Brian Moore Revisited
by Andrew Cobby
When I was growing up the BBC meant little to me, a lot less than it does now. I preferred Magpie to Blue Peter and other BBC programmes such as Jackanory, Vision On and Animal Magic spoke to me not at all. I remember having a particular aversion to Johnny Morris. He always seemed to lack charm, especially when he did his Dr Dolittle bit and provided funny voices for zebras and other exotic animals. I know it probably counts against me in the great scheme of things but, with the exception of baby orangutans, I have never been much of an animal lover. Oh no, Johnny Morris is pretending to be an elephant again. Well, he knows where he can stick that currant bun. I would much rather have watched Mick Robertson and Bob Goody on Freetime, so I did. This is why, whenever I think of football commentators from the 1970s, it is the voices of Hugh Johns from ATV, Roger Tames from Tyne Tees or Elton Welsby from Granada that I hear rather than those of John Motson or Barry Davies. The best of all the ITV commentators was Brian Moore.
Moore was the avuncular presenter of On the Ball, a football magazine show which formed part of World of Sport, and ITV's go-to man for expert commentary on the big live internationals and cup finals. He was a great commentator and his commentary invested a game with a grace and dignity that it didn't always deserve. Now, thanks to ITV4, I can watch him present The Big Match, a football highlights show from London Weekend Television. This instalment is from February 1979. At times Brian Moore would put in a triple shift because, not only would he present the show he would also act as commentator and expert summariser for, say, a First Division match from White Hart Lane between Admiral and Umbro. These two sides were flying high in the late 1970s but have since had to play second fiddle to Adidas, Nike and New Balance.
I was going to say, after his mammoth triple-header, that Brian Moore was someone who laughed in the face of hard work but I am sure I heard him say disgruntledly as the end credits were rolling 'Shove a broom up my backside and I'll sweep the floor for you as well'. Whereas Sky Sports has a whole legion of ex-professionals armed with umpteen camera angles and super slow motion to help with their analysis, Brian had to make do with a couple of cameras and fuzzy action replays so, unlike Sky Sports, at least he had an excuse for leaving the viewer absolutely none the bloody wiser.
Moore was appalled that the referee managed to not give a penalty for a tackle that was so late it actually took place two years later, in 1981. As the cameraman was on a tea break at the time the tackle took place, there was no footage to back up Brian's indignation so they slipped in that shot of Alan Birchenall and Tony Currie exchanging a tender kiss after following over during a match between Leicester City and Sheffield United.
A half-hearted attempt was made to examine whether Bukta's third goal was offside but, recognising a losing battle when he saw one, Brian gave up and tried to distract the viewer by pointing out his nice blue shirt and stripy tie combo his wife had recently bought him as a birthday present. I tried this technique once years ago during a particularly gruelling job interview. Pointing to my shirt, I told the interviewer 'This shirt. £5 from Matalan'. I didn't get the job or, rather, they were unable to recommend my appointment which was a nice, let him down gently, rather Brian Moorish way of putting it. Like all rejection it hurt at the time. I am over it now but, don't get me wrong, I still bear them loads of ill will. And you should have seen what I bore them before I was over it.
Then Brian whisked us off to exotic HTV land to watch highlights of Cardiff City versus Stoke City as described by man of Harlech Bob Simmons. Unfortunately, Cardiff's Robin Friday had retreated into footballing oblivion by 1979 and so there was no exposition of his legendary footballing and man-management skills. To almost make up for this there was an unbilled appearance from young Garth Crooks, learning the ropes at Stoke City from old hands Howard Kendall and Denis Smith. Occasionally, Brian would send the viewer north of the border for, say, Morton versus Partick Thistle. If memory serves, Morton won by two submissions (it was that type of game). The commentator for this one was Arthur Montford who may have been the best commentator ever, I don't know, and the reason I don't know is that I couldn't understand a word he was saying. His low Scots monotone was indecipherable to my unseasoned Sassenach ears so, if Arthur had not been indecipherable, or I'd been Scottish, this piece might have been about him instead of Brian Moore. Them's the breaks, Arthur.
When I was a kid the BBC would show public information films to fill in before the start of Grandstand. One of them was about an old castle, probably somewhere in Kent, and had the haunting words that the castle was waiting for an invasion that never came. Well, Brian Moore had on his desk a telephone that was waiting for a phone call that never came. It wasn't a run of the mill monochrome telephone but a two-tone grey device. It was the type of phone you would expect to see in the hallway of fancy dan players such as Alan Hudson or Rodney Marsh (for some reason, I always had Frank Worthington down as a Trimphone user). I have only ever seen two-tone phones in three colours - grey, green and brown. The brown ones would do sterling work in offices up and down the country until phased out by cheap-looking, nondescript offspring. I would have thought that, in keeping with their colourful orange, white and blue ident, London Weekend would have opted for the two-tone green one but, no, the grey one it was. The Big Match was recorded but I think the producers hoped to persuade the viewer that he was watching a live broadcast and that the phone would ring and the voice on the other end would tell Brian to get the hell out of there at once because the whole thing's gonna blow.
My favourite Moore moment comes from 1993 when he tried to warn the England team from the commentary box that Dutch destroyer Ronald Koeman, ball resting ominously at his feet before a free kick on the edge of the box, was about to chip the free kick over the wall. I am not claiming that Brian was the Doris Stokes of football commentators because, in truth, everyone watching could see what was about to happen. I could see, my dad could see, even that blind bloke who ogles Sally Thomsett's bum at the start of Man About the House could see. Thinking about it, I am not sure that bloke was as blind as he made out but hindsight is always 20/20 isn't it? It was all fruitless because the only people who mattered could only watch in awe and helpless admiration as the ball sailed over the wall, past the keeper, hit the top corner of the net and did for England's chances of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup Finals. Still, England manager Graham Taylor finally lived up to his title and managed to get a Yellow Pages advert out of it so all was not lost.
But seriously. Brian Moore's last commentary was for the 1998 World Cup Final between France and Brazil. He died on 1 September 2001, on the same day that England played Germany in a World Cup qualifier. It's a shame Brian missed it because England thrashed them 5-1. What poetry he would have wrought from that.
Andrew Cobby, December 2016 for Television Heaven