One minute an Irish amateur, the next a pro and signing a lucrative transfer deal with a top English club

  • August 21, 2018 11:51
  • Jon Henderson

When footballers were skint the Irish dispensation provided players with a rare opportunity to secure a windfall.


In the 1960s Terry Neill was a teenager living in Northern Ireland and playing football for Bangor when to his amazement he saw a headline in the newspaper Ireland’s Saturday Night that would change his life. It read: TERRY NEILL FOR ARSENAL.

It was totally unexpected and his reaction, once the initial shock wore off, was whether moving to England was what he wanted, even if it was to join such a great club. ‘I was very happy with the way things were,’ he says. ‘I had a wonderful family life, great friends, a lovely place to grow up, serving an apprenticeship.’ But he was persuaded it was an opportunity that would be foolish to miss.

And so began the process of making the move over the Irish Sea, which at that time, when the English game was still very insular, had benefits all of their own for players from across Ireland.

It was a rare instance in the days when footballers were skint that they could pick up a sizeable perk.

These were the days before agents. The signing-on fee for players launching their careers in the English Football League or switching clubs was so minimal and tightly controlled there were not even slim pickings for acquisitive go-betweens. Except, that is, when it came to the movement of players from Ireland – south and north – to English clubs, a trade that operated outside these controls, a kind of Irish dispensation.

In Neill’s case, Bangor knew precisely what to do to exact maximum compensation. They upgraded Neill from amateur to professional, which meant they could now negotiate a transfer fee with Arsenal. Two and a half thousand pounds was a record for Bangor at the time.

And how much of this was passed on to the player usually depended on canny parents making sure their boy did not miss out, either. In Neill’s case his cut was about 800 quid, an amount, he says, that Bangor did not need much persuading to hand over. ‘They knew that if they didn’t I only had to hold on for another three or four months and then I wouldn’t re-sign for them as an amateur and just go to the Arsenal for nothing.

‘Call it a bung if you like, or a private deal, but I suppose it’s far enough removed now for the taxman not to be coming after me.’

Neill was following in the footsteps of countless other Irishmen, among them Peter McParland.

McParland’s passion for football was a conflicted one. As a pupil at the Christian Brothers St Joseph’s school in Newry, County Down, which is in Northern Ireland close to the border with the Republic, McParland played Gaelic football, which remains a potent symbol of Irish identity.

The school would not countenance any association with what it called soccer. And this was why McParland, who was captain of the school’s Gaelic football team, found himself barred on one occasion from the Ulster schools final. ‘You were playing soccer yesterday,’ a Christian Brother told him, ‘so you’re not playing in the Gaelic final on Saturday.’

McParland liked the Gaelic form of football – ‘It’s a catch-and-kick game, which I enjoyed,’ he says. ‘It’s rough and tumble’ – but he preferred soccer. This was the game he played with his mates as soon as he left the school premises. When a summer league started these friends formed a team called Shamrock United.

It was playing for Shamrock that McParland, aged 16, was spotted and in 1950 joined Dundalk, who competed in the League of Ireland in the Republic. He soon established himself as a goal-scorer.

In 1952, a trip with his summer league side to Birmingham included a visit to Villa Park. The highlight for McParland was a summons to play in a practice match with Villa’s first-team players. These players then advised George Martin, Villa’s manager, to ‘sign the wee number ten who gave us so much trouble’.

McParland’s transfer to Villa had marked similarities with Neill’s move a few years later. As with Neill, McParland’s amateur status was rescinded immediately before the signing so that money could change hands. ‘At two minutes to three I signed professional for Dundalk and at two minutes past three I signed for the Villa,’ McParland says.

Protracted negotiations over the transfer fee involved the owner of Dundalk and the chairman of Aston Villa, Noel Mansell, with McParland’s father also having a say. ‘I know that Dundalk were looking for £5,000 for me,’ McParland says. ‘In the end it was agreed that the fee would be £3,800 and I would get £1,400 out of it.

‘It was normal thing then with fellas who were transferred from Ireland to England to get a cut.’

According to McParland, his father ‘then got a bit greedy’. After settling things with Dundalk, he went to George Martin and said: ‘Now, what’s the signing-on fee?’ And Martin said: ‘There’s nothing other than the ten-pound signing-on fee when you sign for Villa.’

‘So that was me signed for life – for a tenner,’ McParland says. ‘As things stood, Villa could decide what to do with me from then on.’


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


Winning Here: My Campaigning Life by Chris Rennard

  • August 21, 2018 11:34
  • Chris Rennard


My Campaigning Life: Memoirs Volume 1





Interested in the politics of the 80s, 90s and ‘noughties’ and how elections are really won and lost?

There is no better account of the story of the survival of the Liberal Party after the Jeremy Thorpe scandal, the rise and fall of the Alliance with the SDP and the rise of the Liberal Democrats under Paddy Ashdown (and his relationship with Tony Blair) and Charles Kennedy (and his problems with alcohol) as the party increased its number of MPs from 19 to 63 and prepared to enter Government at Westminster.


With Charles Kennedy outside Cowley Street after the Lib Dems polled 27%of the vote in the May 2004 local elections. 


Winning Here’ is heartfelt and very personal political memoir about surviving adverse circumstances in childhood, taking on enormous political challenges and making huge differences to the fortunes of a political party and the way in which elections are fought.

Chris Rennard speaking in the House of Lords, 2017.

There will never be a better book demonstrating campaigning and electioneering skills first hand and showing how enormous swings were often achieved from the two biggest parties to what was then the third party.


Chris Rennard is ‘one of the most feared and respected of political tacticians. His is a graphic description of life in the engine room of politics and a timely reminder that the triumph of ideals must be organised’.

-- Lord McNally, former Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 


 ‘To understand the success of the Liberal Democrats in the period 1988-2006 you absolutely have to read this book’.

-- Iain Dale, broadcaster and former Conservative candidate


 ‘Rennard’s strategy at GE1997 delivered 46 LD seats, the largest third party contingent since 1929 a number which had increased to 62 at GE2005. By then Charles Kennedy had become the Liberal Democrat leader and Rennard writes sensitively about the alcoholism which was to cost Kennedy the leadership. Ever practical, however he saw the Dunfermline by-election of 2006 as a means to give the party a boost after Kennedy’s downfall… this book is generous to colleagues and friends, and suggests he is loyal and considerate in his personal dealings’.






Clean Brexit by Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons || REVIEW by Stuart Crank

  • August 16, 2018 12:41
  • Stuart Crank

Clean Brexit || REVIEW by Stuart Crank / @S_W_C__


As Britain’s exit from the EU, scheduled for March 2019, draws ever closer, the time for rhetoric is behind us and the need for level-headed and comprehensive analysis intensifies. With that in mind, the arrival of the fully updated paperback edition of Clean Brexit: Why Leaving the EU Still Makes Sense could not come at a more apt time.

Despite being written by two economists, Liam Halligan and Gerard Lyons, the book reads surprisingly well. This warrants considerable praise, given the comprehensive nature of the discussion, in which no detail, acronym or intricacy is spared. The reader is rightly taken seriously. This new edition also comes complete with an updated foreword by Gisela Stuart, doyen of Labour’s common-sense wing, and a revised afterword by the high priest of Brexit himself, Jacob Rees-Mogg – giving this Brexit bible papal approval.

The authors’ conclusions have changed little since their original elaboration in the first edition last year. This is because, as the authors state, the essential realities and logic of Brexit remain the same now as they did a year ago, hence why leaving still makes sense. Specifically, that in order to be faithful to the referendum result and beneficial for the future, they argue that the UK must – MUST – uncouple from the main entities of the EU – namely, the single market and customs union. To avoid a messy future we need (as they put it) a ‘Clean Brexit’.

Halligan and Lyons maintain that there is no such thing as ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, only Brexit or no Brexit. The soft/hard dichotomy is nonsense, conceived and propagated only by those who seek to dishonour the referendum result and bring about Brexit in name only.

‘Soft Brexit’ – the continued membership of the two main constructs of the EU, the single market and customs union – is not Brexit, they make clear. It would mean UK law remains under the jurisdiction of the ECJ, the continuation of multi-billion-pound contributions to the EU budget, the inability to maintain an independent trade policy and continued freedom of movement. ‘In sum, a betrayal of the referendum result.’ It would bind the UK to EU rules and regulations without allowing us a say. It would amount to vassalage.

Being outside the single market and customs union, meanwhile, isn’t ‘Hard Brexit’, it is Brexit. Indeed, ‘the repeated use of ‘Hard Brexit’ – which has become ubiquitous, used freely by the broadcast news media – makes leaving the EU seem like an extreme, ideological and damaging position.’ In truth, it is the only way to honour the main reasons why people voted to leave: to end freedom of movement, to cease large budget contributions to the EU and to strike trade agreements further afield – and the only way to ensure the UK can thrive post-Brexit.Cover clean brexit pb

The authors predicate their discussions on Brexit and beyond with a historical overview of the European project and Britain’s tetchy relation with it. This is well-trodden ground, and the authors do no more than succinctly reprise what we already know. Where they do break new ground, though, is their discussion of how the world has changed, and what this means for Britain post-Brexit. The EU, Halligan and Lyons argue, ‘was founded in a different era to the one we live in now’. Unprecedented geopolitical, economic, technological and logistical change over the past half century or so means that Europe, ‘once the world’s economic powerhouse … now accounts for a diminishing slice of the world economy’.

So much so that – whilst the UK will remain closely tied to Europe given our close proximity – ‘as the weight of global population, growth and raw economic power continues to shift eastwards, it is vital that the UK raises its sights from Europe, putting far more emphasis on commercial, economic, political relations with the rest of the world’. Echoing Churchill’s promise that, ‘if Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea’, for the authors, the essential logic of Brexit still holds true.

Halligan and Lyons bring greatly appreciated analysis and certitude to two issues that increasingly dominate the squabblings of the media commentariat: the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, and the Irish border.

They make clear that no-deal Brexit ‘simply means that we don’t strike a UK–EU FTA before March 2019’. This is far from a disaster, they reassure us. All it would mean is that we trade with the EU on WTO rules; rules which already facilitate the vast majority of all worldwide trade. (They are quick to remind us that most of the world’s biggest economies trade in enormous quantities without a FTA, and on WTO rules.) Although their vanity would have us think otherwise, trade doesn’t happen because politicians sign trade deals, and it certainly doesn’t cease when those deals aren’t signed.

Indeed, far from viewing it as a fatal cliff-edge, Halligan and Lyons argue that Britain should emphasise to the EU its willingness and preparedness to trade without a FTA, on WTO terms: ‘unless the EU sees that we are prepared not to sign a FTA, we will only be offered a bad one’. Here they are 100% right. If we look like a beggar, the EU will treat us like one. Even if Theresa May has changed her tune, no deal remains better than a bad deal.

This is also why the whole idea of a ‘people’s vote’ on the final deal is completely counterproductive. Those moved to call for a vote do so, honourably, as they don’t want the UK to be disadvantaged by the final deal. But by doing so they play right into the hands of the EU.

For, if there is a vote on the deal, the EU would have every incentive to make sure it is a bad one. And if we voted for said deal, the UK would no doubt end up in a more disadvantaged position than we are in currently; and if we voted it down, we would – well, god only knows what would happen next! Either way, the UK would find itself in a political and procedural nightmare. And the EU would have succeeded in making Brexit a disaster, discouraging the other dissatisfied member nations (of which there are many) from questioning their own membership.

Even though the UK would have no problem trading without a deal, a good FTA, however – one that caters to the UK’s service-dominated economy, that doesn’t impede our ability to sign other FTAs, or require payments for access to the single market – is still the most desired outcome.

And there is good reason to believe that the UK will get one, for most trade agreements involve haggling down tariffs and harmonising complex regulations. ‘The UK and EU, though, start with zero tariffs and identical rules.’ Meaning that much of the heavy lifting is already complete. Additionally, given the immense volume of trade that flows from Europe to the UK, and vice versa, there is enormous commercial pressure to secure as free a trading relationship as possible.

That said, the authors admit that ‘securing a deal becomes more complex once Britain begins to size up FTAs elsewhere’. Given our enthusiasm to seek free trade further afield, this does jeopardise the chances of securing a comprehensive trade deal with the EU by March 2019; and is why the UK should be prepared for a no-deal scenario.

But the biggest thing standing in the way of securing an UK–EU FTA, as we know, is not economics, but politics. ‘There is a strong political imperative for the UK to be seen not to benefit from Brexit, so as to avoid encouraging populist parties in nations such as France, Italy and Greece to push harder for their own EU membership referenda.’ If Brexit is a success then it could spell the end of the EU project, a possibility the EU is all too aware of – and hence their incentive to ensure that Britain does not succeed. This, again, is why the UK should prepared and willing to trade under WTO rules.

As for the Irish border, since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement the 310-mile border separating the Republic from Northern Ireland has been a border in name only. British and Irish membership of the EU undoubtedly played a big role in facilitating the signing of the agreement. Many have warned, however, that Brexit necessitates a hard border between North and South – something no one wants to see. For, if we leave the single market, a hard border would need to be in place to put in place to stop the Irish border becoming a back door for immigration into the UK. Likewise, if we leave the customs union we must have a hard border to enforce customs checks on goods. This has emboldened many leading figures (all of whom conveniently voted to remain) to propose that the UK must remain inside the/a single market and/or customs union, in order to preserve the hard-won peace settlement.

As we have seen, the authors emphatically reject continued UK membership of the single market and customs union, both in principle and practice. But, they also don’t want to see the hard border put in place – so how do they reconcile the two?

Concerning freedom of movement, the authors argue that ‘all travel from the Republic to the UK mainland and EU is, for obvious reasons, by boat or plane’. ‘As such, border checks can be carried out electronically, with staff intervention where required, before boats sail and planes take off.’ Therefore, so long as proper information sharing is conducted there needn’t be a hard border. Likewise, so long as there is significant investment in the relevant technology, Lyons and Halligan state that there is no reason why trade between Ireland and the UK cannot be frictionless, even outside of the customs union. ‘As long as the UK invests heavily in new technology and border staff, there is no reason why goods and people should not continue to move freely.’

Halligan and Lyons also outline the policies that a post-Brexit Britain should prioritise. These include a large-scale house building program; a reduction and simplification of the UK tax regime; increased focus on digital and technical skills; large scale infrastructure spending, particularly in the North; accelerated fiscal devolution; and sizeable welfare reform, to name but a few. These suggestions are radical, and would do a lot to address the systemic problems the UK faces. Given the current inertia party politics, however, these policies are unlikely to find implementation.

But these policies are more than just wishful thinking; indeed, they strike at the heart of why people voted to leave the EU. People voted to ‘Take Back Control’: to bring political authority and accountability closer to home, so that, as a country, each and every British man and woman is empowered with more say at the ballot box. And so that we don’t have to pay homage to our EU masters every time we want to spend our own money, pass our own laws or trade our goods.

People did not vote for Brexit believing that all their woes would disappear overnight. Brexit is not – and never has been – a panacea. It has always been a means to an end. A means of creating a fairer, safer, less bureaucratic, less centralised, more dynamic and prosperous Britain.

So it may be easy to scoff at Halligan and Lyons’ ideas and recommendations for post-Brexit Britain. But very soon, Britain will have left the EU (that much is certain). And when have, we, the British people, will be the only pilots at the helm – once more the masters of our own destiny, beholden to no one but ourselves – so we better have a destination in mind. We need to think hard and fast about what kind of country we want after Brexit, and this book is as good a place as any to start.

A comprehensive and scholarly appraisal of the decision taken by the British people to leave the EU, now over two years ago is unfortunately, seemingly, anathema to those tasked with its implementation. This book is nothing less than a manifesto for optimism and reason in a political climate fraught with whinging and dogmatism, and one that should be read widely if we are to spare ourselves from the fatal quagmire that would ensue if the UK was to decide upon anything other than a ‘Clean Brexit’.


Click here: Clean Brexit by Liam Halligan / @LiamHalligan and Gerard Lyons / @DrGerardLyons

Published: 16 AUGUST 2018


When football considered a ban on players smoking - but only after 11am on match days!

  • August 15, 2018 14:38
  • Jon Henderson

Smoking wasn't just a way of life for the majority of professional players in the 1940s and '50s, it helped some of the game's stars make a few extra quid on the side - even if they didn't smoke themselves.


Compiling a list of ten leading footballers who smoke regularly would be a great deal harder than it would have been either side of the Second World War. In those days, a more revealing list would have been of ten top players who didn’t.

In the 1940s and '50s the dangers of smoking were only just beginning to be understood and J.L. 'Jack' Jones, captain of the Spurs side who won the FA Cup in 1901, was well ahead of his time in warning against tobacco in his book Association Football. Jones was more tolerant of alcohol, writing that beer was ‘so much a recognised article of diet that it would be impossible or at least unwise to forbid it’.

At halftime in the 1950 Cup Final Denis Compton, the England cricketer and Arsenal footballer, even quaffed a fortifying brandy.

Jones was markedly less sparing on the matter of smoking. He said that he could not ‘find words strong enough to express my disapproval’ of a practice that ‘once started may lead to grave disasters’. But it was many years before anyone took much notice. Half a century later, in 1957, a ban was mooted – after 11am on match days.

In fact clubs regularly handed out cigarettes as a Christmas present to their players - and it wouldn't do if a player felt he wasn't getting his fair share.

Bill Leivers, who went on to become a star player for Manchester City (1953-64), remembers that it was being short-rationed in a Yuletide handout that contributed to his leaving his first club.

Each December a director at Chesterfield gave cigarettes to the players, 50 to each of the first team and 20 to each of the others. 

‘Well, I’d been in the first team until just before Christmas 1952 when I got injured,’ Leivers says, ‘and when the manager, Teddy Davison, came to hand out the cigarettes he gave me 20. I had never smoked a fag in my life and had no intention of doing so, but my dad did and in the past I’d given them to him.’

When Leivers failed in his protest that he deserved 50 because being injured was the only reason he was not in the first team he said something that he has regretted ever since.

‘Teddy Davison was a lovely little chap,’ he says, ‘but I told him, “You can stick those cigarettes right up your arse – and you can put me on the transfer list at the same time.”

‘And that’s how I came to leave Chesterfield – over a few cigarettes.’

For some of the top players advertising cigarettes was considered a perfectly acceptable way of earning a little extra.

Johnny Paton, who played for Chelsea in the late 1940s, recalls an incident involving Tommy Lawton. ‘Although Tommy was only on £10 a week,' Paton says, 'he came in one day and threw 400 Players cigarettes on the table: “There you are lads, help yourselves.”

‘Tommy was advertising them. He didn’t smoke at all – but there was a picture of him with a cigarette in his hand. Other big players were doing the same sort of thing to earn money on the side. I mean how did Stanley Matthews get his hotel at Blackpool? He didn’t get that out of his wages.’

Although Matthews was also a devoted non-smoker, he appeared in one ad alongside the words: 'It wasn't until I changed to Craven "A" that I learnt what smooth smoking meant.'


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


Veterans’ verdict: our generation would adjust far better to today’s game than the modern player would to when we played

  • August 13, 2018 17:26
  • Jon Henderson

Stars of the 1950s such as Tottenham’s Cliff Jones and Peter McParland of Aston Villa are in no doubt that they and their contemporaries would do just as well if they were playing now.


One forum where old pros can savour a little of the adulation the modern player does and air their views pubicly on changes in the game is the corporate box, that essential addition to the twenty-first-century stadium.

As the star hosts in these boxes on match days the veterans mingle with champagne-fuelled clientele eager to ask questions.

Cliff Jones says not only does he enjoy doing this but he gets paid more than he did when he played for Tottenham from 1958-68. And the question he is asked more than any other is how he thinks he would have fared in today’s game. His reply is that the more relevant question would be: how would the modern footballer have done in the time he, Jones, played?

He says: ‘I think players of my period would adjust far better to the modern game than today’s modern footballers would to the game of yesteryear when it was much more physical.

‘The game may be quicker today, but when I played the ball went forward quicker. You watch Barcelona today. Sometimes they pass right across the midfield, 20 or 30 passes, and they’re still in the midfield.’

Terry Allcock, arguably the deadliest striker Norwich City have ever had during his 11 years (1958-69) at the club, has a similar story. ‘These days,’ he says, ‘I still host the match sponsors at Carrow Road. I look after 20, 25 people and many of them say to me, “Do you think you could play in today’s game?” I say, “I’m sure I could because I had two good feet, I could head the ball and I could score goals for fun, really.”

‘And then I say that they couldn’t have played with us because we were too physical.’

Alex Dawson sees in the modern game the same possibilities that existed for him when he started out for Manchester United in the 1950s: ‘In one respect I wouldn’t really fit in today because the game’s played at a much faster pace. On the other hand what I did was score goals and I think if you’ve got that ability it doesn’t matter which era you play in you’ll always be successful.’

Like Dawson, Peter McParland, an ace scorer for Aston Villa (1952-62), was an attacking forward who sees even greater scope in the modern game for his style of play than existed in his day. ‘I’d fancy playing against lots of the defenders in England now,’ he says, ‘because they give you space. I liked a wee bit of space to get a smack at it, get in and score a goal.

‘If you gave me space I was always capable of eating it up and getting something out of it. And that’s happening now in the game in the goalmouth and my job was to be in there getting touches and that.’

What McParland says he would not enjoy about playing today is ‘all the shady stuff that they do, pull your shirt and all that, which is absolutely outrageous as far as I’m concerned.

‘And you have to put up with it otherwise you’d probably be off for hitting people.

‘During my career you could probably count on one hand the number of times my shirt was pulled. Nobody pulled your shirt and it’s annoying to watch that sort of stuff.

‘When someone came to mark you tight for a corner kick we didn’t pull each other and wrestle with each other and all that because the referee would have given a penalty. Now it’s a penalty only once in a blue moon.

‘I think they’ve got to look at that now. The managers don’t care now if they’re doing it because they’re getting away with it. If they didn’t the manager would have to say, “Hey, you’ve got to stop pulling shirts and dragging fellas down in the penalty area”.’

Howard Riley, an artful winger for Leicester City (1955-65), speaks for ‘most of my generation’. He reckons ‘we’d have been OK playing the modern game. We’d have adapted. As long as players have got the skills and the speed and the awareness – that’s what it’s about.’


This is an edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint by Jon Henderson / @hendojon pubished by Biteback Publishing.