How a 90-year-old secured a Premier League victory for Chelsea

  • July 24, 2018 17:21
  • Jon Henderson

On Sunday December the first 2013, eight months after Johnny Paton's ninetieth birthday – by now he was the oldest surviving Chelsea player – the club invited him to watch a match against Southampton at Stamford Bridge. This edited extract from When Footballers Were Skint tells what happened next...


Johnny Paton was a Scot who played for the Glasgow club Celtic, but in 1946 he signed for one season with Chelsea while he completed his National Service at an RAF base on the outskirts of London. ‘It was a unique one-season transfer,’ he says. ‘It wasn’t a loan, it was a complete transfer and a complete transfer back to Celtic.’

Soon afterwards, though, he was back living in the capital after marrying his fiancee Eileen, a Londoner. 

Many more years followed before in the winter of 2013 he received an invitation out of the blue to return to Stamford Bridge as a guest of the club.

He remembered that in his Chelsea playing days he thought the home support was pretty pathetic compared to what he was used to at Celtic. And now, nearly 70 years later, he felt the same. Chelsea were losing 1-0 to Southampton at halftime and the crowd were not giving the team the lift they badly needed.And once there he was invited to go onto the pitch at halftime to address the crowd. He agreed because there was something he badly wanted to say. 

So he took the microphone: ‘I’ve waited a long time to say this. I’m 90 years old but I’m very, very proud to have worn the Chelsea jersey, 67 years ago, on the left wing, when we beat the Arsenal in an FA Cup tie.’

The stadium, which had been quiet, erupted and the noise rose to a crescendo as Paton asked twice: ‘Do you really want Chelsea to win this game?’

He now had a captive audience. ‘Well,’ he told them, ‘I want to hear the Chelsea roar. The players on the field, in my opinion, won’t win this game – you will.’

‘The place went mad,’ Paton says. And down in the Chelsea dressing room, John Terry told Paton later, the players were aware of a buzz going on and wondered what it was.

After the match, Chelsea having won 3-1 after scoring within minutes of the restart, a message reached Paton that Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager, wanted to see him.

‘I’d never met him,’ Paton says. ‘And you know what he said, I couldn’t believe it. He said, “Johnny, I want to thank you. You helped us to win this match”.’ Paton told him that he had merely done what came naturally.

(Johnny Paton gave this interview in 2013, 10 days after his visit to Stamford Bridge. He died in October 2015 at the age of 92)


Jon Henderson | @hendojon | When Footballers Were Skint


All of a sudden Fergie the stonemason laid down his chisel

  • July 23, 2018 16:50
  • Jon Henderson

'Before there was a transfer market there had to be professional footballers - so who was the first to be paid for playing?'


When in 1878 Fergie Suter not only suffered the disappointment of being rejected by his local club Glasgow Rangers, but also faced the consequence of Britain’s industrial decline, he knew exactly what to do: go south. This was where his services as a stonemason and footballer would be better appreciated.

He had been south before but this time he left Glasgow with a one-way train ticket in his pocket. His journey was not simply a personal milestone, it was a small piece of a wider body of evidence that football’s status was undergoing a profound change.

Kicking a ball about was no longer just another form of recreation; it could now persuade a man to pull up his roots in search of a better life. And, as the game progressed as a spectacle that people would pay to watch, clubs inevitably devised ways of holding onto their good players.

Still, though, the future into which Suter stepped was an uncertain one. It offered no more than the vague possibility that he might become slightly less poor than he was already.

Another Scot, Archie Hunter, who went on to captain Aston Villa to victory over West Bromwich Albion in the 1887 FA Cup final, said that he and Suter both came to England in 1878 ‘…and we two led the Scotch Exodus, as it has been called’.Cover when footballers were skint

Hunter, who has been described as one of Victorian football’s first household names, also said in his book, Triumphs of the Football Field that when Suter went to the go-ahead Lancashire club Darwen he ‘practically taught that club the game’.

At first everything seemed harmless enough as Suter settled into his new life in east Lancashire. But, such was the fevered atmosphere now enveloping competitive football in the area, neighbourliness had come to mean jealously watching how other clubs conducted their business.

The question of the reprehensible practice of paying players for their services was growing particularly sensitive. It was why, after Suter played for the Blackburn side Turton in the final of a cup competition and a club official was handed prize money of £3 ‘that he pay Suter out of it’, a rumour spread rapidly.

A dastardly deed had taken place that meant the footballing community of the north-west had a Scottish mercenary in their midst.

This may not have been strictly against the letter of the law, professionalism would not be officially banned – and then only briefly – until 1882, but it did grievously offend its publicly proclaimed spirit.

More accusatory murmurings followed when Suter, having been poached by Darwen, gave up his day job but still managed to live quite comfortably. The obvious conclusion was that he was being paid for doing something other than chipping away at lumps of rock.

He had pursued stonemasonry with enthusiasm in Scotland, moving from Blythswood to Partick to be near new building sites. Now, though, he offered the unlikely claim that he was abandoning it because the stubbornness of the local Lancashire stone made his arms and hands swell. What sort of granite, people wondered, had he been happily chiselling into shape in Glasgow?

A letter to the editor of the Football Field accused Tom Hindle, the secretary of Darwen FC, of being ‘one of the first to introduce so-called professionals into Lancashire’ and asked darkly: ‘Can Mr Hindle explain the circumstances attending Suter’s first appearance for Darwen?’

The furore caused Hindle, an accountant from a respectable middle-class family, a great deal of discomfort. Keeping professionalism and sport apart was a shibboleth of his social circle – ‘a sordid grasping after easy money’ was the typical view of one opponent of professional football – but Hindle also found himself pulled in the opposite direction by his allegiance to Darwen FC.

Hindle would never admit the club paid Suter – or any other player. But the evidence was as conclusive as it could be that the Glaswegian now received payments and other favours for playing for Darwen.

Suter’s own view of the consternation caused by what the new moneyed classes regarded as the tawdry practice of footballers receiving remuneration for their services seems to have been fairly relaxed.

He probably knew enough of history to be aware that other sports, usually under the influence of an aristocracy who had long regarded sporting competition as little more than a gambling medium, stood aloof from worrying about moral implications of professionalism.

For example, Thomas Waymark, whose patron was the Duke of Richmond, was a paid cricketer, and openly so, more than 100 years before Suter was born.

What Suter would certainly have known was that some of his contemporaries who played cricket were being paid – a match between the Gentlemen (amateurs) and Players (professionals) had been an annual fixture for years. And an old football adversary, Tommy Marshall, openly received prize money for winning sprint races.

Suter was quite sharp enough to reason that the idea that footballers should not be similarly rewarded was untenable.

The journalist J.H.Catton wrote some years later that members of the Darwen club contributed a little each week ‘to keep Suter in the necessaries’. 

In time he would be proclaimed – by Archie Hunter, among others – as the first professional to set foot on a football pitch.


Jon Henderson | @hendojon | When Footballers Were Skint



The Liverpool star whose career was saved by serious illness

  • July 20, 2018 11:11
  • Jon Henderson

When Gordon Milne was summoned to do National Service in 1958 and then posted to Malaysia he thought his career as a professional footballer might be over. This extract from When Footballers Were Skint tells the story of an unexpected turn of events.

Gordon Milne was showing early signs of the player he would become when his call-up papers dropped on the doormat. As he picked up the envelope military service was the last thing on his mind. He had recently made his first-team debut for Preston North End, the club for which his father, Jimmy, had played and where he was now trainer. The family lived a goal-kick away from Preston’s Deepdale ground.

Cover when footballers were skintMilne’s debut match was a First Division fixture at Portsmouth, but all he really remembers about it was that he was playing in the same team as Tom Finney. Given that Milne found it awe-inspiring to be in the same room as Finney, to be on the same pitch was almost overwhelming.

‘And then I got called into the army,’ he says. For the first six weeks he and his fellow recruits did basic training, ‘a six-week void,’ as he calls it, ‘when I lost contact with Preston, dropping off the perch as far as the club was concerned’.

Even so, at this point Milne had reasons to be confident his football career would not be badly affected. His regiment was based at the Fulwood Barracks in Preston and the Colonel in Chief, a Colonel Knight, was keen on sport and knew the chairman of Preston North End. Between them the two men, the colonel and the chairman, would secure Milne a local posting.

After two weeks’ leave, the recruits returned to the barracks. ‘There were big boards up on the walls with our names on them in alphabetical order and where we were going to be posted,’ Milne says. ‘And my name was on the list to go to Malaysia.’

The moment Milne saw this was his heart sank. His world was about to be shattered. He raced home, got in touch with the club, but was told: ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything about it. If your name’s on the board there’s no way we can shift that now.’

Milne was desolate: ‘Two years away, I’d be 23 when I got back. God knows what would happen then.’

He spent the next ten days being kitted out for the Far East – uniforms, including jungle greens, weaponry, various medications. Then there was a week’s leave to say his farewells before setting sail.

It was during this week that providence rescued his football career.

‘I was still living at home with my mum and dad in their terrace house,’ he says, ‘and during that week I developed a throat infection that turned into quinsy. It might have been the shock of being posted to Malaysia, but for two weeks I was out of it, I was genuinely gone, and in that two weeks my army group left.’

When he returned to Fulwood, he presented the regiment with a problem: what do we do with this guy? There’s no one left here, what do we do with him?

The solution, Milne says, was so lucky it was hardly true. Colonel Knight’s batman was finishing at that time. So the Colonel had a word, the club had a word and eventually Milne got the job as the CO’s batman.

‘For the rest of my national service I was living at home, jumping on the bike at half-past six in the morning, up to the CO’s house, put the kettle on and made sure all his kit was ready for parade, boots clean, trousers pressed, hoovered his house, which was on the Fulwood campus, made up the fire. This was like paradise. No drills, no guard duty, no anything. Just the CO’s batman. I was fireproof.’

Milne resumed part-time training, which included joining up again with his Preston teammates. In time he played his way back into the first team.

And it was because of this outcome, wholly the result of Milne’s attack of quinsy, that he came to the attention of Bill Shankly and was one of the great Liverpool manager’s earliest recruits.

(Milne went on to make more than 200 appearances for Liverpool between 1960-67 and 14 appearances for England, narrowly missing out on selection for the 1966 World Cup finals squad)


@hendojon | Jon Henderson | 'When Footballers Were Skint' 


Goalie who turned down Liverpool to work in a betting office

  • July 18, 2018 12:06
  • Jon Henderson

In 1960 when the highly successful goalkeeper Roy Wood was offered for sale by Leeds United the wages of Football League players were capped at £20 a week. It meant that even an offer from Liverpool and the great Bill Shankly didn’t mean quite what it would today. In this extract from When Footballers Were Skint, Wood picks up the story.

‘No one at Leeds gave me a reason for being put on the transfer list,’ Wood says. ‘I was just put on it.

‘Although I couldn’t prove it, there was one possible reason why Sam Bolton, the Leeds chairman, wanted to get rid of me. I was on the PFA committee by now as the Leeds players’ representative and this was at the time the Football League players were pushing for the abolition of the maximum wage.Cover when footballers were skint

‘During negotiations I remember sitting across the table from Bolton, who was on the FA committee. He was always against me for doing this because, of course, he and the other chairmen were in favour of keeping wages capped.

‘When the man who was putting money into the club didn’t like you, didn’t like your face, that counted for a lot in football.’

Wood says he had the chance to join quite a few clubs, including Liverpool: ‘Bill Shankly said I could go there. He told one of his trainers that he needed another goalkeeper and the trainer mentioned my name. Shankly said I’d do because if a man could play every game and get promotion to the First Division [with Leeds] he couldn’t be bad.’

Liverpool were prepared to pay a fee for Wood and his accrued benefit. He admits he was attracted to moving back to his hometown but he was only recently married and he and his wife decided to stay in Leeds where he had just bought a bungalow off Kirkstall Lane.

‘Luton, Crewe, and Mansfield, where Raich Carter was now manager, were among the other clubs who showed an interest in me,’ he says, ‘but I wasn’t prepared to go anywhere that meant travelling long distances.’

Opposite the Leeds ground there was a greyhound track, which is where Wood became friends with Jack Ash, who was ‘one of the bookies who stood up shouting the odds’. One night when the two men were having a drink Wood told Ash that Leeds were selling him and that he had a mind to pack in football altogether. But he did not know what to do.

‘Roy, if you want a job with me,’ Ash said, ‘you’ve got one so long as I’m in business.’

The year was 1960 when betting shops were not set to become legal until the following spring. Up until May 1961 there were betting offices but not shops. These offices were strictly regulated with blacked-out windows; lettering to advertise what the premises were used for could not be more than four inches high. Also, they were subject to the whims of the authorities.

‘It was a funny thing,’ Wood says, ‘in the old days they used to raid the betting offices, take what cash there was, close you down and let you open again on the Monday. It was to fund the Lord Mayor’s Ball, I think.’

He started work for Ash on the top floor of his office in Leeds. ‘I worked on the credit side, taking bets on the phone,’ Wood says. ‘I did this to start with just to pick up how things worked, before I went into the offices. By the time Jack died in 1967 I was looking after five offices.

‘They then sold the business to a fella called Jim Windsor, who also had betting offices with a head office in the same road as Jack’s. Later Jim sold it to William Hill – and that’s how it is today.

‘I went on my own on the credit side, taking bets on the phone, which was what I knew. I didn’t really have an office. It was just a room with a tape machine in it. I did that for a while, into the Eighties, and then I went to work for a fella called Ray Kettlewell doing the same sort of thing.

@hendojon || Jon Henderson || Click here: 'When Footballers Were Skint'


JOB VACANCY: Assistant Editor / Editor (Biteback Publishing)

  • July 18, 2018 11:20
  • Biteback Publishing

Assistant Editor / Editor (Biteback Publishing)

Biteback Publishing have an excellent opportunity for an organised, efficient assistant editor or editor to join a small, busy team publishing politics, current affairs, autobiography and memoir, history, espionage, sport and humour.

Reporting to the Managing Editor, the successful candidate will be responsible for taking books through all stages of the book production process, from contract signature to delivery of print-ready files, and for ensuring all titles meet quality standards.

Experience/skills required:

  • Solid experience of copy-editing within a non-fiction publisher
  • Knowledge of the book production process
  • Excellent proofreading and attention to detail
  • Strong project management skills, with the ability to prioritise multiple projects
  • The ability to work under pressure and to deadlines
  • Good communication skills, with experience of liaising with authors and other departments to ensure titles remain on schedule
  • An interest in politics and current affairs

Familiarity with Adobe InDesign software will be an advantage.

This would be an ideal second or third job for an experienced assistant editor looking to take the next step up.


How to apply: Send a CV and covering letter, including details of current salary and notice period, to Olivia Beattie at

Location: London

Closing date:  27 July 2018