Alan Hubbard

The wonderfully evocative Big Read by my insidethegames colleague David Owen on the 1970 FIFA World Cup in Mexico, which began exactly 50 years ago this week, brought personal memories of that fabulous tournament flooding back.

It remains etched in the consciousness as one of the most enjoyable and fascinating events I have covered, perhaps topped only by the 'Rumble in the Jungle' between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

This was my second World Cup, and also my second time in Mexico, having been at the Olympic Games staged in the nation’s capital, Mexico City, two years earlier.

A lovely country with friendly folk whose favourite word was mañana, which translates as "tomorrow". Everything you asked for was mañana. But we got used to it. The joyous mariachi music and the spicy food, which first tickled your palate and then roasted it, was ample compensation for the Mexican waiting game.

The Games had been littered with high drama - literally so at an altitude of 2,240 metres. And some of the performances certainly took the breath away! There was Bob Beamon’s incredible long jump leap of 8.90m - 51cm beyond anything previously achieved and which remained as the world record for 23 years, until broken by American Mike Powell in 1991; it has stood as the current Olympic record for 52 years. Plus the debut of the 'Fosbury flop', Kenya’s first Olympic gold for Naftali Temu in the 10,000m and gold medals for heavyweight boxer Foreman and British middleweight Chris Finnegan.

Inevitably there was political drama too when the American 200m sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood heads bowed and fists up in black-gloved salute during The Star-Spangled Banner in protest at racism in their native land. Plus ça change. How apt such a demo would seem today with all that is happening in the United States.

Bobby Moore, left, and Bobby Carlton, seen before the ordeal in Colombia ©Getty Images
Bobby Moore, left, and Bobby Carlton, seen before the ordeal in Colombia ©Getty Images

We smiled when, before the Opening Ceremony, the Mexicans cynically presented a 'ring of steel' around the perimeter of the Olympic Stadium, a force of militia and police who were dressed as Boy Scouts - the tallest and biggest you have ever seen with armpits bulging, no doubt from their weaponry.

But what had happened 10 days earlier was no laughing matter. It was one of the most infamous events in Olympic history, on a par with the Munich massacre four years later.

Thousands of students and protesters had gathered in Plaza de las Tres Culturas demanding greater civil and democratic rights and showing disdain for the cost of the Games with slogans such as, "We don't want Olympics, we want revolution!"

The Mexican Government ordered the gathering to be ruthlessly broken up and some 5,000 soldiers and 200 tanks surrounded the Plaza. Around 400 protesters and civilians were killed, many machine-gunned from helicopters hovering above them, and more than 1,000 were arrested. As usual hardly a peep of protest from the ostriches at the International Olympic Committee.

So we approached Mexico 1970 with some trepidation but thankfully there was no such tragic iniquity before the World Cup, at least not in a political sense. But there was one matter which came perilously close to overshadowing anything we were to see on the field, at least as far as defending champions England were concerned.

This was the bracelet affair in which the England captain Bobby Moore was arrested and detained in Colombia, where England had played a warm-up match, for allegedly stealing a bracelet from a gift shop in the Bogotá hotel where the team were staying. It became a whodunnit of Agatha Christie proportions, but one which Hercule Poirot himself might never have solved - and it remains so until this day.

One thing of which I am certain though is that whoever nicked the £650 ($815/€730) bracelet - if indeed anyone did - it was not the late Bobby Moore, who I had got to know quite well. He swore that he had nothing to do with it, and I believed him.

The alleged incident occurred before England’s game against Colombia. A number of England players had visited the gift shop, including Moore and Bobby Charlton. The shop assistant Clara Padilla had partially opened a glass showcase to show Charlton a ring he was considering buying for his wife. But he decided against it and the players left.

They were standing in the hotel foyer when Padilla came out and accused Moore of stealing the bracelet from the same case. He protested his innocence and he and Charlton offered to allow themselves to be searched. Despite his denial, Padilla repeatedly identified Moore as the culprit and police and hotel staff were summoned. Both Moore and Charlton were briefly questioned but no further action was taken and they even received apologies for the inconvenience.

The match against Colombia went ahead, with England winning 4-0. They then proceeded to Quito in Ecuador where they won 2-0 and later and next day flew back to Mexico City via Bogotá, where there was four-and-a-half-hour stopover. They checked into the same hotel to watch a film and as they were waiting two Colombian police officers in plain clothes quietly took Moore outside and formally arrested him for the alleged theft.

Ridiculously, none of us in the accompanying media pack were aware of this as the Colombian hosts had arranged for us to visit a local salt mine!

So later, as with the players we boarded the plane to Mexico City, none of the press knew anything of Moore’s arrest - except for one London-based football reporter. He had been tipped off at the check-in by one of the squad with whom he was particularly friendly, yet decided not to say anything apparently because he did not fancy being left alone in Bogotá. He actually sat next to me on the flight but I won’t name and shame him as he was a friend and he is now no longer with us. As we took off I remember him saying to me: "Guess who is missing?" I asked him what he meant and he replied: "Look around and you won’t see Mooro," as the captain was popularly known among us.

Panic! The word spread rapidly and manager Alf Ramsey was forced to explain what had befallen the captain he relied on so much. Immediately some Fleet Street scribes even beseeched cabin staff to ask the pilot to turn the plane around and head back to Bogotá. Of course this was out of the question.

Bobby Moore, kissing the trophy, had led England to World Cup glory four years prior ©Getty Images
Bobby Moore, kissing the trophy, had led England to World Cup glory four years prior ©Getty Images

More panic at the stopover in Panama City where we all rushed for telephones to relay the stunning news to our offices. Some were told to abandon the flight and take another back to Bogotá, where the story was quickly unfolding.

We learned it had been arranged through the British Embassy that, rather than be sent to one of the city's prisons, Moore was kept under house arrest at the home of the director of the Colombian Football Federation, Alfonso Senior. He was allowed to train, although he was constantly followed by armed police guards.

Among the England camp, Moore was perceived to be totally innocent. Ramsey expressed his own belief in his captain, saying: "I should have thought that the integrity of this man would be enough to answer these charges. It is too ridiculous for words."

As the police inquiries continued, Moore appeared before a judge to again declare his innocence. Padilla’s version of events was then undermined as she claimed that Moore had slipped the bracelet into the left-hand pocket of his blazer, but it was demonstrated that the blazer had no pocket on the left side.

Police had also measured Moore’s hand and declared it was too big to slide into the glass case and remove the diamond-studded bracelet. Padilla then changed various parts of her story and eventually left the court in tears.

Back in London. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson hoped that a strong performance by England at the World Cup would boost the chances of his governing Labour Party being re-elected in the upcoming general election. Wilson was so concerned by Moore's arrest that he requested repeated lobbying of the Colombian government by the British Embassy in Bogotá. The Colombians were by now wary of escalating what was quickly becoming a diplomatic incident and Moore was conditionally released after four days.

He arrived in Mexico City and then flew on to Guadalajara, where the England were preparing to play their opening match against Romania. He was greeted like a long-lost son by at the airport by Ramsey. Other players lined up at the team hotel in a guard of honour to applaud him. Moore then he captained England to a 1–0 victory over Romania.

Pelé starred in the victorious Brazil team ©Getty Images
Pelé starred in the victorious Brazil team ©Getty Images

Moore was widely praised for his performances in the tournament, especially in England's group-stage match against Brazil where he played a proverbial blinder, brilliantly policing the great Pelé, which demonstrated the quality and character of the West Ham man. That match saw the 'save of the century' by Gordon Banks, diving to his right to flip a goal-bound Pelé header off the line.

The 1966 champions went out in extra time in the quarter-final, against a vengeful West Germany after another odd occurrence. A mysterious stomach upset ruled Banks out of the game and a nervous substitute, Peter Bonetti, made a couple of ghastly gaffes.

But the abiding memory of course has to be Brazil’s pulsating 4-1 victory over Italy in a final which was the consummate celebration of football at its finest. Brazil had the world dancing to the rhythm of samba soccer which was the very epitome of their Beautiful Game.

Five months after the celebratory motorised cavalcade of cacophony which throbbed all night long in Mexico City’s main drag, the Paseo de la Reforma, had finally ebbed away, the Colombian authorities reopened the case of the missing bracelet but could find nothing to prove there had ever been a theft.

The gift shop closed soon afterwards and Padilla ended up fleeing to the US.

My own belief, and that of many others, is that it was an attempt to frame Moore by one of Colombia’s many criminal elements either to try and obtain money from the English Football Asociatin or possibly to have Moore ruled out of the World Cup, thus weakening England's chances of retaining the trophy. Maybe for betting purposes.

Another theory has occasionally been proposed, that the bracelet was taken by one of the other England players, perhaps as part of a prank. This was given some credence by a comment that Moore made shortly before his death from cancer in February 1993, when he told biographer Jeff Powell: "Perhaps one of the younger lads did something foolish, a prank with unfortunate consequences."

All we know is that the Bogotá Bracelet remains one of sport’s most enduring mysteries.