Bill Slater’s summer job in 1958 – playing for England in the World Cup finals in Sweden – left him out of pocket

  • August 02, 2018 13:14
  • Jon Henderson

Finding close-season work was once an absolute necessity for professional footballers if the household bills were to be paid – but even if that job was playing for your country in a major championship it didn’t mean you were better off.


By the 1950s, most Football League players supported the idea of ending the maximum wage, which in 1958 reached £20 a week. None, though, was entirely sure when or if it would ever happen.

The general feeling was ‘We’ll believe it when we see it.’ And until it did – and for several seasons after it did in 1961 – improvement in pay moved ahead only slowly. It brought no immediate end to players having to find summer work to help pay the household bills.

‘Most players spent the close season working on the building sites,’ Terry Allcock, Norwich City’s classy striker, remembers. The appeal of this work, he says, was not just the money. ‘It meant they were able to keep up their strength and get a suntan.’Cover when footballers were skint

Tommy Banks, who had been used to rugged manual work since he was a small boy, was one of these.

But the ever-resourceful Bolton Wanderers and England defender, did not restrict himself to labouring for local builders to cash in on the close season.

Banks cultivated his own allotment, invested in chickens – ‘I had 100 hens who used to lay for me. I sold eggs all over Farnworth and in the Bolton dressing room’ – milked cows for a local farmer and even landed an unexpected one-off bonus starring as a model.

The year 1958 had already been a good one for Banks, an FA Cup winner’s medal followed by appearances for England in the World Cup finals, when his rugged looks earned him a role as the face of a razor-blade advertising campaign.

The razor manufacturer Gillette approached Jimmy Hill, leader of the Professional Footballers’ Association, to recommend a footballer with strong, distinctive looks and thoroughly approved of his recommendation.

Banks was summoned to London, put up at the smart Waldorf Hotel in central London and sent off to the studios. With ads appearing on prime time TV on  Sunday nights and billboards, Banks received close to £400 in payments and expenses.

This represented a windfall payment for the Bolton man, although, as he says now: ‘I bet David Beckham and Thierry Henry got a bit more when they did Gillette ads recently.’

He’s right. The Beckham deal was worth £40 million – 100,000 times more than Banks received.

Banks’s main memory of the shoot was the director rejecting the vest he was wearing. ‘It were a white one,’ he says, ‘and because TV weren’t as good then it appeared dirty grey on the screen. They sent a lad out to buy a blue one. It came out white when they filmed it.’

A more normal summer job for a footballer was the one the Leeds United goalie Roy Wood had to settle for: work as a cobbler. ‘The workshop was next to the Templer pub in Vicar Lane,’ he says. ‘Each morning we’d receive paper bags full of old shoes that needed new soles. I worked on the stitching and channelling machines that sewed the soles to the uppers and made channels for the leather to go into.

‘I haven’t a clue how much I earned. It wasn’t enough to remember.’

A few, Allcock included, occupied their summers putting their all-round sporting skills to professional use in the other great national sport. Not only did Allcock play cricket professionally in the Lancashire League he coached it at a prestigious private school.

The grassy acres of Gresham’s School in rural Norfolk became Allcock’s place of employment from the summer of 1958. As a working environment, it must have felt like another world to the lad whose earliest sporting experience was playing backstreet football in Leeds and who for five years in the 1950s played for Bolton Wanderers.

Bill Slater was another who played cricket in the 1950s, in the minor counties championship and a handful of games for Warwickshire second XI. But, unlike Allcock, he never earned anything from the game – and for him the end of the maximum wage made only a marginal difference to his standard of living.

During his 15 years as a Football League player, mostly for Wolverhampton Wanderers, Slater won three First Division titles and an FA Cup, represented Great Britain at the 1952 Olympics and played for England at the 1958 World Cup finals – but he was never a full-time professional. If anything he regarded his proper job as being a member of staff at Birmingham University’s Physical Education Department, where in time he became the Director.

Slater says his summer job in 1958 – playing for England in the World Cup finals in Swden – actually cost him money. He had his wages docked by Birmingham University and the expenses the Foootball Association paid him ‘certainly didn’t cover what I gave up’.


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


'They’re frightened to death, Bob. Their faces are blank’ – Shankly

  • July 31, 2018 14:09
  • Jon Henderson

Bill Shankly was a complete one-off with his very own way of choosing his Liverpool teams – and motivating them.


Bill Shankly built hugely successful Liverpool teams by cleverly husbanding his resources and refining a highly effective, homespun form of player psychology.

The players he assembled over 15 years as manager, 1959-74, surpassed all their predecessors. His legacy is such that the club’s stature has endured despite the efforts of lesser managers.

Gordon Milne observed Shankly from a front-row seat, having moved to Anfield from Preston North End of the First Division in 1960. Milne turned down Arsenal, also of  the First Division, in choosing instead to go down a division to join Liverpool.

This was partly because Milne was a northern lad who didn’t fancy moving to a London club but mostly it was because of Shankly.

‘There were no egos with Shanks,’ he says, ‘there was nobody characterwise who dominated the group. Big Ron [Yeats], the captain, might have dominated physically but he was a softie, great guy. It was a mixture.

‘You had your lads with plenty of confidence – Ian St John had his aggression, Ian would fight the world, and his personality was something that maybe none of the other ones had – and then there were others that were quiet. The two fullbacks, Chris Lawler and Gerry Byrne, never said boo to a goose.’

In Milne’s view, because of the care with which Shankly chose players his teams almost managed themselves. ‘Though I say it myself, we were an easy group to handle. As players we were all capable in different ways of winning a game or saving a game. There were strengths that were complemented and we protected one another.

‘Sometimes players have different styles and they have to adapt to each other but with Shanks it was square pegs in square holes. There were no oddballs.’

In so many other ways, Milne was attracted to Shankly, even though he says that as a manager he was never particularly approachable.

‘He kind of spoke to everybody the same,’ Milne says. ‘He’d talk collectively to you as against picking someone out.

‘I never remember him saying to someone in the dressing room, “You did that today” or “That was your fault” or “Come to the office I want to see you.” He talked generally, “Why did we do that?”

‘He’d talk third party; he’d talk to us through Bob [Paisley] sometimes. He’d talk to Bob after a game and say things like, “Well, Bob, that’s the worst effing team I’ve seen in my life. They will not win another game, Bob. They’ll not win another game.” And we’re all sitting there in the dressing room listening to it. He’d walk past everybody. That’s how he did it.

‘Then after we’d won five-nothing, he’d say, “Bob, that’s not a bad team you know. That’s not a bad team They won’t go down, Bob. They will not go down. They’ve just beaten a great team”.’

Milne describes another of Shankly’s ruses: ‘The old Anfield dressing rooms were terrible. We used to come in the side way, which they still do, go through a little door and then down this narrow corridor, turn right and then walk towards the dressing rooms.

‘To get to their dressing room the visitors had to pass Liverpool’s on the left and on this particular day West Ham were the visitors. Shanks, as he did quite regularly, was standing just inside our dressing room, with the door open a bit.

‘As he looked out he’d say things like “Och, Bob, here’s Martin Peters coming. Martin Peters. He’s pasty faced. He’s pasty faced, Bob. His face is white.” Or he’d say, “They’re frightened to death. Their faces are blank, Bob. Blank. They’re frightened to death.”

‘This was Shanks’s way of motivating us as we sat there rubbing our legs – we didn’t go on the pitch to warm up in those days, we just went straight out – or combing our hair or whatever. But he always did it through somebody else.’

Milne has no idea why but points out it was a mark of Shankly’s teams that they suffered very few injuries. He says he was reminded recently that in the 1961-2 season, when Liverpool won the Second Division by eight points with a goal difference of 56, and in the season that followed he did not miss a game.

‘And a lot of that team – and there were 42 League games, never mind the cups – had played 40 games, 41 games, 38 games. Nobody seemed to get injured. I don’t know how the hell this happened, but they didn’t get hurt.’

It became a ritual that journalists would ask Shankly: ‘What’s the team at the weekend, Bill?’ And he would say: ‘The same as last year, son.’

Also, Shankly would express/feign surprise when rival teams asked for tickets for the directors’ box at Anfield. Milne recalls him saying to Paisley things like: ‘Bob, they’re getting tickets for the directors’ box, they’re sending three people to watch us play. What a waste of money. They know the team and everybody knows how we play.’


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


From a shattered leg to a retail fortune

  • July 30, 2018 13:26
  • Jon Henderson

The story of how Dave Whelan made a fortune started with a sickening injury while playing for Blackburn Rovers against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1960 FA Cup final.


Before footballers made enough to finish their playing days with a life of leisure stretched out before them – a bit of punditry, possibly, and long hours on the golf course – the prospects were not dissimilar from those facing any other man whose working life had been one of physical labour: a prolonged struggle to make ends meet into old age.

Of those I interview, Whelan stands out as the towering exception. Even by the time he had stopped playing he was already on the way to his first self-made million. The starting point was the moment his leg was shattered playing for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup final.

‘After I was in hospital and came back home, I asked the doctor how long I would be in plaster,’ he says. ‘He told me it depended on how quickly the leg took to heal, but that I was bound to be in it for six months, minimum. I was actually in it for nine months.

‘In that time I was bored, I couldn’t do anything. So I went to the market in the centre of Blackburn. I took a look around, saw these two lads who were working on a market stall selling basic toiletries and, knowing I’d got to do something and learn something, I asked if I could work on their stall.’

The Howarth brothers ran the stall and Bill Howarth, the boss, recognised the benefit of having a Blackburn Rovers player, who had appeared in the Cup Final, at his side. He paid Whelan ten shillings a day to serve the customers, who, just as Howarth had reckoned they would be, were attracted by his celebrity assistant.

‘All the people in Blackburn knew me,’ Whelan says, ‘and would stop to buy something so they could ask how I was and whether I was getting better.

‘For my part I learnt so much in six months on that stall.’

The key lesson was the paramountcy of the 16 per cent gross margin, or, as he also puts it, ‘tuppence in every shilling’.

‘I picked it up so quickly,’ he says. ‘If something cost you one and eleven [one shilling and eleven pence] you sold it for two and three – fourpence profit, 16 per cent.’

Clearly Whelan had happened upon something that deeply interested him. ‘I came to look at Wigan where I found they had no outside market. There were none of the stalls they used to make out of metal and then cover in tarpaulin. They were all inside stalls.’

The market superintendent told Whelan there was nothing to stop him having an outside stall. And so, for a rent of 15 shillings a day, he set up two of them by the main entrance.

‘I was selling toiletries – I bought them off the lads in Blackburn, they supplied me – and the first day I took 200 quid. So I’d made like 32 quid in a day.’

Whelan had hoped to resume his playing career with Blackburn but after a couple of comeback games in the reserves he cracked his leg again. In 1962 he was transferred to Crewe Alexandra, stalwarts of the Fourth Division, although in 1963 they gained promotion for the first time in their history.

‘The leg got stronger,’ he says, ‘but the pace never came back.’ He quit playing professional football in 1966, just short of his thirtieth birthday.

By then his life was already set on an entirely different trajectory. ‘The last two years while I was at Crewe I had the market stall in Wigan. I trained in the mornings and my sister ran the stall for me until I got back at one o’clock.

‘Then when I retired from Crewe I knew what I wanted to do and I went to America to learn. I was aware from what I’d read that they were five to six years ahead of us in the retail section.

‘I went to New York, I went to Chicago and looked at what they were doing – and they had just started supermarkets, selling food in one area and non-foods in another. They piled goods up and you helped yourself.

‘It made you wonder, “How do they help themselves to things? They must steal them.” We were used to going into a shop in the UK and saying, “Can I have that?” Someone would then get it for you.

‘But in America it was self-service. Goods were piled up on a pallet and people came in, took two tins of beans, put them in a basket and then paid for what they’d got at the end. It was so different from what we were doing here.’

Whelan came back to Wigan determined to copy the retail model he had observed in the US. ‘I was still working in the market then and earning good, good money – four, five-hundred pounds a week. But straightaway I went to look at this building in Wigan and I thought, “Supermarket – Whelan’s Discount Store”.’

The thought became a reality and, Whelan says, ‘was a fantastic success. You had to queue to get in. In two years I’d opened a total of ten. We were the first supermarkets in the land to sell food and, on the next floor, non-foods – toys, furniture, electrical stuff… the items you could sell were being relaxed all the time.’


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


Football or coal mining? There was nothing to choose when it came to wages

  • July 26, 2018 13:45
  • Jon Henderson

Tommy Banks, who played for Bolton Wanderers and England in the 1950s, did both - but says he could have made a lot more money mining. 


At a time when English football was very narrowly defined – rooted firmly in working-class communities and almost purely domestic in terms of its labour force – coal-mining was an industrial powerhouse that churned out black gold and fit young men by the score.

Numerous collieries had football teams and it followed that men whose day jobs involved great physical toil should take with them onto the pitch the same muscular approach that was part of their everday lives underground.

In the 1930s and immediately after the war professional football was chock full of former miners. As an alternative to working deep down in cramped conditions, making a living above ground playing a game they loved and that still allowed them, encouraged them even, to celebrate their manly strength must have seemed too good to be true.

The fact that hundreds of them went back to mining once they were no longer fit to kick, chase and head a ball is an indication of quite how little they prospered financially from football (no more than a rigidly enforced maximum wage of £20 a week up until 1961).

Tommy Banks, Bolton Wanderers’ left back for much of the 1950s, even suggests he would have been better off had he not left his job at Mosley Common Colliery on the Lancashire Coalfield to play professional football.

Banks says: ‘If I’d have stayed in the pit I’d have been on a lot more money once I’d have come up to the [coal]face. Footballers’ pay didn’t keep up with the times.’

Typically, but not exclusively, the miners made excellent defenders. They might have had a reputation for possessing the nimbleness and turning circle of a horse-drawn dustcart – a description that Banks, noted for his speed, objects to in his case – but were mightily effective at stopping opposition forwards.

Gradually, a shift took place. The ethos of the mining community and its approach to playing football survived for some time. But fathers, particularly those who knew the realities of working down a mine, steered sons who might have a future as a professional footballer towards the less hazardous opportunities provided by the expanding jobs market.

‘My dad worked as a miner,’ Bill Leivers, a Manchester City player for 11 years from 1953, says. ‘The mine was two-foot high where he lay on his stomach getting coal. From where I come from most of the people in work there at that time were miners, but my dad threatened me if I ever showed any inclination to join them.’

Not all heeded such warnings, though. Banks, for example. He still saw going down a pit as part of his heritage.

Old man Banks had not wanted Tommy, the youngest of his seven children, to be a ‘pitmon’. But on a bright summer’s morning sitting in his front room in Farnworth, Banks tells me fondly about his time underground.

At 88, Banks, who played six times for England, remains a cult figure, and not just in the Bolton area. His wife, Rita, points out two envelopes on the table beside his armchair. Both contain requests for his autograph, one is from Germany. His appeal is conveyed in the answer he gives to my question about what it was like to be a miner. ‘Just normal,’ he says.

As a hard but fair defender, Banks’s manifest enjoyment of the physical life endeared him to those from the same background who watched him play. He had all the banter, too. He used it to turn a stern rebuke from a ref or a glare from a victim of one of his heavy tackles into a moment of shared laughter. ‘Every time I see Tommy I try to think of something funny to say,’ Bobby Charlton once said, ‘but he always beats me to it.’

Banks gives a glimpse of his ‘just normal’ life underground when he describes how each working day began: ‘You had to be there at the seven o’clock sharp. If you missed the cage they wouldn’t let you go down and you’d be docked a day’s wages.

‘And when you did get down there very quickly you couldn’t see a thing. It was all the dust thrown up by the men breaking up the slabs that had been cut overnight from the coalface.’

‘It sounds a hellish existence to me,’ I say.

‘Not for people from around here it weren’t,’ he says, grinning.

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


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