Finding summer work was once an absolute necessity for professional footballers if the household bills were to be paid – but even if that job was playing for your country in a major championship it didn’t mean you were much better off.
By the 1950s, most Football League players supported the idea of ending the maximum wage, which in 1958 reached £20 a week. None, though, was entirely sure when or if it would ever happen.
The general feeling was ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’ And until it did – and for several seasons after it did in 1961 – improvement in pay moved ahead only slowly. It brought no immediate end to players having to find summer work to help pay the household bills.
‘Most players spent the close season working on the building sites,’ Terry Allcock, Norwich City’s classy striker, remembers. The appeal of this work, he says, was not just the money. ‘It meant they were able to keep up their strength and get a suntan.’
Tommy Banks, who had been used to rugged manual work since he was a small boy, was one of these.
But the ever-resourceful Bolton Wanderers and England defender did not restrict himself to labouring for local builders to cash in on the close season.
Banks cultivated his own allotment, invested in chickens – ‘I had 100 hens who used to lay for me. I sold eggs all over Farnworth and in the Bolton dressing room’ – milked cows for a local farmer and even landed an unexpected one-off bonus starring as a model.
The year 1958 had already been a good one for Banks, an FA Cup winner’s medal followed by appearances for England in the World Cup finals, when his rugged looks earned him a role as the face of a razor-blade advertising campaign.
The razor manufacturer Gillette approached Jimmy Hill, leader of the Professional Footballers’ Association, to recommend a footballer with strong, distinctive looks and thoroughly approved of his recommendation.
Banks was summoned to London, put up at the smart Waldorf Hotel in central London and sent off to the studios. With ads appearing on prime time TV on Sunday nights and billboards, Banks received close to £400 in payments and expenses.
This represented a windfall payment for the Bolton man, although, as he says now: ‘I bet David Beckham and Thierry Henry got a bit more when they did Gillette ads recently.’
He’s right. The Beckham deal was worth £40 million – 100,000 times more than Banks received.
Banks’s main memory of the shoot was the director rejecting the vest he was wearing. ‘It were a white one,’ he says, ‘and because TV weren’t as good then it appeared dirty grey on the screen. They sent a lad out to buy a blue one. It came out white when they filmed it.’
A more normal summer job for a footballer was the one the Leeds United goalie Roy Wood had to settle for: work as a cobbler. ‘The workshop was next to the Templer pub in Vicar Lane,’ he says. ‘Each morning we’d receive paper bags full of old shoes that needed new soles. I worked on the stitching and channelling machines that sewed the soles to the uppers and made channels for the leather to go into.
‘I haven’t a clue how much I earned. It wasn’t enough to remember.’
A few, Allcock included, occupied their summers putting their all-round sporting skills to professional use in the other great national sport. Not only did Allcock play cricket professionally in the Lancashire League he coached it at a prestigious private school.
The grassy acres of Gresham’s School in rural Norfolk became Allcock’s place of employment from the summer of 1958. As a working environment, it must have felt like another world to the lad whose earliest sporting experience was playing backstreet football in Leeds and who for five years in the 1950s played for Bolton Wanderers.
Bill Slater was another who played cricket in the 1950s, in the minor counties championship and a handful of games for Warwickshire second XI. But, unlike Allcock, he never earned anything from the game – and for him the end of the maximum wage made only a marginal difference to his standard of living.
During his 15 years as a Football League player, mostly for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Slater won three First Division titles and an FA Cup, represented Great Britain at the 1952 Olympics and played for England at the 1958 World Cup finals – but he was never a full-time professional. If anything he regarded his proper job as being a member of staff at Birmingham University’s Physical Education Department, where in time he became the Director.
Slater says his summer job in 1958 – playing for England in the World Cup finals in Sweden – actually cost him money. He had his wages docked by Birmingham University and the expenses the Football Association paid him ‘certainly didn’t cover what I gave up’.
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.