Bobby's best man

Daily Mail Chief Sports Feature Writer Jeff Powell knew Bobby Moore OBE as well as anyone.

Powell developed a close friendship with the West Ham United and England legend during his playing days and, later, during his coaching and broadcasting careers. He was Bobby's best man at his wedding to Stephanie in December 1991 and penned the 1966 FIFA World Cup-winning captain's authorised biography. When the Bobby Moore Statue was unveiled at Wembley in May 2007, it was Powell who was commissioned to compose the inscription on its plinth.

Powell wrote a moving column for the Daily Mail to mark the 20th anniversary of the passing of his old friend, which he has kindly adapted for

Today I'll be thinking of my friend Bobby... still England's golden boy

Twenty years?

Can it really be that long since the captain of England's solitary World Cup winning team became the first of that feted XI to depart this life?

The FA celebrated their 150th birthday recently but it was is the proximity to Moore's poignant anniversary which will remind football's mother country of England's one and only glory. Lest we forget, it is the great man we knew as 'Mooro' who was the golden boy of our national game. Still is.

No-one at West Ham needs reminding of that and Monday evening's tribute to him is wrapped around the kind of big London derby match which he relished.

Nothing could have been more relevant to the memory of Moore than the photograph of him exchanging shirts and compliments with Pele in the Mexican sunshine of the 1970 World Cup remains one of the most iconic in the sporting archive.

Pele would have been at Wembley but for a hip operation. Had he made the journey to Wembley he would have paused beside the statue of the English gentleman he describes as 'my friend and the greatest defender I ever played against.'

He would have read this inscription on the plinth which it was my privilege to compose in tribute to a man who was my friend, also: Immaculate footballer. Imperial defender. Immortal hero of 1966. First Englishman to raise the World Cup aloft. Favourite son of London's East End. Finest legend of West Ham United. National Treasure. Master of Wembley. Lord of the game. Captain extraordinary. Gentleman of all time.

It was no time for understatement.

Twenty years? Perhaps because England have still not come close to emulating the summer of '66, it seems like only the day before yesterday.

In 1993 Bill Clinton was inaugurated as President, John Major was Prime Minister, an IRA car bomb exploded in the City of London, Schindler's List and Mrs Doubtfire were among the movies of the year, Whitney Houston sang I Will Always Love You, the Grand National failed to start, television screened the final episode of Cheers and a group of American teenagers invented the world wide web.

But in the chronicle of that year only two notable events are recorded for the day of February 24.

Eric Clapton won the Grammy for Tears In Heaven. That there were, because Robert Frederick Chelsea Moore passed away aged only 51.

Condemned by the delay which followed an initial, tragic misdiagnosis of his cancer as irritable bowel syndrome, he knew it was coming, But not until there was a tell-tale yellowing of his features did he let on to anyone except his devoted wife Stephanie and his beloved children Roberta and Dean.

When he decided to go public, less than two weeks before he died, he asked me to help craft the statement. That began what Al Pacino described in Scent of a Woman as a last tour of the battlefield.

As the venue for our last lunch - at which he ate frugally and sipped water - he chose the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington. It was there that England banqueted following the extra-time victory over West Germany in the World Cup Final of '66 and then came out to show the Jules Rimet Trophy to the thousands rejoicing in the street.

We reminisced for a while but we knew why we were there. As we stepped out into the chill air I ribbed him gently about the red leather coat which was out of character with his usual mode of impeccably formal dress.

It was the last thing he bought for himself and he said: 'Well, old son, if I didn't wear it today I might never...'.

As the sentence tailed off we grasped each other's shoulders and embraced. We were standing on the flagstone beside the front steps of the hotel beneath which a time capsule is buried, waiting to be opened by some future life form. The story of how a working class boy from London's East End came to take delivery from his Queen of the most prized piece of silverware on the planet is there to explain how the human species wove so many of strands of its existence into a round-ball game. We were also standing next door to Princess Diana's Palace.

Twenty years?

If there is any consolation in dying young it is more pronounced for the good-looking.

Just as Diana is remembered in the full flush of her beauty, so the last and surviving image of Moore is that of the handsome, upright, blond Adonis who bestrode our national game like a colossus. They who will not grow old as we who are left grow old.

On the morning after Sir Bobby Charlton unveiled the statue of Bobby, his brother Jack went back to Wembley on his own. He stood for half an hour or more looking up at the figure of the man he partnered at the heart of England's World Cup defence.

'Just wanted to chat to Mooro again,' said Big Jack. 'Best man I've ever known.'

If the statue could have joined the conversation its first words would have been these: 'All is well.' Bobby used his catch-phrase as both a statement and a question.

A couple of days after our lunch - as the best defender of all football time continued his lap of honour by returning as a radio commentator to the stadium he had made his own - he used it to pre-empt questions about his state of health.

As he left after the match there was grid-lock in the car park. To the astonishment of angry drivers who had been refusing to give way to each other, the tall, commanding figure of Bobby Moore got out of his own car and directed some to back up, others to pull forward. They complied meekly and the log jam was cleared.

He planned a farewell visit to West Ham that weekend but was too weak to go. Late that evening he telephoned to say: 'A bit too tired today. Good night, old son.'

It was our goodbye. He died in the early hours of the morning, The genius of timing which hall-marked his tackles, positioning and passing was still there at the end. The man whose No6 shirt was to be retired by West Ham breathed his last at 6.36 am.

A nation mourned. It also awoke to the unhappy realisation that it had neglected to knight the noblest practitioner of its most loved game. This was not only a majestic footballer but a symbol of decency and dignity, an heroic defender not only against the world's best forwards but of forgotten virtues and threatened values in our society. As if reluctant to let that spirit die, the people still pour thousands into his fund for research into bowel cancer.

Twenty years?

For some of us hardly a day goes by without we remember the best friend a man could wish to have. He was on our minds as Brazil ran out at Wembley recently.

When I got home late after the game I thought of all the nights when he lost his battle with chronic insomnia, got into his car and came ringing at the door bell of my old bachelor flat at around four in the morning.

We would light the fire, open the French windows and sit on the tiny balcony, beer cans in hand, watching the dawn break over London's roof-tops.

All is well?

Well enough, old son, But not as well as when Mooro was ringing the bell for England, for football …..and for old time's sake.

*The photograph of Jeff Powell and Bobby Moore originally appeared in the Daily Mail.