English football’s postwar generation ‘expected to be clouted’ – it was the way the game was played.


Terry Allcock expresses a familiar view: it was not so much dirty play as a question of give and take regardless of whether the giving and/or taking or both came with a few broken ribs.

He is speaking for the postwar generation that played in the era of restricted earnings, an era that ended in 1961 with the abolition of the 20-quid-a-week maximum wage.

Allcock, an outstanding forward for Bolton Wanderers and Norwich City in the ’50s and ’60s, tells me: ‘Physically you expected to be clouted, particularly as a forward.

‘If you weren’t you thought you were playing against a gentleman, but there weren’t many about in those days.’

Peter McParland, another prolific goal-scorer during his 10 years – 1952-62 – with Aston Villa, is also accepting of the harsh treatment he received from defenders.

‘We played in tough conditions compared to today and we entertained and we had hard but fair tackling,’ he says. ‘The odd one here and there would go over the top but the majority of my career it was hard but fair and you took that. You knew what was going on.’

McParland recalls a gathering of Aston Villa players in 2007 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the FA Cup in final in which he scored the winning goals against Manchester United.

‘There were a few of us there from the Cup Final team,’ he says, ‘including our great supporter, Merv the Swerve [Mervyn King] from the Bank of England, and John Motson.

‘John came over and said he had recently watched a film of the final. “You weren’t half getting into one another,” he said, “but you all got up after you were tackled.” He noticed that. Nobody was rolling about on the ground.

‘You had to get up and get on with it. And most times when a fella gave you a belt you didn’t let on he’d hurt you. The crowd liked to see fellas going hell for leather into tackles.’

In that 1957 Cup final, McParland was involved early in the match in a controversial collision with Ray Wood, the Manchester United goalkeeper. The clash left Wood with concussion and a broken cheekbone and McParland was heavily criticised by the press for his part in the incident.

Looking back McParland is philosophical about this criticism but says it did not really bother him: ‘It was part and parcel [of being in an incident like that] that they were going to slam me and some of them did. I just had to take the flak.’

But he sets this censure against the reaction he received from fellow players.

He says that Wood’s teammate, the United defender Bill Foulkes, even told him that ‘Woody should have got out of my way – and he didn’t because he liked having a bash at people’.

And he adds: ‘Despite all the condemnation, the next season, before all the games I played early on, rather than criticise me the opposition goalkeepers said, “You wouldn’t have done that to me in the final because I’d have sidestepped and let you run into the back of the net.” All of them said that.’

Bill Leivers, the hard-tackling Manchester City defender, points out it would be wrong to think that only defenders clogged. ‘In my day forwards used to tackle just as hard as defenders. Nat Lofthouse, for instance, the centre forward who played for England.’

He recalls the day he clattered Bolton’s ace attacker and knew what was coming next. ‘About ten minutes later the ball’s coming down the middle and Nat’s about 15 yards away. Although by the time he reached me the ball had gone he ran straight into me and absolutely flattened me. He knocked me back about five yards flat on my back.’

Leivers tells the story without a hint of recrimination, as if the consequences of getting stuck in were incidental.

Dave Whelan, an uncompromising defender for Blackburn Rovers (1956-60), tells a tale that places hard tackling in a slightly different context.

Whelan was one of the hardest of all who delighted in his nickname. He says he loved it when people called out ‘Hello Crunch’ as he walked about Blackburn.

But his clattering tackles did not work on everyone: John Dick of West Ham, for example. I really clogged him,’ Whelan says, ‘and he took no notice whatsoever. He totally disregarded me. It was like, “Go away.”

‘When you went up against a big, strong fella like he was, and he didn’t even look at you when you clogged, just walked away as if you were non-existent, that made you feel very small.

‘Players these days should sometimes turn their backs and just walk away from some of these lads who are having a go at them. When Dick did that to me it taught me a lesson.’


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