Not that long ago car ownership was confined to chairmen, board members and assorted long-trousered functionaries.
It took some years before professional footballers became masters of their own travel as motor-car owners. In the first instance only the wealthy businessmen who ran the clubs had cars or access to them. Players had to wait to be asked before being granted a lift in one. It wasn’t until well after the Second World War that every player had his own car as a matter of course.
Terry Neill, who joined Arsenal in 1959, remembers the slow advance of car ownership, started by the better-paid players, once the £20-a-week wage cap was lifted in 1961.
‘When we got on to 45 quid a week we all started to acquire what we thought were fancy cars,’ Neill says. ‘I’m talking about a Sunbeam – second-hand, of course, knockdown price, a bit rusty.’
Up until then a car journey was a treat with the player invariably a passenger, although in Terry Allcock’s case it was a treat of the bizzarest kind.
In the Fifties Allcock was a good player in a very good Bolton side that contained three international inside-forwards. He scored for them in the early rounds of their triumphant 1958 FA Cup run. But then learnt he was superfluous to the club’s needs.
How he found out, soon after moving into a house in Bolton, shocked him. Without any warning he was told when he arrived for training one morning that Norwich had made an offer for him. Bolton were keen to accept.
‘Having got over my surprise,’ he says, ‘my first thought was, “Where the hell’s Norwich.” I thought for a minute it was Northwich.’
Before agreeing to the move he was at least allowed to visit Norwich. This involved catching a train to Peterborough where he would be picked up by car. Allcock worried how he would recognise the driver but was told the driver would recognise him.
‘And do you know,’ he says, ‘I was met by a midget. He worked for the chairman who was a friend of his. He was one of the famous circus acts.
‘When we got in the car he said, “Do you mind if I drive fast, there’s a match on at Carrow Road and we might catch the second half.” They were playing Coventry. I was frightened to death. He had wooden things on the pedals and he couldn’t see over the steering wheel. But we did make it for the second half.’
When all players eventually had the funds to own their own wheels, they quickly discovered there were downsides.
Another Bolton player, Warwick Rimmer, was coming to the end of his 14 years as a first-team regular when the club drew the outstanding Manchester City side of Colin Bell, Franny Lee and Mike Summerbee in the third round of the League Cup in October 1971.
Having set out from his home in Blackrod for the short drive to Bolton’s Burnden Park ground, Rimmer ended up trapped on the M61. ‘I wasn’t on the motorway for two or three hundred yards when it was absolutely gridlocked,’ Rimmer says.
His car was stationary for half an hour before he registered that the vehicle in front had a City sticker in the window. He quickly devised a plan, but it would work only if the woman passenger up ahead had a driving licence. And, as luck would have it, she did.
Rimmer apologised for asking rival fans to do such a thing, but would one of them drive his car to the ground. Legging it was his only chance of making the kick-off.
Rimmer told them when they reached the ground the steward would recognise his car. He would arrange for them to be left a couple of tickets.
He reckons the only thing that kept him going as he jogged the three or four miles to the ground was trying to remember the registration of his brand new car. ‘I kept repeating it over and over in case I never saw it again.’
He reached Burnden Park with about three minutes to spare. The manager, Jimmy Armfield, was outside waiting for him. When Rimmer said he had been stuck in traffic and had to run the last bit, Armfield demanded to know how far. ‘Oh, only round the corner, just back of the shops,’ Rimmer fibbed.
‘I dashed into the dressing room and stopped a young chap putting my shirt on. I didn’t bother with any warm-up. So it just shows what you can do and that it’s all in the mind.
‘I got in a bit of trouble for being late but nobody bothered too much, particularly as we upset City 3-0 with a young Manchester boy called Garry Jones – he went on to do quite well at Bolton – scoring all the goals.’