The Opportunity: A conversation with Brian Moore
by Michael Volpe
As long as you set aside a glittering international rugby, writing and broadcasting career, being a lawyer, and a famous Yorkshireman, then Brian Moore, England’s Bulldog hooker is someone with whom I can find much to compare myself. He suffers fools no less gladly than I, that is for sure, but I am certain that I enjoy at least as much as he does the idea of shattering people’s preconceptions. If you follow Brian on Twitter, his preparedness to meet fire with conflagration is legendary and he is always ready to take on the trolls who continue to portray him as a mindless rugby thug. ‘I love it,’ he laughs, ‘when some idiot comes on Twitter and says something about my commentating or punditry on BBC coverage of the Six Nations and tells me they feel the need to switch off when I speak. I just tell them to watch the alternative commentary on the red button. Why do they think I care?’ Or should he use fruity language to correct a miscreant, there might be a follow up tweet tagging Sky and complaining about his behaviour, a doxxing tactic he finds most unpleasant. ‘I don’t even work for bloody Sky.’
Brian Moore’s career in rugby was stellar, with several World Cup competitions, Lions Tours and over 64 appearances for England including Grand Slams and Five nations victories. He was and remains at times hilariously partisan, most famously for being especially provocative to Australians and Kiwis. His early life was a difficult time, being adopted at the age of 7 months, but he has written and spoken extensively about the abuse he suffered as a child. He once said that ‘If you have been abused, you feel tainted by association with the awfulness of the crime’ and cites his experiences as being part of the reason for his competitive ferocity on the rugby field.
In short, Brian has had few favours in his life and, like many athletes, can chart a story of opportunity taken and embraced. I’m keen to hear his story but he needs to think about it for a while because as a competitor, his single-mindedness at key moments in his life means that his recollection of events is skewed by the determination he had at the time. ‘I had to think about this, but my first big opportunity came after I had perhaps almost thrown it away. Back in the old days, we still had England Final Selection — when there is a match between ‘Probables and Possibles,’ he recalls. ‘Of course, what tends to happen is that the Possibles, not certain of their place, play out of their skin and the Probables coast a bit.’
‘And that happened to me, Graham Dawe who was a Possible, got the hooker spot instead of me and I had to sit on the bench for the first games.’
It is possible to imagine Moore fuming quietly on the bench at the lost opportunity, the idea that he had coasted somewhat and let a player he felt to be less good than him take his place. However, quite soon after, pressure grew for changes to be made and for people like Moore to be given the chance. When that change was enacted, Brian took his second chance and had a straight run of over 60 appearances thereafter. ‘I often wonder,’ he muses, ‘how my life and career might have turned out had Dawe been brilliant in those first few games …’ He might look at Dawe’s career thereafter which eventually included only five England caps.
It becomes clear during our conversation that Brian has a selection of key moments in his life that were, if not clear opportunities, junctures when he needed to make hard choices, nuggets of counsel that he sometimes found difficult to absorb and process.
‘One thing I do wish is that I listened to more people. I didn’t always do that — I ploughed on. But there were a couple of occasions when brilliant people made decisions of their own on my behalf and all I had to do was go with them. At other times I was given great advice that I just took on board. One of those would be when I was offered pupillage by a great Nottingham Rugby supporter, but who warned me that being a barrister meant there could be no England career if I wanted to succeed at the bar. He did me a massive favour.’
The next event was something almost miraculous. It was two weeks before a huge game with Ireland and British Lions selection and whilst walking down the street in Nottingham, where he played his club rugby, Brian’s knee gave way in an alarming fashion. ‘I went straight to see a specialist and before you knew it I was prepped and ready on a trolley waiting to go into surgery for what would have finished my season. But for some reason the surgeon spoke to me outside theatre and hesitated — he said that perhaps we should give it a few more days before committing to the knife.’
Brian went off to see a brilliant physio he knew who diagnosed something entirely different and furthermore, knew how to fix it with manipulation. The problem went away and Brian’s career continued to flourish with that brilliant Lions tour in 1989 when the series was won 2–1 and Brian was found celebrating on Sydney Harbour Bridge in the early hours of the morning.
‘That is luck I suppose, but I think I had to listen to the surgeon. It could have been that I decided to just get the surgery over with and the brilliance of the physio just added to the amazing series of events.’
Brian’s rugby career ended and he went back into law, becoming a successful partner in a firm, but opportunity knocked again when The Daily Telegraph asked him to write a regular column on rugby and, at about the same time, the BBC came calling for his punditry and analysis skills for their rugby coverage. He could not maintain all of these media duties AND be a practicing lawyer so he was faced with a conundrum. ‘It was a difficult decision because I loved law but I also loved the game, wanted to write and broadcast, but it could all have gone so wrong.’
How did he make the decision?
‘I imagined myself on my deathbed and how I would think if I didn’t take those opportunities. Would I regret it at the moment it was too late to do anything about it? I decided that I would, so law went and I took the media roles. In sport we talk about not coming off the field wondering what might have been- do everything you can, and if you lose, fine. I took that approach to this decision.’
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In people’s lives, ‘opportunities’ can come in various guises, some can be clear and obvious and others may not be evident until after the passage of time. At Nova New Opportunities, we aim to create the conditions for people to take new life chances, and to see where it may take them.
‘The Opportunity’ is a series of discussions with successful individuals who recall a particular moment — or opportunity — that changed the course of their lives. Sometimes it wasn’t obvious that a particular moment would prove so important to their future, at others, it was a blazingly clear juncture that they knew had to be grabbed with both hands. It could be deemed ‘a stroke of luck’, or it could just have been that someone, somewhere showed a little faith, but these moments are when we recognise the turning points in our lives.