Bobby Moore was the cornerstone of England’s World Cup-winning side of 1966. Without his performances in that tournament, it is likely that England would not have lifted the trophy for the one and only time in their history. This performance against Germany in England’s second group game is probably his finest moment. After conceding an early penalty and falling behind 2–1, England were left needing to chase two goals with a depleted forward line due to the substitution of Jimmy Greaves after just 19 minutes due to injury. But Moore inspired his teammates. First, he made it 2–2 almost immediately with a stunning free kick from 25 yards, then led his team to victory by setting up Roger Hunt for a late winner with another inch-perfect crossfield pass. His performance was so impressive that Germany coach Helmut Schön labeled him “the best left back in the world” afterward, which is some testament considering he had just finished beating Brazil’s legendary wing pair of Jairzinho and Pelé at their own game less than 24 hours beforehand.
The build-up to the game
Bobby Moore was always a committed and ambitious footballer, but his decision to switch from central defense to left-back prior to the tournament was not born from a lack of faith in his own abilities or a lack of confidence in his technical ability. Nor was it because he had been played out of position. Rather, it was due to a desire to allow England to play a more attacking game with a sweeper behind the two center-backs. Moore was a calm and assured passer of the ball. He was also a natural leader, who was not afraid to make the occasional tactical decision on the pitch and bark orders at his teammates.
66 minutes: Pouring rain and a late equalizer
England’s next match was against the reigning world champions Brazil. The game was played in the rain, and England struggled to match the free-flowing attacking football of the Seleção. Luckily, however, they had an excellent goalkeeper in Gordon Banks, who was in the form of his life and made a string of spectacular saves to keep the score level. Then, with just over 10 minutes remaining, the English fans were celebrating the game’s only goal. Charlton, who had been forced to withdraw with an injury early in the second half, made his way down the tunnel. Once there, he received a pass from a physio and returned to the field. The ball was played back to him and he slipped it through the legs of the Brazilian goalkeeper Gilmar.
80 minutes: Moore inspires England’s comeback
The game finished 1–1, and England would need a win against the reigning European Champions Germany if they were to progress to the next round. The game was played in sweltering heat, and the two sides struggled to create any sort of opening for the majority of the game. The Germans had the majority of possession, but England defended stoutly and looked dangerous when they broke forward on the counter. The game was almost dead and buried, however, when the Germans scored with a minute left to break English hearts. But then Moore, the captain, the leader, the hero of the hour, took control. He barked orders at his teammates, and they responded.
87 minutes: A final crucial pass - but from where?
England’s coach, Sir Alf Ramsey, was renowned for his tactical innovations and his bold approach. Here, he made a brave decision. He withdrew inside-left Allan Clarke and replaced him with center-half Jack Charlton. The substitution was not without its controversy. Charlton was a defender, and England had just conceded a goal from a set piece. Yet, with the score at 1–0, Ramsey chose to replace an attacking player with a defender. Charlton’s intervention was significant. Moore played the ball out to him, but he was stationed on the edge of the penalty area. Charlton played the ball back inside to Moore, who had plenty of space and time to bring the ball back infield and pick out a pass. Moore played the ball out to the left back, who, in turn, fed it to a forward making a run towards the edge of the German penalty area. That forward was the captain, Bobby Moore. Moore received the pass in plenty of space, and he smashed the ball into the top corner of the German goal to seal a famous victory.
The 1966 World Cup was a tournament full of heroes and heroics. Moore was one of these heroes, of course, but he was also one of these heroics. His game-winning pass against Germany was pure skill, but it was also pure luck. Moore was not a lucky footballer. He worked hard and played well, but he was not a naturally gifted footballer. His goal against Germany was a lucky and rare fluke, but he made the most of it. He took the ball, he took the chance, and he made the most of it. Moore played every minute of all six games at left-back for England at the 1966 World Cup. He remains the only English footballer ever to have lifted the Jules Rimet trophy as captain. While he did so as a left back.