SINCE Wembley re-opened nine years ago, Bobby Moore has stood proudly at the front of the stadium.
The 20ft-tall statue that looks down Wembley Way is a fitting tribute to the only England captain to win a World Cup and a place where even those in a hurry invariably take a moment to pause, and give thanks for 1966.
Sadly, it has not always been so. For far too long, this country – and, in particular, the football ‘Establishment’ – failed not only Moore but also all his team-mates on that golden afternoon when the Three Lions conquered the world.
Moore may now be immortalised in bronze at the home of English football. Geoff Hurst and Bobby Charlton may be Knights of the Realm. But, for much of the five decades that have elapsed since England’s sole triumph at a major tournament, the class of ’66 were largely shunned.
No ambassadorial roles handed out, no attempts to tap into their wealth of knowledge and wisdom, and little or no recognition of just what that team achieved.
It was almost as if the Football Association, particularly in the wake of the two failures to qualify for the World Cup in the Seventies, were embarrassed to be reminded of their glorious past. Easier to ignore than embrace.
Things have, happily, changed in recent years. There is a genuine respect for the heroic deeds of that team. Moore’s statue is proof of that.
The FA, clearly mindful of past mistakes, also make a point of trying to tap into the knowledge of former internationals, witness the recent suggestions from within the governing body that the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen become involved in the new national team set-up under Sam Allardyce.
Whether this will come to fruition remains to be seen, the pundits’ sofa being a lot less pressurised than the dugout. But it is a welcome step in the right direction after the often shabby way that this country’s greatest team was treated with Moore not even receiving a reply from the FA after applying for the England job in the wake of Don Revie’s departure in 1977.
Of course, the years after 1966 were different times. Club coaching staffs rarely ran beyond manager, assistant and physio, in stark contrast to today where every position on the field seems to have its own specialist coach. It meant opportunities were limited.
Even so, it seems ludicrous that so many of those World Cup winners found no place in the game after retirement.
Just Alan Ball and Jack Charlton forged successful management careers. Others had a go but, with the best will in the world, Southend United and Oxford City – two clubs who did give Moore a chance – were unlikely to be the launchpad for bigger and better things.
Excluded from football, several turned to other fields. Ray Wilson became an undertaker, Martin Peters moved into insurance. Moore, in an act of pure benevolence from a hero-worshipping David Sullivan, became sports editor of the Sunday Sport before joining Capital Gold Radio as an expert summariser, earning £150 per game.
Harry Redknapp once recalled taking West Ham United to Grimsby Town and hearing the shout ‘Harry’. “I look up and it’s this fella sitting there under a big peak cap, eating fish and chips,” he added. “Then I realise it is Bobby.” Redknapp was not the only one to believe the only Englishman to lift a World Cup deserved much, much more from football.
Tonight a ‘Gala Dinner’ will be held at Wembley in honour of England’s World Cup triumph. Around 1,200 guests are expected. ‘Absent friends’ will be a particularly poignant toast, not least because Moore and Ball are no longer with us along with squad members Ron Springett, Gerry Byrne and John Connelly. Manager Sir Alf Ramsey died in 1999.
Then, there are those unable to attend due to ill health. Ray Wilson, Nobby Stiles and Peters have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, Jimmy Greaves suffered a stroke in 2015.
No doubt, those fans and figures from the game at Wembley tonight will treasure the opportunity to be in the same room as football royalty. They should, because England is unlikely to see their like again.