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2013-02-22T12:00:00 Updated 2015-02-19T01:15:48

Bonzo pays tribute to Bobby

Picture the scene...3 November 1992. The wind whips in off the North Sea, on a chillingly cold Tuesday evening in Cleethorpes, where Trevor Morley's late-leveller has just helped West Ham United to secure a precious point against Grimsby Town.

The Hammers will go on to plunder promotion to the Premier League in six months time but, for now, as the floodlights start to flicker and fade and a crowd of 9,119 - the Mariners' largest attendance of the season to date - drift away into the night, two West Ham United legends exchange a few words pitch-side at a bleak, blustery Blundell Park.

"I was walking back from the manager's press conference, when I spotted Bobby Moore sitting there all alone on the terrace wall," recalls Billy Bonds, who made a club record 793 appearances for the club before taking over the managerial reins for a further 237 matches. "We had just got a 1-1 draw on a typically freezing November night and Mooro had been covering the game for Capital Gold. 'What on earth are you doing up here? What time will you be getting back to London?' I asked.

"He said: 'Don't worry, Bonzo, I'll be home by about 3:00 a.m.' Sure, I know that he liked doing all his local radio commentary work but, for me, I was sorry to see how it had all ended up for him. Football should've been a lot kinder to an icon like Bobby Moore...after all, you wouldn't ever see Pele or Franz Beckenbauer going all the way up to Grimsby Town on a Tuesday night in November, would you?

"Sadly, that was the last time I ever saw Mooro," continues Bill, forever cherishing precious memories of the 108-times capped World Cup winning captain, who stands just two rungs below him on the Hammers all-time appearance ladder with 642 outings in the claret and blue.

Contrast that final, forlorn, rain-swept rendezvous with their first-ever meeting, some three decades earlier.

"I was about 14-years-old and I didn't have clue who Bobby Moore was," admits Bonzo. "My Sunday morning team had just won a trophy and our coach - Mr Flowers - arranged for a surprise guest to present the medals in our local school hall.

"This good looking lad turned up with his wife-to-be and they watched us from up on the stage, while we were all given footballs to do some skills and drills down on the floor below.

"To be honest, having been born in Woolwich, I was a Charlton Athletic boy and they were only in the second division at the time. Although we knew that the blond, well-built fellow sitting up there was a West Ham United player, we didn't really know any more than that but, even then, it was obvious that this young lad - Bobby Moore - definitely had something about him.

"Seven years, an FA Cup, a European Cup Winners Cup and, of course, one World Cup later, I ended up in the same West Ham side. It was unbelievable!" continues Bill, who journeyed through the Blackwall Tunnel to the Boleyn Ground in May 1967, following his £47,500 transfer from The Valley.

"Going on to play alongside Bobby Moore was such a big thing for me because he really was top-drawer. That presentation at the school left me totally in awe of him and, to be honest, I never got over it.

"Mooro was an absolute icon. I respected a lot of team-mates and opponents down the years but he was the only person in my entire career, who made me feel that way.

"I wasn't one of his muckers and not being a drinker, I wouldn't say that I was in his crew either but he was fantastic to me from the day that I arrived and I loved him as a player and as a person," reveals the 66-year-old. "Bobby Moore had a presence both off and on the field.

"There was no side to him at all and, having lifted the World Cup, he'd been the most famous person on the planet on that July afternoon at Wembley in 1966 but, despite all of that, Bobby wasn't the slightest bit lairy. Mooro treated everyone the same, no matter who they were.

"These days, I could name a thousand players, who have achieved nothing like what Bobby did, yet they go about their business acting really flash and walking around as though they own the place.

"Bobby Moore wasn't a particularly good header of the ball and he wasn't very quick either but, boy, his timing was impeccable. He didn't need to be good in the air or fast because he could read the game so well - he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time to nick the ball off a centre-forward.

"And he was just so good at bringing the ball out of defence and starting attacks, too."

Both summoned to Buckingham Palace during their playing careers, Bobby Moore OBE and Billy Bonds MBE were each recognised in The Queen's New Year's Honours List for their contributions to the beautiful game.

But down West Ham way, they could not have had more contrasting styles.

Just compare the Persil-white, perfectly-coiffeured, Mooro to the swashbuckling, pirate-like, Bonzo.

"I started out playing for West Ham at right-back, while Bobby was in central defence and we were total opposites," confirms Bonds. "Mooro was never one to shout or holler, he was totally calm and collected and always looked immaculate, whereas I was always muddy, up and at 'em and with my beard and long hair, people used to say that I resembled a Viking!

"We never, ever had any disagreements but I can remember we were under the cosh up at Sunderland one day, when I looked across and saw him shouting and wagging his finger towards me.

"I had a right pop back at him only to then see that familiar Mooro look, where he would raise his eyebrows. It was only then that I turned around and, to my horror, saw he was actually having a go at the linesman for not putting his flag up. I felt so small!"

Despite having climbed the 39 steps to the Royal Box at Wembley to lift that hat-trick of trophies in the mid-60s, Moore sadly found himself frustrated in his quest to bring any more silverware back to the Boleyn Ground.

But having made his senior debut in September 1958, it was testament to the great man, that he remained down West Ham way until spring 1974, when he finally headed way out west to Fulham, while Bonzo was handed the coveted captaincy by Ron Greenwood.

"There was a loyalty in those days," insists Bill. "It wasn't only Bobby because you have to remember that people such as Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Frank Lampard and Trevor Brooking had also come up through the youth ranks. West Ham United were very fortunate that they had a group of players, who stayed for a long time, even though the threat of relegation was often hanging over the club. Those players could all have found other clubs very easily.

"The game's changed so much now and, today, players always seem to be looking to move on as soon as anything starts to go wrong.

"It was a privilege to take over from Bobby as captain of West Ham United but they were very big boots to fill," continues Bill, who fittingly found himself lining up against his predecessor in the shadow of Wembley's Twin Towers just over 12 months later.

"Ironically, just a year or so after he went to Fulham, Mooro ended up facing us in the 1975 FA Cup Final. To be honest, there was no room for sentiment that day and, make no mistake, Bobby would have loved to have put one over on us, while we also wanted to go out there and lift that trophy, too.

"As the older players, Alan Mullery and Mooro realised that it was probably their last-ever chance to win a medal and, knowing that no-one ever remembers the runners-up, they really wanted to win that game just as much as we did.

"Being in the old second division, Fulham were the underdogs and, although we didn't play that well on the day, their keeper probably didn't end up having his best afternoon and Alan Taylor came up trumps with his double that gave us a 2-0 win in the end.

"I've got a photograph of me and Graham Paddon consoling Bobby after the game because he was obviously down and Kevin Lock and a few of the other lads came over, too, but all we could say really was: 'Unlucky mate.' "

Sandwiched between a post-retirement, trail-blazing adventure playing in the North American Soccer League and his later stint in the commentary box, Moore also tried his hand at management with Oxford City and Southend United.

And, in a final twist of tragic fate, Bonzo was the Hammers boss, when Bobby prematurely passed away, at the age of 51, on 24 February 1993.

"Our first game following Bobby's death was up at Sunderland and there was a minute's silence before the game," recounts Bill. "We were away from home and while 99% of fans are usually as good as gold in those situations, there's always that one per cent, who want to spoil it.

"But even though those 60 seconds were for a West Ham player, you could have heard a pin drop at Roker Park that afternoon and that just showed how much respect there was for Bobby Moore, both up and down the country and throughout the entire game.

"It was even more emotional at the Boleyn Ground the following week, when we played Wolves. Before the game, Ron Greenwood, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst carried a giant wreath depicting Bobby's No6 shirt out to the centre-circle and, once again, the whole ground fell totally silent. It was a very sad time for everyone.

"Looking back - and if I had my time again as manager - I would have done a bit more to get Bobby involved with the club, say, in some kind of ambassadorial role but, by the time I became West Ham manager, he was already working in radio and he seemed to be enjoying his involvement with his fellow commentators like Jonathan Pearce.

"I can't believe that it's 20 years since we lost him," concludes Bill. "I was very, very lucky to have had the chance to play with Bobby Moore and that is something that I am so proud to tell my two grandchildren."

*West Ham United would like to thank Steve Blowers for conducting this interview with Billy Bonds.

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