The retirement options for former Chelsea star Didier Drogba make a stark contrast with what Jackson faced half a century ago.


One of the biggest differences between the lives of today’s top footballers and those who played in the postwar years is the options they have when they retire.

While modern players, just like their predecessors, are still relatively young when the game’s physical toils become too much for them, the contrasts in the choices of what to do next could hardly be dilineated more starkly.

Most obviously, one of the choices that Didier Drogba could now opt for is to put up his expensively shod feet for the rest of his life, a recourse that would have been out of the question for his mid-twentieth-century counterpart.

In the days when wages were capped – at £20 a week in 1961 when the restriction was finally abolished – and players were too poor to give up work when they were no longer able to play, managers’ jobs were, for most, the only employment they were qualified to do.

As a result the numerous players who queued to be given a managerial break were motivated by a neediness that meant boards were as penny-pinching in rewarding them as they were their players.

No wonder this was the golden age of footballers regarding club directors with utter disdain, summed up by the chapter in Len Shackleton’s autobiography that was headed ‘The average director’s knowledge of football’ and consisted of a blank page.

For those players who failed to land a job as a manager or were not inclined to seek one, the possibilities were limited – and some were more accepting of this than others.

Alec Jackson was one of the accepting ones.

Jackson, who played in the Football League for fourteen years, ten of them (1954-64) with West Bromwich Albion, was one of those with no managerial pretensions. He left school at 15, found employment as a machinist close to his home in Tipton and, from everything he tells me, had no ambition other than living what might be described as a traditional working man’s life.

The fact that for a decade Jackson, an outstanding athlete and footballer, was idolised by thousands of Baggies fans did not alter his sense of who he was or where he felt he belonged.

Not much better off when he retired from playing professional football than he was when he started, Jackson wished only to return to his roots.

‘When I retired,’ he says, ‘I went into a mill and since then I’ve done just about everything, working 18 hours a day. It needed to be done.’

Jackson, born in 1937, was growing up when the population’s sense of self-sufficiency was reflected in the numbers who produced their own food on allotments, plots of land made available for non-commercial gardening. There were more than a million of these in Britain after the Second World War.

This number has dwindled to fewer than 300,000, one of them in the possession of Alec Jackson. ‘I’ve had my allotment for 37 years and I’ve still got it,’ he says. ‘I still work it but I’ve had to cut back. Me and a friend share it, one half each. I produce just about everything you can eat.

‘And I do other bits and pieces, making things, fishing. I’m lucky because I’m hanging on. There’s quite a few of those I used to play with who have gone. Good people have gone.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.