s World’.
The BBC sister travel guide show, ‘Holiday’, fronted by Cliff Michelmore was the zeitgeist of the period in as much as it brought home to the masses that foreign travel was now no longer the exclusive privilege of the rich, but was something that many ordinary people could do too.
Very few celebrities would have been seen photographed without the accompanying and obligatory ‘bling’. This captured the imagination of the public who also aspired to the demands set by the new mass consumption environment. For the first time in history, the profile of the top level professional footballer was akin to the movie star – and the ordinary working class garish man about town aspired for a piece of the action.
Each component part of the jigsaw shoehorned into one another fitting into place as smoothly as the velvet glove on the hand of Audrey Hepburn. Bobby Moore was very much the poster boy of his generation for this new socially mobile working class in much the same way that David Beckham was for his.
It was perhaps fitting, then, that if anybody with such a high profile as that of any footballing superstar in the world at that time was to be fitted up for a crime, then it was the handsome and photogenic captain of the world champions.
It was symptomatic of the times that Bobby Moore would be set up, not with stealing a painting or cash, but with bling. Its somewhat ironic that the last person most people would associate with bling is Bobby Moore who was so self-deprecating a public figure; so humble and unconscious of his ability and of his star status, that he regularly communicated personally with fans during the height of his fame.
But here Moore was in a Bogota Jewelry shop located close to the foyer of the plush Bogota Hotel in May 1970, the purpose of which was clearly to satisfy the media hordes’ need for a photo opportunity prior to the world’s biggest sporting event. Bobby was merely performing what he perceived was his role as an ambassador for a sport which he loved and was the poster boy for.
Set against this was the ‘bling’ which provided the backdrop for a scandal that was whipped up by an obliging media circus. The notion that one of the most famous and high profile athletes in the world at that time could be detained by the authorities for four days for allegedly stealing a bracelet in the context of somebody who was about to lead his county in the defence of the world cup that he had won four years previously, is incomprehensible – especially when viewed through the lens of today’s more enlightened social media age.
But it’s perhaps a sign of the times, that it was taken seriously, so much so that Bobby Moore, widely recognized as the most consummate professional in the game – both on and off the pitch – was accused, and subsequently arrested, for being a jewel thief.
Interest in the incident was stoked by the fascination the media had in Moore’s wife Tina, who at the time, was due to go out and watch England play in Mexico. Reminiscent of the subsequent ‘wag’ fiasco’s that have dogged subsequent England teams, wherever Tina went the media pack would be close behind.
What followed was an international media story on such a scale that it was to provoke diplomatic intervention at the behest of Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. The British establishment were so concerned by Moore’s arrest that Wilson requested repeated lobbying of the Colombian government by the British embassy in Bogota. It’s no exaggeration to say that a major diplomatic incident could easily have ensued.
Moore was kept under house arrest and although he was allowed to train to maintain his fitness levels, he was constantly followed by armed police guards. Within the high echelons of the football world, the accusations against Moore were treated with more than a heavy dose of incredulity, most predictably, perhaps, by his manager Alf Ramsay.
But it was to be the coach of Brazil who publicly proclaimed Moore’s innocence that was to arguably lend most weight particularly after he described a similar incident that involved his team Botafogo. It’s hard to believe that it got to the stage that Moore was actually tried before a judge in Bogota, where a re-enactment of the incident occurred, but that’s precisely what happened.
Needless to say, the case was thrown out due to the contradictory testimony of the plaintiff. According to Jeff Dawson in his book Back Home: England and the 1970 World Cup (2002) cries of “Viva Bobby” could be heard from the streets of Bogota.
Even harder to comprehend, is the fact that the case wasn’t formerly closed until two years after the incident, following a hearing at Bow Street Magistrates Court. Despite being cleared, the incident continued to dog Moore, and it has been suggested it was a major reason why he was never awarded a knighthood.