• January 04, 2019 13:01
  • Biteback Publishing

The Bad Boys of Brexit 

Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign | by Arron Banks



In a way, it all started in a pub in Guernsey.

It was June 2015, and the Tories had just won the general election. The party would now have to deliver its pledge to hold an EU referendum.

The election campaign had been gruelling, and UKIP leader Nigel Farage was feeling battered. His attempt to win a parliamentary seat had ended in failure and he was unsure what the future held. When an old friend invited him to join a short business cruise for two or three dozen right-leaning industrialists on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, he was glad to accept.

Also on that cruise was a political strategist named Matthew Elliott. The brains behind the influential TaxPayers’ Alliance think tank, Elliott was a familiar figure in Westminster circles.

He was delighted by the opportunity to network with some of the wealthiest political donors in the country. He had big plans for the year ahead.

The ship had docked for a few hours and Farage, who likes nothing better than sampling a new hostelry, had run ashore for a lunchtime pint. As he sat with a beer in St Peter Port, he spotted Elliott strolling by and beckoned him in. The discussion that followed would determine how the battle for Britain to leave the European Union would take shape.

Both men expected to play a central role. Elliott already had one successful referendum under his belt (the No to AV plebiscite on an alternative voting system in 2012) and was part of the political establishment. Respected by senior Tories and political journalists alike, over the years he had amassed a network of rich patrons who could be called upon to back his projects. By the time he and Farage met on the cruise, he had already laid the foundations for his bid to mastermind the referendum campaign by setting up a Eurosceptic pressure group called Business for Britain.

For his part, Farage had been preparing for the referendum all his political life. He had spent the best part of a quarter of a century fighting to get Britain out of the EU. Now, as the man who had done more than any other individual to bring about the referendum, he naturally expected to be at the heart of the campaign. Where did he figure in Elliott’s game plan?

This is what the two men discussed that day. The tension was not just about egos – though egos certainly played a part. At heart was a fundamental difference of opinion over how the campaign should be fought and whether Farage should be at the forefront. ‘I think you should leave it to the experts,’ Elliott told him – by which he meant strategists like himself.

Farage was affronted. He was also worried. Years of grassroots campaigning all over Britain had taught him that immigration was a massive issue among working-class and lower-middle-class voters. When it came to Britain’s relationship with Brussels, he knew that the EU’s sacred open borders policy was the issue that most rankled with these groups, however queasy it made the bien pensants in London. Of course he recognised the importance of arguments about business and sovereignty, but he was adamant that deepening public concern about mass migration was the key to Brexit.

Elliott disagreed. He believed focusing on immigration would drag the campaign into a fatal row about racism and xenophobia.

He also believed Farage was too divisive to win over floating voters. Plus, he wanted to give Prime Minister David Cameron a chance to negotiate a better deal with Brussels – as the PM had always promised the electorate – before committing himself to an Out campaign.

There was little common ground.

A horn sounded, signalling that the Queen Elizabeth was preparing to leave port, and the pair hurried back to the ship. Reflecting on their conversation, Farage fell into a gloom. He now had deep misgivings about the looming campaign. On his return from the cruise, he called me. ‘We’re going to lose this referendum unless we do something,’ he told me anxiously. I listened carefully to what Nigel had to say, and knew immediately that I wanted to help. I knew there was no greater champion of the Eurosceptic cause, and trusted his judgement implicitly. I also liked him enormously. I was ready to do whatever it took.

Our relationship had not begun well. We first met in the grand environs of the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall in summer 2014. Nigel, a twenty-a-day man, immediately upset staff by lighting up a cigarette. He was extremely grumpy when politely asked to desist, becoming even more bad tempered and rude when he was told he could not even smoke in the garden. He started muttering about Britain being ‘a free country’ and I began to have visions of my membership of the club being revoked. It did not help that we were both feeling under the weather. He seemed on edge throughout, and I left the encounter unimpressed. Nonetheless, I admired what he was doing, and indicated that I might be willing to support UKIP financially at some point in the future.

That moment came far sooner than I expected, following a remarkable upturn in UKIP’s political fortunes. In the autumn of 2014, two Tory MPs – Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless – dramatically defected, and Farage was keen to keep up the momentum.

At the time, I was still a member of the Conservatives, having been very active in the party when I was young. At the age of twenty-one, I had been vice-chairman of my local Tory association and had stood as a councillor in a Labour stronghold in Basingstoke. I was the youngest Conservative candidate in the country and received a letter from Margaret Thatcher acknowledging this special status. I failed to win the ward, however, and ended up pursuing a career in business instead.

For a long time I was too busy with my career and bringing up a young family to get actively involved in politics again. I never lost interest in politics, however, and watched with dismay as John Major blithely signed away our control over our borders via the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.

As power ebbed from Westminster, I knew it would be much harder to hold our elected representatives to account, and that this lack of accountability would lead inevitably to shoddy government and lower standards in public life. The erosion of our ability to determine our own laws and choose our way of life had only just begun. I hated it, and I couldn’t understand why the party that was supposed to be more dedicated to upholding our historic constitution and hard-won democratic freedoms than any other was now palming everything off to a clique of anonymous, unelected foreign officials. It felt like a betrayal. Though I remained a member of the Tory Party, and supported my local association financially, I was becoming increasingly disillusioned by the party’s weak stance on Europe.

That first meeting with Farage, unsatisfactory as it was, marked a turning point in my political allegiances. Not long afterwards, he rang rather tentatively asking whether I might consider making a donation of £100,000, which he said could be presented as another defection, albeit by a donor not an MP. I immediately agreed. My businesses in this country and overseas, where I own a number of diamond mines, were doing very well. I wanted to give something back, and help the fight to get Britain out of the EU.

My decision to give money to UKIP gave me an unpleasant taste of the way big political power players dismiss people like me who are not part of the club. On the morning the donation was made public, I was sitting in bed eating toast and honey and flicked on Sky News to see William Hague snootily dismissing me as a nobody.

A few minutes later, Farage was on the phone. ‘The Foreign Secretary is all over the television saying he doesn’t know who you are, and nobody he knows has ever heard of you,’ he reported. ‘I know,’ I replied. ‘What a cheek! Let’s up the donation to £1 million!’

Farage was amazed. He had been more than happy with the original amount, and didn’t believe I was serious.

‘I mean it,’ I said firmly. ‘Let’s do this.’

‘OK, leave it with me,’ Farage replied excitably.

At which point he hotfooted it off to brief the press. Speculation was rife that more Tory MPs were going to change sides, and Nigel, somewhat disingenuously, was briefing that another defection was imminent.

Before I’d had time to gather my thoughts, hundreds of journalists and cameramen began descending on Old Down, my country estate. The scenes that followed were totally chaotic. In my fit of pique, I had forgotten that my wife and I were due to host a major fundraiser for a Belize children’s charity that evening. We had invited the wife of the Prime Minister of Belize, who was staying with us, as well as half the members of the South West Conservative Party. Also joining us was as a senior figure from the Commonwealth Society with close links to the royal household, who was due to arrive early.

To his bemusement, the unfortunate Palace insider appeared at exactly the same time as the press pack were arriving. (His response to the bizarre unfolding spectacle was some most uncourtly language: ‘Holy shit.’)

Farage himself arrived in high spirits and ordered me to get out and face the cameras. As I emerged from the house and nervously surveyed the scene, I could see a ripple of disgust spread through the press pack. They had been dragged down the M4 on a false premise, and did nothing to hide their disappointment that I was not a politician.

Having come all this way, however, they were loath to waste the story, and my new donation was headline news.

When they had all buggered off, I suggested Farage spend the night at Old Down, and invited him to do the charity auction at our fundraising dinner. The Conservatives I’d invited were surprised and dismayed that their host had not only dramatically left the party but also forced them to spend an evening with Farage. It’s fair to say the reaction was mixed. At least one inebriated and indignant guest had to be escorted from the premises after becoming abusive towards our special guest. Nonetheless, the evening was a roaring success and raised a lot of money for a great cause.

I was still high on adrenalin after all the guests had departed, and took it into my head to clamber onto the roof of my Land Rover to watch the sun rise.

Not long afterwards, Farage, who had stopped drinking only a little earlier and can have had no more than two hours’ sleep, emerged from the house bright as a button and found me in a crumpled heap on the gravel, having rolled off the car with an ungainly thud and fallen asleep where I landed.

It marked the beginning of what has become a firm friendship.

In the months that followed, I became increasingly involved in UKIP politics. As a businessman, I was shocked and dismayed by what I learned about the inner workings of the party. It was hopelessly dysfunctional and ill-prepared for campaigning.

It was far less of a threat to the Conservatives than it appeared. Nonetheless, Farage’s huge personal following frightened them. They certainly did not want him becoming an MP. As I was to discover, they were ready to go to any lengths to prevent it happening, including, apparently, breaking the law.

In this enterprise, they had a highly valuable and willing accomplice in the shape of the recently converted UKIP MP for Clacton. As one of just two Kippers in the Commons, Carswell was in a powerful position. His decision to defect must have been quite a wrench. He had been actively involved in the Tory Party for at least fifteen years, and an MP for almost a decade. The Eurosceptic Tory MEP Dan Hannan was one of his closest friends. His arrival was a huge boost for UKIP, helping to create the credibility and energy it needed to do well in 2015, but it would return to haunt Farage.

From the start, there were lingering suspicions among some Kippers that his decision was not made on principle. Clacton is a staunchly Eurosceptic part of the country, and private polling suggested that UKIP was a serious threat to the sitting MP. Carswell was in very real danger of losing his seat.

Only he knows whether his heart was ever really in leaving the Conservative Party, but it is interesting that he went to great lengths to ensure that if his great gamble backfired, he would be well looked after. Arrangements were put in place for him to receive a considerable sum of money from UKIP if he failed to win the by-election triggered by his defection. In the event, he held onto the seat, and the compensation package proved unnecessary.

Fast forward to the general election, and Farage’s own bid to enter Parliament turned South Thanet into the most bitterly contested seat in the country. In an increasingly febrile atmosphere, an array of individuals and organisations of all political hues coalesced to thwart him. It was not a fair fight. We now know that the Conservative Party had no compunction about busting legal spending limits, pouring huge sums of money and other resources into the seat. They used a variety of ruses to mask their activities. Moreover, it appears they may also have got their hands on some very useful inside information.

Carswell was one of just three individuals with access to UKIP’s highly sensitive private polling on target seats. This detailed data identified specific streets and households whose support would be pivotal to win the seat. With an official role overseeing UKIP’s target seat campaign, Carswell was supposed to use it to do everything in his power to propel candidates to victory – including the party leader.

As the battle for the seat intensified, Farage was surprised and concerned to find that Tory activists were targeting the exact same individuals in South Thanet. It now appears that they were doing so via a highly unethical ‘push polling’ operation based in the south-west London suburb of Kingston, which involved using loaded questions to plant negative ideas about Nigel in voters’ minds.

How did they come to be so well informed?

We may never know. Long after polling day, however, my own forensic post-mortem examination of South Thanet revealed something quite remarkable: Carswell was routinely downloading the data and sending it to an anonymous computer server.

He did so on six separate occasions. While there were files on every target seat in the country, curiously, only the information about South Thanet was shared. Quite where the information went once it left our offices, nobody knows, but I can make an educated guess: the Tories. This private data could have made it much easier for the Tories to target floating voters in the constituency.

Farage duly lost the seat. Soon after the election, he resigned as UKIP leader.

Taken together, the excessive spending, the push polling, and the very murky ‘sharing’ of UKIP’s private data suggest an extraordinary stitch-up by the Tories. This information is now in the hands of the police.

Farage’s notorious decision to ‘un-resign’ was prompted by a hostile phone call from Carswell. Now UKIP’s only MP (Reckless having lost his seat) and in control of £650,000 of taxpayers’ money designed to support opposition parties, Carswell was more empowered than ever. During a highly unpleasant exchange, he told Farage to stay out of the referendum campaign. It was a step too far, and it backfired. Farage returned to the leadership, determined to play the campaign his own way.

Now deeply mistrustful of the Tories and elements within his own party, he asked me to consider running it. I said yes immediately.

I cared so much about the cause, and was so outraged by his treatment, that I was ready to put in several million pounds from my own fortune. In July 2015, with my friend and business associate Andy ‘Wiggy’ Wigmore, I began building the campaign.

Nigel had a clear vision for our role. Knowing that the Conservatives would avoid talking about immigration, he wanted us to put the issue at the forefront of our efforts. Our brief was to do what even he could not: be as provocative as required to keep immigration at the top of the agenda.

This book is the story of how we responded.

Our methods were unorthodox and often landed us in hot water. We were undoubtedly the ‘bad boys’ of the referendum campaign. Our belligerent approach to politicians and other people we felt were letting down the country upset the establishment and we fell out with everyone from NASA to Posh Spice. At times, even Farage thought we went too far.

Yet it worked. Through the power of social media, we were creating an extraordinary mass movement, drawing in swathes of voters neglected by the main political parties. At times our social media reach hit nearly 20 million people in a week – a third of the entire population.

We never set out to cosy up to politicians or even to influence them. Our strategy was to go direct to the people, using techniques that bypassed the mainstream media. It may have appeared chaotic, but the thinking behind it was very clear. In America, Donald Trump, the ultimate political outsider, is doing similar things.

For all the larks, we took our efforts to persuade the Electoral Commission to designate us as the official Leave campaign extremely seriously. In the end, we failed. In hindsight, it’s not surprising. We were rank outsiders, and could be loose cannons. In any case, it turned out to be a good thing. So far from giving up, we proceeded to run a parallel operation to the official campaign run by Elliott. While we were constrained by legal spending limits, we were otherwise gloriously unaccountable.

Ours became the guerrilla war. It was not for the faint-hearted, but we enjoyed almost every minute. I believe it was pivotal to the outcome of the referendum.

This is my diary of our adventures.

Arron Banks,

September 2016

The Bad Boys of Brexit: Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign  

by Arron Banks



Brexit: The Uncivil War

  • January 04, 2019 10:30
  • Biteback Publishing

Brexit has dominated the news agenda for nearly three years – and now one of Hollywood's biggest names is getting stuck in.

Brexit: The Uncivil War is a new drama from Channel 4 which will focus on the EU Referendum of 2016 with Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role.

Brexit has changed everything in the UK, from its government, to its principal trading relationship, to the structure and organisation of the British state. This watershed moment, which surprised most observers and mobilised previously apathetic sections of the electorate, is set to transform British politics in profound and lasting ways. 

Check out our brex-cellent selection of titles that shine a light on the people who made Brexit a reality...

Cover 9781785902055The Bad Boys of Brexit 

Tales of Mischief, Mayhem & Guerrilla Warfare in the EU Referendum Campaign | by Arron Banks

Arron Banks enjoyed a life of happy anonymity flogging car insurance in Bristol until he dipped his toes into the shark-infested waters of politics and decided to plunge right in. Charging into battle for Brexit, he tore up the political rule book, sinking £8 million of his personal fortune into a mad-cap campaign targeting ordinary voters up and down the country. His anti-establishment crusade upset everyone from Victoria Beckham to NASA and left MPs open-mouthed.

Lurching from comedy to crisis (often several times a day), he found himself in the glare of the media spotlight, fending off daily bollockings from Nigel Farage and po-faced MPs. From talking Brexit with Trump and trying not to embarrass the Queen, to courting communists and wasting a fortune on a pop concert that descended into farce, this is his honest, uncensored and highly entertaining diary of the campaign that changed the course of history.


Cover 9781785901799Summer Madness

How Brexit split the Tories, destroyed Labour and divided the country | by Harry Mount

In the three short weeks between the EU referendum on 23 June 2016 and Theresa May’s ascent to Downing Street on 13 July, Brexit morphed into a mass murderer, destroying everything it touched. As the Bullingdon boys, David Cameron and George Osborne, were sensationally whacked, Mafia-style, the Cabinet was drained of blue blood and the tight-knit Notting Hill Set torn asunder.

So how did Brexit turn into this weapon of mass political destruction? In this compelling insider account, journalist Harry Mount reveals the plots, power struggles and personal feuds that brought down a government. Analysing the nationwide split between Europhiles and Eurosceptics, and reflecting on Brexit’s parallels with Donald Trump’s victory, Summer Madness is the ultimate guide to the biggest political coup of the century.




Cover 9781785901959How to Lose a Referendum

The Definitive Story of Why the UK Voted for Brexit | by Jason Farrell and Paul Goldsmith

Probing into the social fabric of the UK, the psyche of the electorate, and seventy years of European history, Farrell and Goldsmith identify eighteen key reasons why the UK made its choice, from Britain’s absence at the birth of the European project to the inflammatory rhetoric of one Nigel Farage, and everything in between.

How to Lose a Referendum is the product of extensive and refreshingly frank interviews with the key players from both campaigns coupled with a wide-ranging exploration of the historical context around Britain’s departure. Why was a project designed for common peace and prosperity ultimately so hard to defend?

Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, a newcomer to the debate or a battle-hardened politico, this nuanced and thoughtful analysis will change the way you look at Britain’s vote for Brexit.



Cover 9781785902413Guilty Men

Brexit Edition | by Cato the Younger 

Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the EU was the most momentous democratic decision ever made in British history. Some predict it will lead eventually to the break-up of the UK, others to the end of the EU, others to an enhanced likelihood of war in Europe and beyond.

The vote to leave took just a single day, but the decision to call the referendum followed several months of agonising in No. 10, while the ground for Britain’s departure was sown over many, many years.

When Britain entered the EU in 1973, it was known as ‘the sick man of Europe’. When it voted to leave in 2016, it had the fastest-growing economy in the G7, and it was both the world’s top soft power and one of its most creative and tolerant nations.

Why have we risked all this? Ask the guilty men, who, for reasons of personal gain, misplaced ideology or sheer folly, have jeopardised all our futures.


Lockerbie – 30 Years on...

  • December 21, 2018 10:20
  • Kenny MacAskill

30 years on, remembering the 270 people who lost their lives in the Lockerbie bombing

by Kenny MacAskill


As the thirtieth anniversary draws near the focus once again returns to Lockerbie. For, on the night of 21 December 1988, a bomb exploded on Pan Am Flight 103. Only one man has ever been convicted, and despite an extensive global manhunt and inquiries, trials and appeals conspiracy theories continue to run.

The atrocity wasn’t a one-off event, but part of a chain of action and re-action as the West and some of the Arab world perpetrated terror and counter-terror over decades. More recent outrages have perhaps dulled memories, but in the years leading up to Lockerbie terror was perpetrated, from airport massacres in Rome and Vienna to bombings in Berlin and attacks on cruise liners. The West reacted in kind, including bombing Gaddafi’s compound. And so it continued until July 1988, when the USS Vincennes brought down an Iranian airliner for which initially there was neither an apology nor atonement. Revenge was sought, a bounty put up and a group hired to carry it out. Events were set in motion which, despite the interception of a terror cell and the awareness of an imminent attack, resulted in the tragic events of that December night later that year.

Cover 9781785900723

The pursuit of justice, though, was to be subservient to global, strategic and economic affairs. Big business wanted access to Libya’s natural wealth and Western powers sought a bulwark against Islamicist terror. The crime had been perpetrated by the North African state, albeit in conjunction with many other nations and groups. Someone had to be brought to trial though, but who? The USA and the UK brokered an agreement through the UN with NATO. There was to be no regime change and those offered up for trial were the lowest ranking officials the West would accept, and the highest-ranking that Libya would release. As the Scots – and myself in particular – were castigated, British leaders embraced Gaddafi and American leaders behaved similarly. From rendering prisoners to training the Libyan despots’ elite brigade, the hypocrisy was manifest, and well documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

It was a web of intrigue with even the supposed ‘hero’s reception’ for Megrahi who I released on compassionate grounds being fake news. The alliance sought with Libya was exchanged for NATO bombing to bring Gaddafi down. Prisoners rendered to him for torture by MI6 and CIA were supported in the uprising, yet are now the enemy in turn.

The reason that conspiracy theories still run is not because there remain a few unanswered questions, as the culpability of Libya is clear and the criminal investigation was thorough. Instead it is because the UK and USA prefer to obfuscate their complicity and refuse to reveal the extent of their involvement with Gaddafi. What I wrote a few years back still stands true: Scottish justice was to be just a small cog in a very large wheel of international intrigue.


The Lockerbie Bombing: The Search for Justice | Kenny MacAskill | @KennyMacAskill


Football star whose love of the game was nurtured by nuns

  • December 10, 2018 13:02
  • Jon Henderson

Terry Allcock is arguably the most astute signing Norwich City ever made having snatched him from what looked like being a promising career with Bolton Wanderers.


Terry Allcock was one of those naturally blessed athletes who excelled at a number of games.

At one point in his nascent sporting career Allcock, a lad from Leeds, represented Yorkshire schoolboys at football and cricket – he remembers having cricket nets at Headingley with two future Test captains, Brian Close and Ray Illingworth, and the celebrated umpire Dickie Bird. He also played rugby league for Leeds.

It was as a footballer, though, that he made his mark, albeit a far less indelible one than he might have done had a footballers’ wages not been capped when he was making his way as a young professional.

In March 1958 Bolton Wanderers, a First Division club with a stellar cast of senior pros, decided that the 22-year-old Allcock, despite his palpable promise as a goal scorer, was supernumerary and sold him to Norwich City, who were in the Third Division South.

Very soon the East Anglian life was suiting Allcock just fine and with no financial incentive to move given that the wage cap meant none of the headline clubs, where he belonged, could offer him more money this is where he stayed – and still lives.

Allcock had scored for Bolton in the early rounds of their triumphant 1957-58 FA Cup run and was shocked when without any warning he was told that Norwich had made an offer for him, which Bolton had accepted.

‘Having got over my surprise,’ he says, ‘my first thought was, “Where the hell’s Norwich.” I thought for a minute it was Northwich.’

Improbably, it was the nuns at St Anthony’s, a Catholic comprehensive in Leeds, who made sure Allcock’s love of football was nurtured from his early school years.

‘They showed a great interest in sport,’ he says, ‘which was good because the school didn’t have a sports master as such and sport wasn’t very highly organised. If it hadn’t been for the nuns and their enthusiasm we’d have been in the hands of this one male teacher, an elderly gentleman. He was more or less a do-it-yourself job. He wasn’t particuarly interested but, despite everything, we were very successful.’

Within the space of a few years, Allcock had progressed from the protégé of nuns to claiming a place in the England schoolboys football team against the Rest. Along with most of the boys who were in that England side Allcock was automatically filtered, as he says, into a top Football League club. He and Ray Parry joined Bolton; two of the others, Duncan Edwards and David Pegg, went to Manchester United.

‘We weren’t old enough to sign as professionals straightaway,’ he says, ‘and there weren’t apprentices as such in those days. I signed immediately I was 17 for a weekly wage of five pounds in the summer and seven in the winter.’

The new signing was still 17 when he made his debut for the Bolton first team, a home game against Manchester City in October 1953. He remembers his great excitement at being picked and playing in front of 50,000 people in what was a local derby, City being just five miles up the road. ‘The crowd was big,’ he says, ‘but we’d been playing regularly in front of ten to 15,000 in the reserves, so it wasn’t too much of a shock.’

Allcock would score twice – a goal with each foot – as Bolton beat City 3-2. ‘This was quite normal for me,’ he says. ‘I naturally worked the ball with my left foot but I felt equally adequate with either foot. Not like present players who can use only one foot.’

But before the Fifties were out, Allcock had been transferred to Norwich and would spend the rest of his football career playing in the lower divisions. He scored more than 100 goals for the club between 1958-69.


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


Those were the days my friend when the Cup was King and which we thought, mistakenly, would never end

  • December 03, 2018 11:10
  • Jon Henderson

Jon Henderson recalls the heady days of the FA Cup, the fancy dan of the English game until a richly endowed rival pitched up.


More than half a century later, my memories of a few fleeting moments on the afternoon of Saturday 4 May 1957 remain clear: schoolboy cricket match, master in charge, knowing my interest in football, comes over to tell me something.

There has been an incident early on in the big match at Wembley. A forward and goalkeeper have collided resulting in the badly injured goalie being carried off on a stretcher.

Now, on a mid-winter’s morning, my reason for travelling from London to Bournemouth is to meet that forward, Peter McParland.

The weather is mild but given the time of year it is still a surprise when McParland comes to the door wearing a pair of shorts – long shorts, mind you, but still shorts. ‘I always wear them indoors,’ he says. Could it be a last, nostalgic association with playing football?

We sit talking across a small kitchen table. He recalls the collision and analyses it with frame-by-frame precision.

And when the goalkeeper recovered how did he react?

‘He wasn’t happy,’ McParland says. ‘But I wouldn’t have been either’.

The reason the collision was a defining event in McParland’s career and is lodged so firmly in my memory is that these were the days when the Cup was king – and it was in an FA Cup final in front of a huge audience that McParland, playing for Aston Villa, crashed into Ray Wood, the Manchester United goalie.

Had it been a league match it would hardly have registered.

In 1957, The Cup Final was still the major event in the football calendar. It dwarfed any other match, home or away, in the English public’s consciousness, including the World Cup final.

The FA Cup, first played in 1871-72, is the world’s oldest – and, for many years, was its most popular – football competition. The World Cup followed nearly 60 years later, only to be ignored by the English for its first three stagings. The FA finally deigned to enter the national team in 1950, but very few in England took much notice.

It was not until towards the end of the twentieth century that the FA Cup started to lose its lofty place in public esteem. The really steep decline in its popularity came after 1992 when massive investment saw the First Division repackaged, rebranded and reborn as the Premiership.

Having been the fancy dan of the English game, the FA Cup suddenly found itself being pushed aside by a hustler not afraid to flex its commercial independence to exploit football’s popularity like never before. Players’ wages surged as clubs fought for the considerable financial rewards, made possible by TV money, for success in the new league.

The FA Cup was now a distraction viewed, increasingly, with condescension by the top clubs. Infamously, the FA themselves did not help by backing the disrespectful idea that Manchester United, the holders, skip the 1999-2000 competition to play in the world club championship.

There had been a steady improvement in what players earned since the upper limit of £20 a week had been removed in 1961, but this was hardly surprising given the low base from which this improvement began.

For the last Cup Final before the demolition of the wage ceiling, Wolves v Blackburn in 1960, Dave Whelan recalls the Blackburn players each received a princely six quid from a Milk Marketing Board advertisment of the team drinking the board’s product. This bumped up Whelan’s Cup Final extras to eight pounds. He cannot recall the source of the other two pounds.

With his £20 weekly wage and with Blackburn’s defeat meaning he was denied a win bonus, Whelan made £28. It was the most he ever earned from football in a single week.

Howard Riley was on the losing side a year later when Tottenham completed the Double with their 2-0 win over Leicester City. ‘The maximum wage had ended shortly before the final,’ Riley says, ‘but I think we were still probably on 20 quid a week or not much more – and I’m not sure we were on a win bonus even if we had won, in front of 100,000 spectators.’

The improvement in pay would continue but the relentless upward mobility of the Premier League means the Cup is unlikely ever again to achieve the status it enjoyed when footballers were paid buttons.

Today, McParland’s collision with Wood would be noticed only if it occurred in a top league fixture – or if Woking FC, ball number 54 in this evening’s third-round draw, were to draw Man City away and proceed to give them a good thrashing.


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