Our school’s football team coach was sure he knew why Bobby Moore was targeted in the infamous, and still unsolved, Bogotá bracelet incident that dominated England’s preparations for the 1970 World Cup. “They wanted the captain – it was the best chance of disrupting the team,” he told us. “Others were in that shop but Moore was the one fingered.”
Half a century ago this week a Colombian shop assistant accused Moore of theft, and Mr Aspinall taught us that football matches could be lost off the pitch too, in our minds. Four days after the England entourage walked into the gift shop near to the team hotel foyer where they were based for their warm-up matches, Moore was under arrest. It was a worldwide sensation and for an impressionable nine-year-old, on my teacher’s prompting, the seemingly upstanding England captain became the focus of my attention.
The nation fretted about whether Alf Ramsey’s “leader and right-hand man” would even get to play in Mexico. Harold Wilson, whose Labour government were ousted four days after England’s exit to West Germany in the quarter-finals, even intervened, much to the foreign office’s anger.
Moore’s fate, and that of the team’s, mattered a lot to me back then. I flirted with my hometown team – Preston North End – but England have always been a constant. The World Cup in Mexico fired my imagination in my formative years and cemented my love of “the beautiful game”.
A Fifa about-turn meant there were no seedings in Mexico, which explained the mystery of Group Three containing the two best teams. The resultant match-up was a mouthwatering prospect: continental rivalry – the current world champions against the hot favourites; a supreme defence against an unparalleled attacking force. Their showdown in Guadalajara was replayed in full about a decade ago by the BBC and more than lived up to its reputation.
In 1970 England were feared by everyone, including the Brazilians, who were rampant in an explosive start against Czechoslovakia, with Jairzinho, Rivelino and Pele (twice) serving notice of their intent. But against England they were uncharacteristically cautious, gaining a narrow success in a game England would have thoroughly deserved to draw.
The clash is primarily remembered for two misses: that save, miraculously, by Gordon Banks from Pele, and Jeff Astle’s misfire from adjacent to the penalty spot with the hapless Felix in the Brazil goal stranded. But another full viewing makes clear the outstanding performance was Moore’s – all the more remarkable given, as team-mate Alan Mullery recalled, he “looked like death warmed up and had almost lost a stone” on his arrival in Mexico. A daring, precise tackle in the penalty area to intercept a runaway Jairzinho; robbing Pele more than once and the intelligence to deny a clever Rivelino free-kick were the highlights of an imperious performance.
Brazil’s finishing was deadlier and Jairzinho made the most of the chance that came his way on the hour. Winning manager Mário Zagallo summed it up: “The England match was our toughest test,” he said later. “That was the real final.”
Moore’s ordeal was far from over – opposition fans taunted the player with: “We know you’ve got the bracelet” chants at subsequent West Ham games, and he was only granted legal clearance five years later in wording that didn’t wholly satisfy him. No one is likely to ever know exactly what happened now after Moore’s untimely death in 1993. The key witness was known to the shop owner and extortion was for a long time the most popular theory, although documents which came to light in 2002 suggested another player may have been responsible. A prank that went wrong. It would have been typical of Moore if he had taken the rap.
Whatever the truth, before the heartache of Italia ’90, the false dawns of the so-called golden generation and the nadir of the humiliation to Iceland in 2016, England were once world beaters. And on a scorching afternoon in Guadalajara they were inspired by Moore to such an extent that they were the only team to trouble perhaps the greatest international team to grace a football field.