When Bobby Moore went to Denmark

When Bobby Moore went to Denmark

The man, the footballer, the legend: Bobby Moore remains the figurehead of English football’s most decorated era. It was not a career littered with hordes of domestic or European honours at West Ham United, nor was there an abundance of goalscoring exploits by which many greats are revered. Moore’s stout leadership of his country remains pertinent but above all, he is remembered as one of the select few to achieve every footballer’s dream: a World Cup winners’ medal.

So how did one of England’s finest ever leaders end up in an obscure, semi-professional European outpost?

The defender’s decline started amid acrimonious circumstances in 1974. After eclipsing 500 games for West Ham and clocking up 108 appearances in a Three Lions shirt, his move across London to join Fulham ended a long-running feud with West Ham manager Ron Greenwood.

Moore’s repeated requests to secure a lucrative move away were rebuffed by Greenwood and the manager even blocked a proposed transfer to Brian Clough’s Leeds after a fee had been agreed. After losing his place in West Ham’s defence Fulham ended up paying £25,000 for his services, a significant climb-down from Clough’s apparent offer of £400,000 just months earlier.

Though the West Ham fans’ rapport with Moore never subsided, his ties with the club ceased forever and their ex-captain would never willingly return to Upton Park, choosing to scorn over the ill-fated transfer disagreements. Ironically Fulham would meet West Ham in the 1975 FA Cup final, with Moore starting in a 2-0 defeat.

Upon retiring at 36, the Wandsworth-born player found himself at a dead-end. A desired career in coaching and management looked a formality but along with others who held World Cup winners medals, an expected bundle of management offers never materialised. A select few reached the top-level, others failed in lower divisions while some fell out of the game altogether; Roger Hunt founded a haulage company, while full-back Ray Wilson became an undertaker.

Perhaps the most disillusioned Moore felt came when the FA, who he served admirably as a player, refused to even acknowledge his application for the national post vacated by Don Revie in 1977. It was admittedly a long shot for someone with no previous managerial experience but the national body’s ignorance towards Moore epitomised their attitude towards the 1966 squad, with nobody offered anything as much as an ambassadorial role.

By this time the ex-England captain was under increasing financial scrutiny. After becoming a pioneering case in realising his commercial value, Moore set up business ventures during his playing days which were run through the aptly named ‘Bobby Moore Ltd’. Some were successful; others nose-dived into trouble before a failed attempt to turn a stately home into a country club reportedly cost most of his lifetime earnings through legal fees and payments to creditors.

It became a case of waiting by the phone, hoping for an ambitious chairman to call and offer a lucrative deal in exchange for a publicity boost to a virtually unknown club. He would even don his boots again, well past his prime at the age of 37, if it meant making a quick buck and easing financial tension. That call came from Helge Mølste Sander.

Sander, an MP from a journalistic background, had recently been appointed director of a small club called Herning Fremad, based in the Jutland region of Denmark. His dramatic proposals to haul Danish football into full-time professionalism were ambitious; up until 1971, professional football was banned by law and many Danes who sought a career in the USA had to forfeit their chance of playing for the national side. A year earlier Sander collaborated with ex-Denmark striker Harold Nielsen to plot a failed breakaway professional league, though the Danish FA (DBU) eventually bowed down to pressure.

Like any revolution, Sander needed a flagship signing to signify his intentions. Moves to North America for the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Pelé showed major stars would ply their trade worldwide, though the abundance of names on show in America at least gave the league an attractive edge. What amount of cash would a player need to head over to the third division in a country where the professional game was in its infancy?

Current internationals were overly ambitious so Sander targeted over-the-hill stars. Ex-Leeds star Peter Lorimer was considered but deemed too expensive, while conversations with Bobby Charlton proved fruitless. What about Moore, a man widely known to need some cash and open to any offers? Sander set negotiations in motion and arranged for Moore to fly to Herning. Soon after his arrival, newspaper Ekstra Bladet received a tip and on February 11, 1978,  sensational headlines broke of the Englishman’s forthcoming arrival.

Moore made no attempt to hide his presence and visited local landmarks during his stay – however few there may have been – before returning to London apparently impressed on first viewing. But the line went cold. Weeks passed without a formal announcement and a rival club even tried to hijack the deal.

Finally on April 7, 1978, Bobby Moore signed for Herning Fremad of Denmark’s third tier. A small club from West Jutland were, albeit briefly, the centre of football’s considerable spotlight.

Against the wishes of the DBU, who tried several times to halt their plans, aggressive marketing strategies ahead of Moore’s arrival swelled Herning’s coffers. Sander’s idea of selling team jerseys was ground-breaking in the country and other sales of Puma products, including training kits and boots, brought significant funds into the club. The politician also persuaded 342 new shareholders to invest in the club, including a link-up with Gasolin’, Denmark’s biggest rock band at the time.

Such marketing activity funded Moore’s move and Sander has since indicated the player received a whopping $5,000 per match, around £11,500 in today’s money, with expenses included – and expensive they were. As he never moved to Denmark, the club paid his return plane fare from England (two flights each way), among other travel expenses, for every game.

The club’s commitment was unwavering but doubts lingered from elsewhere. Could an ageing player, who competed with the very best in his time, motivate himself to single-handedly transform a team who prepared for the upcoming season by playing against Herning Slaughterhouse (the local butchers), with red sausages the prize for the winner?

When Moore signed on the dotted line five days before his 38th birthday, unprecedented numbers of press trailed his every move and Herning had become the country’s most professionally run club, albeit still stuck somewhere in the wilderness between amateurism and professionalism. Sander’s publicity stunt looked well on track.

Over eight times the normal crowd turned out for his maiden appearance, a 1-0 defeat to Holstebro, but Moore escaped criticism. Although the local media denounced his lack of pace, they were impressed with his superior technical skills and exceptional ability to read the game. Did they expect anything less from a former World Cup winner in the Danish third tier?

Despite having a world-class defender in the ranks, it by no means made them runaway title favourites and Herning’s form worsened. Moore conducted himself admirably at all times, never demeaning his teammates and acting as a true professional throughout his stay, but unavoidable situations started to cause ructions in the dressing room.

His inability to train thrice a week, joining in one session before not attending any towards the end of his spell, made others jealous towards the special treatment he received. Manager Svend Hugger’s lack of English meant Jørgen Mortensen, a 23- year-old student who played in midfield, had to translate his team-talks so Moore could understand; others saw this as special attention. Incessant media attention hampered the squad’s performance while opposing teams upped effort and work rate, spurred on by the opportunity of facing a world great.

It was impossible for him to carry a team from centre half much like a striker could do through weight of goals. Defeats became a regularity, media interest dwindled and a 5-0 defeat at Aalborg Freja made it a winless run of seven, with five defeats and two draws. With the team now sat second bottom of the league something had to give.

As a car started moments after the final whistle to whisk Moore back to London, it became abundantly clear that the engine had died on this Danish experiment. Helge Sander, Svend Hugger and Bobby Moore all subliminally knew it was over and Sander delivered the parting message shortly before his final journey from Herning to London.

Nine games and 44 days after arriving, Moore was again jobless. Was substantial cash worth the ignominy of heading up an ultimately disastrous experiment? Whether he was truly enthusiastic about the project is debateable but any passion was long gone by the time they parted ways.

It ended up a demoralising experience for Moore and his relief must have been palpable when it finished prematurely. Remarkably, a reinvigorated Herning dressing room embarked on a run of 16 wins from 20 games that same season before gaining promotion one year later.

Though ultimately unsuccessful for both parties, Moore’s brief spell in Denmark is remembered and celebrated to this day. In spite of his move appearing to have few positives at the time, it helped move the sport into professionalism and paved the way for footballers in the country to earn a living through playing the beautiful game.

He might not have realised it at the time but Bobby Moore left a lasting legacy in Denmark, much like he did wherever he entered a football field.

By Luke Bidwell @luke_bidwell

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