Of all the major sports in the United Kingdom, association football is by far the most sentimental. Witness Frank Lampardturning his eyes to heaven to thank his late mother every time he manages to run onto the pitch without falling over, or the way in which it only takes the death of a blade of grass in the south-west corner of the Kidderminster Harriers’ stadium for every team in the country to don their well worn black armband. Black? More likely grey by now.
Quite why football should be so sentimental is a mystery although it no doubt has a lot to do with the fact that the game has become incredibly rich without really deserving the money; hence, for as much filthy lucre as there is swilling around, there is also a lot of guilt too. Sentimentality is football’s well of showing that it hasn’t lost its soul.
The most recent case of sentimentality comes to us courtesy of West Ham United which, on the 50th anniversary of the debut of Bobby Moore as a Hammers player, has decided to retire his shirt. Or rather, his number: 6.
It is very laudable that we remember the great men and women of old. In Moore’s case, however, his greatness does not come so much from the fact that he was a West Ham player than that for 120 minutes on 30 1966 he had rather a good game with the England side, a game which resulted in the national side winning the FIFA World Cup for the first (and so far only) time.
As a result of this unprecedented triumph, Moore – who died in 1993 – has had a stand named after him at Upton Park as well as two statues of himself erected outside the West Ham ground and Wembley Stadium. That, it seems to me, is a more than perfectly adequate return for being a member of the 11 man squad that brought the World Cup to England.
But West Ham United have now gone further. Indeed, too far. What will they do on the 75th or 100th anniversary of Moore’s debut for the club? Or on the anniversary of the first time he captained the England team? Or played his last game for the club or, most sadly, died? In time it would not r me to find the area around Upton Park, every last street, pub and park bench named after Moore as if he were a god of Rome: Moore the First Time as Captain, Moore the World Cup Victor, Moore Who Took A Fancy To This Oak Tree When It Was In Full Leaf.
The problem with football is that, much like the Senate in Imperial Rome, it just doesn’t know when to stop heaping honours upon a man. At least the Senate could claim necessity arising out of a fear of its members being butchered if it did not acclaim the Emperor so.
If West Ham United want to honour Bobby Moore they should get back to the sources – the games that he played. Removing his shirt number acts against that as it suggests something that is plainly untrue: that he was irreplaceable. As good a player as he was, he was not that. No player ever is. They are turning the man into a myth and, ultimately, removing from the sight of the people the real reason for his being a legend.