It is hard to credit now but in the 1960’s and the early 1970’s Blackpool was almost the British equivalent of Las Vegas with its swinging nightlife and range of exotic attractions that catered for almost every need. Most football teams, from London and the South, enjoyed playing against Blackpool because an overnight stay was required and offered many players the chance to sample the temptations of the resort, either with or without the manager’s permission.
At the end of the 1964/65 season, a party of eight Chelsea players broke the curfew laid down by the manager Tommy Docherty and were dropped from the team and sent home in disgrace. However, footballers can have short memories and in January 1971 a group of West Ham United players were about to have their misdemeanours splashed across the front page of the tabloids for after hour activities.
This particular night on the town in Blackpool involved a World Cup winning captain, a record goal scorer, an ex -British heavyweight Champion boxer and the sophisticated elegance of the suitably named 007 club. In this case the football club would be shaken and the supporters most definitely stirred. Please read on.
Blackpool had a whole gamut of attractions to brighten up the existence of the thrill seeking baby boomer generation. Beauty contests, casinos, comedians, drag acts, strip joints and some of the hottest nightspots around were all essential elements of the Blackpool scene. Coach parties came from all over the North West and Midlands to sample the delights on offer. The whole of Glasgow would apparently descend en masse to the town during the summer holidays. George Best, the archetypal sixties style icon, was often seen in the company of scantily clad, glamorous women here. For any hedonist, Blackpool was your venue of choice.
Brian London was a famous boxer of the period whose face was well known to the British public. He fought for the Heavyweight World titles against Floyd Patterson in 1959 and Mohammed Ali in 1966 and although he lost both bouts, he received praise for his courageous performances. As his career was drawing to a close, he decided to open a nightclub in his home town of Blackpool. This became the 007 club and because of his sporting contacts, his club was often frequented by celebrities of the era which in turn attracted customers, especially wannabee females, from far and wide.
In the 1970/71 season, West Ham United had been performing way below the standards the fans demanded and now in the 1970/71 season they were in a desperate battle to preserve their Division One status. The F.A. Cup offered a possible route to salvation. West Ham were drawn away to Blackpool, who were rooted to the bottom of the division, having won only 1 out of their last 15 games. They had even contrived to lose 4-3 at home to Chelsea, despite leading 3-0 with twenty minutes to go in a game in October! The match was due to be played on the 2nd of January 1971.
West Ham travelled up to Blackpool by train on New Year’s Day. The weather forecast for Blackpool was not promising and there seemed a strong possibility that the match may be called off. The team stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Blackpool and after having their evening meal together, with rumours of a postponement becoming firmer, the players were given some free time. The manager, Ron Greenwood trusted his charges to conduct themselves in a professional manner. A few players seemed to want to sample the entertainment that was on offer in Blackpool. Others, such as Frank Lampard and Geoff Hurst wanted no part of it.
Three of West Ham’s senior players, Bobby Moore the captain, Jimmy Greaves the prolific goal scorer, Brian Dear another first team regular were joined by the young teetotal Clyde Best in the hotel foyer. They started chatting to two members of the BBC Match of the Day camera crew who were in town to record the match. At 11 p.m., two taxis turned up. The camera crew, who were eager to sample the delights of the famous 007 club in Blackpool, boarded the first taxi, Moore and the others climbed in the second taxi.
The players were unsure of where to go but Moore took charge. He remembered that Brian London had told him to visit his club the next time he was in Blackpool. Moore was a man who always found the temptation of an extra drink hard to resist. He gambled that the game was probably going to be called off anyway. He instructed the driver to take them to the 007 club, where he knew he would be amongst friends. Greaves and Dear who enjoyed a drink agreed. The young Clyde Best was swept along by the example of his captain and senior players.
The group stayed at the 007 club until about 1.45 a.m and caught a taxi back to the hotel. Moore and Dear were later to claim that they had only a few bottles of beer, nothing too excessive. However, Greaves who was descending into full blown alcoholism was later to admit he could have consumed as many as 12 bottles. On arrival at the hotel, they ordered coffee and sandwiches and went to bed. So far, so good and no recriminations.
The following morning, it was confirmed that the match was on, despite the freezing conditions. Brian Dear was named as substitute and Clyde Best was not selected. Bobby Moore and Jimmy Greaves were in the starting eleven as expected. Blackpool were easily the worst team in the division and the players and the fans who had travelled were confident of victory. Both parties knew that the season now hinged on a successful cup run. It was time to deliver.
The Bloomfield road pitch was in a poor condition, certainly not conducive to free flowing football. The ground was hard, icy and treacherous. Bob Stokoe had just been appointed as the new Blackpool manager and had prepared his players well, saying that the “Southern softies” would be unable to cope on that surface. He instructed his midfield dynamo Tony Green to push up on Moore and to not allow him any time on the ball.
The tactics worked. West Ham put in possibly their worst performance of the season and were thrashed 4-0. To add to their misery, the highlights of the game were screened on Match of the Day that evening so the whole country was able to witness the spineless performance. West Ham were now out of the Cup and lying 19th in the table, just above the drop zone. To make matters worse , Blackpool were then defeated 2-0 by Second Division Hull City in the next round.
Surprisingly, little was said by the manager Ron Greenwood about the performance on the trip home. It seemed as though such defeats were becoming routine. Moore, like the other players, thought that appeared to be the end of the matter. It was a measure of West Ham ‘s apparent decline that such defeats appeared to have become routine.
On the Monday morning, an irate West Ham supporter went to see the manager Ron Greenwood and aired his anger over the manner of the defeat and the fact that he had seen Moore and the others boozing in the 007 club. Greenwood was not the type of person to respond to such gossip but unfortunately the club Chairman Reg Pratt walked into his office and demanded to know what was going on. Other supporters contacted the press to give them details of the players who were “falling about drunk” in the early hours before a vital F.A. Cup tie.
Journalists stared ringing around. Several of them contacted Brian Dear, who refused to respond. However, when Ron Greenwood called Dear demanding to know the truth of what had happened, Dear admitted his indiscretion. He quickly rang Moore to tell him what had happened and to let him know that the story of their night out was about to hit the headlines.
Fleet Street was buzzing with the story. Greenwood was in a very difficult situation as he confronted the scandal that was already breaking in the press. He made the decision to name the guilty players to the journalists to protect the reputation of the innocent members of the team after consulting with the West Ham board.
The tabloids were full of lurid headlines across the front and back pages, about how Moore and other players were seen boozing away in the 007 club on the morning of such a vital game. The story of Moore’s involvement even made the front page of the Times. Bobby Moore had long been held up as an exemplar of the modern professional footballer. The previous summer he had received huge support from the public over how stoically he had dealt with the allegations of the theft of a bracelet in Bogota. His performances as England captain in the World Cup , especially against Pele had only added to the legend. Now here he was , being dragged through the gutter press , his reputation in tatters. For a man who had spent his whole football career carefully cultivating an image, to say he was resentful would be an understatement.
Moore decided to inform his wife Tina of what was about to be published. He warned her that she was not going to like it. He was right, she didn’t. He insisted that they had gone for a few drinks in the 007 Club and nothing else. Having spoken to Brian Dear, he also knew that at least one paper was going to print claims that the players had returned at 3 in the morning with some girls as company and had ordered champagne to be sent to their room. Tina, already harboured some doubts about her husband’s fidelity but now was not the time to air them.
The following morning Moore went to see his manager. By this time, Greenwood had interviewed all the players who went to Blackpool , one by one, and had now formed his own opinion on how best to deal with this scandal. Moore was extremely annoyed by how the incident had been dealt with. He reasoned that that the club should have simply denied the allegations and tried to suppress the story. It was a measure of how far apart the two had grown that Greenwood would not entertain such a proposal.
“Let you down”, Greenwood fumed, “ You’re the one that was in a night club”. Greenwood felt totally betrayed by his club captain.
Initially, Greenwood wanted the board to take decisive action. The two men had grown so distant that the manager saw this as an opportunity to move his captain out of the club. This was not just one lapse by Moore; it was the culmination of the realisation that he had overindulged Moore for far too long. The man who had just finished up as runner up in the poll for the European Footballer of the Year was on his way out.
Or was he? The West Ham board took a different perspective. They did not want to sack Greaves or Moore but were happy to dismiss Dear as the sacrificial lamb. Greenwood objected that they could hardly lay all the blame at Dear’s door. A compromise was reached. All the players involved, except Clyde Best who had not been drinking or played against Blackpool, were fined a week’s wages and received a two week suspension from playing. Ron Greenwood cunningly decided to extend the punishment by simply not selecting the players after they had served their time. Dear was never to wear the West Ham shirt again and he waited for a further three games before selecting Moore and Greaves again. Their suspension lasted five weeks in total. As West Ham continued to battle against relegation, he needed them back in the side.
Bobby wife’s Tina had also been placed under intense pressure by the whole event. Although she doubted that Bobby would have been daft enough to have spent the evening with the “champagne girls”, she was furious that many would read the story and believe it to be true. She also had to contend with the press corps being camped outside her house and the effect all this was having on their young children Roberta and Dean.In a marriage that was increasingly becoming less secure, this was an additional pressure that they could have done without.
In a bizarre twist of fate, the very week the story broke, Bobby was due to appear on ITV’s “This is your Life” programme. Tina had already been involved in secret meeting with the host Eamonn Andrews as the programme was being planned. On one occasion, Bobby came home earlier than expected and found Tina and Eamonn chatting in the front room. Noting their conspiratorial glances, he immediately assumed they were having an affair!
Although the timing of the “This is your life” programme appeared to be far from ideal, it did allow Moore to present his normal public persona to the television audience and deflect attention away from the Blackpool incident. His numerous friends and colleagues from the football and showbiz worlds turned up to pay their respects , but one person was noticeable for his absence, the manager Ron Greenwood.
Things were never the same at West Ham again. By the end of the season , Brian Dear had been offloaded to non -league Woodford Town and Jimmy Greaves had decided that at the incredibly young age of 31 , he would retire from the game. The relationship between Greenwood and Moore was in terminal decline. Within three years, in March 1974, Moore was shunted out to second division Fulham, his best days clearly behind him. At the end of the season, Greenwood was moved upstairs to become general manger with John Lyall becoming team manager.
Bobby Moore never forgave Ron Greenwood for the way he handled the Blackpool incident and what started out as a late night drink turned into an incident which led to the complete breakdown of trust between player and manager. However, amongst football fans of a certain age, the name and the glamour of the 007 club still lives on 46 years later.