Warwick Rimmer’s Football League career began in 1960 at a time when players’ wages were pegged at 20 quid a week. He found the lessons he learnt then had lost none of their resonance many years later when he passed them on to fresh-faced recruits in his role as youth development manager at Tranmere Rovers...
Warwick Rimmer has said he will pick me up from outside Hamilton Square underground station. Travelling from Liverpool Lime Street, Hamilton Square is first stop on the Wirral Line on the Birkenhead side of the Mersey. From in front of the station there is a commanding view across the great expanse of river in the direction of Albert Dock. It is a waterway that has shaped British history. It makes a riveting spectacle.
Right on time, Rimmer pulls up. He has a full head of white hair and hobbles a bit, the legacy of 20 years of professional football, but is trim enough to be playing still. Although he played for Football League clubs Bolton and Crewe – he signed for Bolton as a 15-year-old in 1956 – he is a Birkenhead man born and bred and when we meet is working for Tranmere Rovers.
When his playing career ended he became commercial manager at Tranmere before spending 26 years as their youth development manager. Latterly he has worked part time as their child protection officer and recruitment officer.
As we drive through Birkenhead he slows down to point out where his father and uncle, Syd and Ellis Rimmer, once had what would have been grandly known as a turf accountants office (betting shops were not legalised until 1961). We are heading for Tranmere’s ground, Prenton Park, which is more than 100 years old and, despite several rebuilds, still has plenty of room for improvement.
We make our way along a warren of narrow passages under the stands before finding a room we can talk in without being disturbed. It is about ten feet square and probably has not changed much over several years, apart from the fridge filled with beers in the corner. It is where the opposing managers, assuming they are still talking to each other, have their post-match chat.
If this sounds a sombre setting to introduce a chapter about matches to remember, there is a reason. Rimmer has continued a surprising trend: the regularity with which my veterans have identified as their memorable matches those that they might be expected to want to forget.
In fact, it has been striking how many of them have only fleeting recall of the great games in which they featured, such as World Cup matches and FA Cup finals. They choose to hark back to some of the less obvious ones because of their salutary lessons.
When players shared with so many the daily grind of making a modest living maybe it is hardly surprising that these matches had a deeper, more durable meaning.
A game that has clearly stayed with Rimmer in a more meaningful way than perhaps any other took place right at the start of his professional career.
Rimmer had appeared at youth level for England, including a big win over Spain in the Bernabeu when he played alongside Bobby Moore. He was impatient to make his first-team debut for Bolton, which he did eventually at the start of 1960-1, ‘but not before I’d got a bit of a lesson’.
He says it is a lesson he now passes on to the apprentice players at Tranmere so they don’t repeat his mistakes.
‘I’d been in the reserves for quite a while and then somehow, I don’t know what had happened, I found I’d slipped back into the A team playing a match at Stockport on a Saturday morning. And my first reaction was to think, “Oh bugger this, nobody’ll be watching.” I contemplated acting top dog and not bothering.
‘But in the end I decided, “Well it’s a game like any other and I’m going to try my hardest.” I put my mind to it properly and we won and I did well. And it was because of this, and the fact that two senior players were injured, that a week and a half later I found myself playing my first game for the first team against Hull City in the League Cup.’
‘So I tell the young boys [at Tranmere] these days not to cut off their noses to spite their faces. You never know who’s watching you in training, friendly matches or whatever.’
This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing and now out in paperback.