Bobby Moore: Thanks for the memories

Derek Currie

WITH a yellow rose in his hand and a smile on his handsome face, he led his side out on to the football field, named after the famous Texas fort where Davy Crockett made his heroic stand some 140 years ago.

Walking alongside him, slightly shorter but no less in stature, was another great name in the history of the game, Edson Arantes di Nascimento, otherwise known as Pele.

Tucked in about five places behind I followed, carrying a similar yellow rose, looking ahead in awe and wondering if my head was still on the pillow or if it was all real.

A prick from the rose quickly dispelled any doubts.

The setting was the Alamo Stadium in San Antonio and the local side, the Thunder, whom I had joined only three weeks previously from Seiko in Hongkong, were host to the New York Cosmos in a special exhibition game prior to the opening of the season.

The year was 1976 and the man alongside Pele was Bobby Moore, one of the true gentlemen of the game and who tragically died of liver cancer five days ago.

My stay in San Antonio was brief, but during that three-month period before returning to Hongkong I had the privilege of knowing one of England's best remembered sons.

Behind the seriousness he took on to the field of play he also saw the funny side of the game.

I recall how, after the Cosmos game, we had all joked about carrying a flower on to the field. Moore commented: ''I would never have done that at Hampden,'' referring to the taunts he used to receive from the Scottish fans every time he led his country out against Scotland in Glasgow.

Indeed, Moore would mimic the Scottish taunts and have everyone roaring with laughter. But, if the truth be told, deep down everyone knew these very same taunts were, in a roundabout way, a compliment of the man's ability by the Scottish fans.

As former Celtic player and Thunder teammate Harry Hood once said: ''Bobby, you must be the only Englishman that Scottish fans have got hoarse singing about.'' Nothing could ruffle Moore; he always seemed in total control; in truth, nobody could put Bobby down, not even a shop-girl called Clare Padilla in the ''Bogota'' incident.

During England's pre-World Cup finals tour to Colombia in 1970, Moore was accused of removing a bracelet from a jewellery shop in the team's hotel in Bogota.

It was an obvious ploy to unsettle Moore and the England team and while the England party flew back to the team headquarters in Mexico City, Bobby was detained and it was four days before he was released.

Through that trying period in a full blaze of world publicity, Moore conducted himself with remarkable dignity and calm and eventually rejoined the party in Mexico.

Subsequently, of course, the Colombians announced a complete and absolute acquittal on the grounds that there was not a particle of evidence to support the outrageous accusation.

The Colombian press also denounced the accusation as a national scandal.

Moore proceeded to confirm his unshakeable temperament by playing a superb World Cup.

Bearing this incident in mind, I recollect one night after a game in San Diego over a couple of drinks with about seven players, including Moore, when someone remarked: ''Bobby, where's the bracelet?'' Moore turned and said: ''I'm wearing it,'' showing off a gold chain he used to wear. Again everyone laughed.

If that incident still caused any kind of scar he never showed it and, needless to say, nobody ever jokingly remarked about it again.

If anything upset Moore he kept it to himself and did not burden others with his problems, his battle with cancer being testimony to that.

Moore made his first visit to Hongkong in 1978 as guest of honour at the Viceroy Cup final between Seiko and Happy Valley.

He also had a brief spell with Eastern in 1982 in more of a coaching capacity.

Moore enjoyed his spell in Hongkong and, while covering the last two World Cup finals and European Championships, I would run into Bobby, who was covering the events for Capital Radio in London along with ex-Arsenal manager Terry Neill.

Bobby would invariably ask about his old friends in Hongkong, particularly some of those down at the Football Club such as club manager Malcolm Davis, Walter Gerrard, Dave Allison or Norman Voce to name a few.

''Everything's still the same,'' I would tell Bobby, and he would chuckle.

As a player, Bobby Moore's lack of basic speed was rarely evident because of his expert reading of the game, and his faultless positional play gave him the edge on his opponents.

He possessed exceptional vision and knew exactly what he wanted to do with the ball even before he received it.

Moore's success was achieved despite the fact that he played for the whole of his international career with West Ham United, a club with limited prospects.

He will best be remembered for holding aloft the World Cup and leading England to success in 1966 at Wembley.

Sadly, for the 25th anniversary celebrations, Bobby was unable to come down the steps at Wembley with his fellow teammates of that famous victory but, nevertheless, made it to the ground despite his illness.

At that time not many people knew Bobby Moore was suffering from cancer; most people just thought he had some kind of illness.

It was a guarded secret and even the press, who knew better, respected Moore's wishes.

However, word from England filtered through that Moore was responding to treatment and was back in good spirits and on the road to recovery.

At last year's European Championship in Sweden, along with Robin Parke, we saw Bobby at various matches but not within distance to strike up a conversation. Nevertheless he looked in fine condition.

It was not until the final in Gothenburg that we finally caught up with the man. Knowing he was in the hotel I left a note at reception saying Mr Currie and Mr Parke send their best wishes from room 229.

Returning to the hotel from the press centre, a note was left saying ''Will be in the bar this evening about 7.30 pm. Look forward to seeing you both,'' signed Bobby.

Unfortunately, we never made that appointment due to being held up at the press centre.

Next morning, however, on the day of the final as we looked out of the back window, there was Bobby stretching out on a sun lounger soaking up the rays of the sun.

We opened the window and Robin and I asked if he needed any suntan lotion; Moore just gave that brilliant smile and said: ''Hello, lads!'' We conversed for almost half an hour about everything from the European Championship to Hongkong.

Both Robin and I were aware that he had had therapy for cancer but he looked in wonderful condition. Moore said nothing about the illness, so neither did we.

Even if Moore still knew he was not fully clear of the disease, he kept it to himself and was the type of brave man who never needed sympathy and fought life's challenges by himself.

''See you in America, if not before,'' we bade him farewell, not realising this would be the last time we would have the pleasure of his company.

''I might bring Stephanie (his wife) to Hongkong before then for a holiday but will keep you informed,'' were his parting words.

I was distressed to hear a report about a week ago mentioning Bobby had a cancer problem and I knew the worst as soon as I heard the great name mentioned on the radio last Wednesday morning as I drove to work.

Bobby could be best described as an approachable Zeus-like figure and I can still picture him after a gruelling 4,500-mile flight from London to San Antonio being besieged with soccer fans of all ages at the airport still signing autographs a full half-hour after landing with the same cheery grin on his face.

Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore, wherever you are, from all your many friends in Hongkong, God Bless You . . . and if the angels need a captain, you fit the role - with or without a yellow rose.