Off the pitch Tommy Banks was renowned for his quick wit and cheery disposition but it was in the unlikely role as an orator that the Bolton Wanderers and England defender is best remembered.
Bobby Charlton once said of Tommy Banks: ‘Every time I see Tommy I try to think of something funny to say, but he always beats me to it.’
Even when he was being deadly serious, Banks could raise a laugh – or several hundred laughs on the day in Manchester in 1961 that he made an impassioned address to a meeting of the Professional Footballers’ Association. His rough-hewn oratory would sweep aside any meaningful opposition to the players’ long-running campaign to have the cap on their earnings, currently standing at a maximum £20 a week, abolished.
Stanley Matthews was at the meeting, the great England winger who had said originally that on a point of principle he was against strike action if the upper limit were not removed. He then changed his mind when he found out that his Blackpool teammates were overwhelmingly in favour. He said he regarded loyalty to them a superior principle to his objection to striking.
An unassuming type, Matthews attended the meeting with the sole intention of voting. He was no firebrand and it would have taken something extraordinary for him to stand up to speak. What he could not avoid was another speaker bringing his name into the debate.
A young player put the case for wages continuing to be pegged, his words remembered by Jimmy Armfield, the Blackpool teammate who was sitting next to Matthews: ‘My dad’s a miner, earning £10 a week. I play in the lower division and I earn twice as much. I train in the open air and play football on Saturday – he’s down the pit for eight hours at a time, five days a week. That can’t be right. We earn quite enough as it is.’
This caused Banks, coming to the end of a long and distinguished career as a fullback for Bolton Wanderers and England, to seek permission to speak. ‘I didn’t go to the meeting with the intention of speaking,’ Banks tells me years later, ‘but that young lad’s words rang in my ears and so I stood up.’
It was to prove an historic contribution to the debate. No one recorded Banks’s exact words and he happily admits to not remembering precisely what he said. But his biographer, Ian Seddon, himself a former Bolton player, credits him with saying the following (Boltonese first and then a helpful translation):
‘Ah think its neaw time ah spokk Mr Chairmon.
‘Ah’m tellin’ thee t’tell thee far’her ah’m on ’ees side, ah noes pits nar fun ah ’avebin theer misell but theer wonn’t be 30,000 watchin’ ’im dig owt coal cum Munday morn, theer will be 30,000 peyin gud munny on Setdi ut Burnden Park t’si mi tryter stop Brother Matthews ’ere.’
Now Seddon’s translation:
‘Mr Chairman, I think it’s now time that I spoke.
‘I’d like to tell your father I know the pits are a tough life having worked below ground myself. However, there will not be 30,000 people watching him extract coal on Monday morning, but there will be 30,000 paying spectators on Saturday at Burnden Park watching my battle with Stanley Matthews.’
What made Banks’s speech particularly powerful was that he was one of the few fullbacks in the Football League who was reckoned to have Matthews’s measure. If he found it hard work subduing the so-called wizard of the dribble, what hope for the majority of leaden-footed defenders.
The gleeful response of the audience to Banks’s words was reflected in the vote that followed, overwhelmingly in favour of the strike whose date had been set by the PFA for Saturday 21 January 1961.
No high-earning, massively qualified advocate could have presented a more compelling case or delivered it quite so consummately as Tommy Banks.
And a matter of hours before the strike was due to take place, the clubs caved in to the PFA’s pressure and the wage cap was abolished.
This article is based on extracts from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson/@hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.