In 1960 when the highly successful goalkeeper Roy Wood was offered for sale by Leeds United the wages of Football League players were capped at £20 a week. It meant that even an offer from Liverpool and the great Bill Shankly didn’t mean quite what it would today. Wood took work in the betting industry instead.


‘No one at Leeds gave me a reason for being put on the transfer list,’ Roy Wood says. ‘I was just put on it.

‘Although I couldn’t prove it, there was one possible reason why Sam Bolton, the Leeds chairman, wanted to get rid of me. I was on the PFA committee by now as the Leeds players’ representative and this was at the time the Football League players were pushing for the abolition of the maximum wage.

‘During negotiations I remember sitting across the table from Bolton, who was on the FA committee. He was always against me for doing this because, of course, he and the other chairmen were in favour of keeping wages capped.

‘When the man who was putting money into the club didn’t like you, didn’t like your face, that counted for a lot in football.’

Wood says he had the chance to join quite a few clubs, including Liverpool: ‘Bill Shankly said I could go there. He told one of his trainers that he needed another goalkeeper and the trainer mentioned my name. Shankly said I’d do because if a man could play every game and get promotion to the First Division [with Leeds] he couldn’t be bad.’

Liverpool were prepared to pay a fee for Wood and his accrued benefit.

Wood, who was born in Wallasey, admits he was attracted to moving back to his hometown but he was only recently married and he and his wife decided to stay in Leeds where he had just bought a bungalow off Kirkstall Lane.

‘Luton, Crewe, and Mansfield, where Raich Carter was now manager, were among the other clubs who showed an interest in me,’ he says, ‘but I wasn’t prepared to go anywhere that meant travelling long distances.’

Opposite the Leeds ground there was a greyhound track, which is where Wood became friends with Jack Ash, who was ‘one of the bookies who stood up shouting the odds’. One night when the two men were having a drink Wood told Ash that Leeds were selling him and that he had a mind to pack in football altogether. But he did not know what to do.

‘Roy, if you want a job with me,’ Ash said, ‘you’ve got one so long as I’m in business.’

The year was 1960 when betting shops were not set to become legal until the following spring. Up until May 1961 there were betting offices but not shops. These offices were strictly regulated with blacked-out windows; lettering to advertise what the premises were used for could not be more than four inches high. Also, they were subject to the whims of the authorities.

‘It was a funny thing,’ Wood says, ‘in the old days they used to raid the betting offices, take what cash there was, close you down and let you open again on the Monday. It was to fund the Lord Mayor’s Ball, I think.’

He started work for Ash on the top floor of his office in Leeds. ‘I worked on the credit side, taking bets on the phone,’ Wood says. ‘I did this to start with just to pick up how things worked, before I went into the offices. By the time Jack died in 1967 I was looking after five offices.

‘They then sold the business to a fella called Jim Windsor, who also had betting offices with a head office in the same road as Jack’s. Later Jim sold it to William Hill – and that’s how it is today.

‘I went on my own on the credit side, taking bets on the phone, which was what I knew. I didn’t really have an office. It was just a room with a tape machine in it. I did that for a while, into the Eighties, and then I went to work for a fella called Ray Kettlewell doing the same sort of thing.


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