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Pitbull’s self-discovery proves he is not barking

Former England rugby hooker Brian Moore’s headline-grabbing second autobiography is not like the usual sports memoir and, says ANTON RIPPON, is all the better for that

Brian Moore has always struck me as a complicated character. A former solicitor, sometime manicurist and record-breaking England hooker known to his team mates as “Pitbull”, he is currently (as the BBC publicity department likes to call him) the commentator who “takes no prisoners and speaks his mind on what he sees on the rugby field”.

Now, having read Beware Of The Dog, Moore’s latest autobiography, an often sad and melancholy tale of a man with so many mixed up emotions, I think I know why. His early experiences were enough to mix up anyone.

Moore gets this darkest episode of his life out of the way in the opening chapter. When he was nine or 10, he was sexually abused by a teacher who was also a respected member of the church and a family friend. It wasn’t until 2008, after a visit to see the work done by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre at Vauxhall, that he could confront those dark childhood memories.

But before he could make them public in this book, he had the difficult task of telling his mother. She had been the school secretary at the time of the abuse and, many years later, another teacher had told her of suspicions regarding the abuser. With it all out in the open, both mother and son felt guilt, but at least Moore could now move on.

Moore’s previous book, published in 1995, was written by Stephen Jones, for more than 20 years rugby correspondent of the Sunday Times, twice an SJA winner ” as Sports Writer of the Year, and for sports story of the year ” and a William Hill Sports Book of the Year winner with Endless Winter. In his preface to this latest book, Moore says of Jones: “ … he did a very good job, yet even he will agree that he could never fully capture my personality”.

Whatever, the first book was written against the background of Moore’s prospective retirement and a divorce. So it’s probably safe to say that the intervening 14 years will have given the subject a different perspective on his earlier life.

Straightaway, Moore sets out to explain his alter ego, someone he calls Gollum, like the character from Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings and is “what remains of an ordinary hobbit after years of change wrought by his carrying of the One Ring”.

I have never read Tolkien, so all this is lost on me. But, as Moore, explains it, whereas most people’s dark side surfaces only infrequently, with Moore it has been a daily running battle between the two sides, with Gollum egging on the argument. It is difficult to think of a Premier League footballer who would put it quite like that.

Although one sees Moore as the typical “professional” Yorkshireman, he isn’t. At least not in the way that would pass the criterion once set by former Daily Telegraph cricket writer, Mike Carey, who claimed that to be a Yorkshireman, you had to be “born within the sound of Bill Bowes”. Moore was born in Birmingham.

His father was English, his mother Malayan. When he was a few months old, he was adopted by a God-fearing Methodist couple from Halifax who had two children of their own before setting out to adopt a “rainbow family”. Moore’s siblings also include a Chinese sister and a brother of Welsh-Pakistani origin.

Beware Of The Dog charts all this. And, of course, there is also plenty of rugby. His early days at Nottingham, a biggish club in the dying days of the amateur era, brought with them plenty of escapades as a Nottingham University student and, subsequently, a newly qualified solicitor. Then came Harlequins and England. Moore was terrified when he first joined the England squad, convinced that this would be the moment that his lack of talent was finally exposed.

Of course, it wasn’t. With 64 appearances, he is still English rugby’s most capped hooker. He played in three World Cups, won three Grand Slams, and went on two British Lions tours. In 1991, he was voted Rugby World Player of the Year. Inevitably, there were brushes with the RFU along the way, not least over the struggle for professionalism in the game.

Moore’s first venture into broadcasting came when the BBC approached him to work with its award-winning commentator Ian Robertson, himself a former Barbarian. The job was viewed as a long-term appointment but lasted for only one season. Moore, who had refused to let pass Robertson’s anti-English asides, was convinced that the Scot had stuck the knife in and lost him his job. Years later, when challenged, Robertson denied responsibility, telling Moore that the BBC felt that the dynamic between them was wrong. It was acceptable for commentators to disagree on television, but on radio it came across badly. Listeners did not have pictures and could not decide for themselves who was right.

Fortunately for Moore, the BBC asked him to move over to TV and take up a pundit’s role for the Six Nations Championship. But here, he was frustrated because tight schedules gave him little time to deconstruct a game. One minute’s worth of “tabloid speak”, as he puts it, were no good to him. So when he was asked to co-commentate, he jumped at the chance.

But, Moore being Moore, there were bound to be incidents. His first run-in came during an Edinburgh Reivers game, where the referee was a serving police officer and the Reivers’ No8 an ex-bobby. When an important decision went ” plainly wrongly ” the No8’s way, Moore remarked that “they’re probably both Masons”. The Police Federation’s solicitors were soon in touch and Moore had to respond, albeit well watered down from the grovelling apology that the BBC’s legal department had wanted.

He did have to apologise when a French player was rucked by an England player. Moore began to reminisce about the days when players could use their feet to clear those who were obstructing the ball, and ended by saying: “Anyway, he’s French and I don’t care.”

When the Scottish scrum half attempted a powder-puff punch at England’s second-row forward, Danny Grewcock, during a Calcutta Cup match, Moore described it as a “gay slap”. That set the BBC switchboard humming with complaints ” not many from the gay community, it appears ” that Moore was homophobic.

At his disciplinary hearing, Moore produced a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary and showed that the definition of “gay” could mean “light-hearted”. And that was what he meant, he said. The senior manager paused for a moment and then told Moore: “Look, just fuck off. But please don’t do it again.”

As a form of penitence, he was sent by Rugby Special to report on Kings Cross Steelers, the only gay rugby club in England. In the meantime, Moore says that he is anything but homophobic. For five years he lived in the heart of Soho and knew the gay community well.

All this, coupled with three marriages, a love of fine wine, an appreciation of opera, a passion for motorbikes, and a brief career as a manicurist, helps to make up one of rugby’s most interesting characters. Beware Of The Dog is certainly not a typical sportsman’s autobiography. And it is all the more enjoyable for it.

Beware Of The Dog by Brian Moore (Simon and Schuster, £17.99)

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Posted in Books and reviews, Rugby writers, Sports broadcasting
By admin on Sunday 17th January, 2010

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