‘He could be in a small room with three other people – and, with the ball at his feet, he’d dribble round the lot of them’

  • May 16, 2019 11:38
  • Jon Henderson

Jimmy Hagan, a 15-year-old when he joined Derby County in 1933, developed into a truly outstanding inside forward, but the big disappointment for the Rams was that he spent his best years playing for Sheffield United. Strong-minded – to a fault, some thought – Hagan was only 20 when he quarrelled with the Derby manager and left...


Jimmy Hagan, born in 1918, would be better known had his best years not coincided with the Second World War and had he not been quite so obdurate. He played in 16 wartime internationals – classified as unofficial and so barely recorded – giving performances that stood comparison with teammates Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney.

But while he glittered brilliantly on the outside as a two-footed inside-forward, his propensity for awkwardness meant officialdom were leery of him. He played in only one full international for England, a pitiful return for one so talented.

He started with Derby County in 1933 as a 15-year-old, an England schoolboy international from County Durham. Two years later he turned full-time pro and made 31 appearances for the Rams before falling out with manager George Jobey. With a sense of his own worth, his argument with the club concerned the price Sheffield United should pay for him.

On a weekly wage of seven pounds, Hagan made his debut for Sheffield United in 1938 and for the next 20 years built a cult following at Bramall Lane. ‘Jimmy Hagan was the very heart of Sheffield United,’ his biographer, Roger Barnard, wrote, ‘the conductor, the orchestra leader and virtuoso soloist combined.’

And yet straight after the war Hagan almost walked away from a game that paid him so little for the embellishment he gave it. He joined a local architects to train as a surveyor and for a few years gave the club only part-time service. In the end, though, he missed the game too much to be put off by its frugal rewards.

‘What made Jimmy Hagan so outstanding was that he had a brain, for a start. And he could be in a small room with three other people,’ Colin Collindridge, a Sheffield United teammate, said, ‘and, with the ball at his feet, he’d dribble round the lot of them.’

Collindridge said there was a drawback to playing alongside him: ‘Opponents wouldn’t be able to get the ball off him and I’d stand watching him in amazement and then wouldn’t be ready when he passed the ball to me.’

But Collindridge and Hagan did perfect one double act: ‘After the war Jimmy and I had a routine going that appealed to Jimmy because it meant using his brain.

‘A German bomb had landed on the Bramall Lane pitch and where the crater had been filled in the surface was always a bit soft. I’d manoeuvre my fullback so he was standing on this bit of ground and when he was properly bogged down Jimmy would slip the ball past him for me to run on to.’


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


Biteback buys collected columns of Times sketchwriter

  • May 16, 2019 11:14
  • BookBrunch

Biteback buys collected columns of Times sketchwriter - BookBrunch.co.uk


Patrick Kidd's The Weak Are a Long Time in Politics uses columns from his stint as the paper's political sketchwriter: politics is 'show business for ugly people'

James Stephens, publisher at Biteback, has acquired world rights to The Weak Are a Long Time in Politics: Sketches from the Brexit Neverendum by Patrick Kidd, former political sketchwriter at The Times. 

According to the acquisition statement: 'Politics looked straightforward when Kidd took the reins of the daily political sketch in The Times in 2015. David Cameron had just won a general election and would clearly be Prime Minister for as long as he wanted; George Osborne was his obvious successor (rather than the editor of a free London evening newspaper); Theresa May was a slightly underwhelming Home Secretary; and Jeremy Corbyn an anonymous Labour backbencher best known as a serial rebel against his own party. 

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'Then suddenly everything went a bit strange. In this anthology of his best columns from the past four years, Kidd plays the role of parliamentary theatre critic, chronicling the collapse of Cameron, the nebulous clarity of May, the rise and refusal to fall of Corbyn and Boris Johnson’s repeated failure to keep his foot out of his mouth. Featuring a menagerie of supporting oddballs, such as Jacob and the Mogglodytes, Failing Grayling, Gavin ‘Private Pike’ Williamson and the simpering lobby fodder that are Toady, Lickspittle and Creep, this is a much-needed antidote to the gloom of the Brexit years.' 

Kidd, who is now The Times’ senior writer and diarist, said: "It was my privilege – some might say punishment – to spend three years as a sort of theatre critic for the Westminster Palace of Varieties. The lead actors may not have been up to much and the plot could often be implausible, but there is something captivating about watching politics close up. It is, as they say, show business for ugly people." 

Stephens said: "Brexit has been an interminable process and has changed politics in this country for ever. It is salutary to look back through Patrick’s glorious sketches and chart its terrible course, count the bodies of those whose careers it has killed and marvel at just how far we haven’t come. Patrick is one of the finest, and funniest, writers around, and we are very excited to be publishing him."


The Weak Are a Long Time in Politics by Patrick Kidd | 17th September 2019


When Cliff Jones asked the Tottenham manager for a pay rise – and straightaway knew he had done the wrong thing

  • May 15, 2019 11:45
  • Jon Henderson

Spurs star of the Sixties, Cliff Jones, has vivid memories of the time when the Football League bowed to player power to end the maximum wage and Tottenham Hotspur became the first British club to win a European trophy, the Cup Winners’ Cup – on this day in 1963. In particular he remembers a conversation he had with his new teammate Jimmy Greaves...


In December 1961, Jimmy Greaves had joined Spurs after a short, unhappy stay with AC Milan. He cost Tottenham £99,999, a figure that, rather quaintly by today’s standards, was considered a kindness to the player. It spared him, the reasoning went at the time, from being tagged the first footballer to cost six figures.

When Greaves, a Chelsea player before he went to Milan, switched to White Hart Lane, the maximum wage that professional footballers could earn – £20 a week – had just been scrapped. Cliff Jones, by now an established star in a Spurs team on the up, recalls an interesting conversation with Greaves soon after his arrival.

It went like this:

Greaves: ‘What are you getting paid, Cliff?’

Jones: ‘Fifty quid a week.’

Greaves (who, according to Jones, was on ‘top money’): ‘You should be getting more than that, you’re the best winger in Europe.’

‘At the time you could say I wasn’t far short of that,’ Jones says, ‘because I’d had two great seasons.’

Greaves: ‘You should go and see the manager [Bill Nicholson] and ask for a rise.’

‘I plucked up courage,’ Jones says, ‘and went in to see Bill. He used to sit at this table and he’d be up there and you’d be down there.’

This time there was a very different conversation from the one Jones had had with Greaves:

Nicholson: ‘What’s up, Cliff?’

Jones: ‘Well I’ve come in for a rise.’

Nicholson: ‘Oh have you. On what basis do you want to have a rise?’

Jones: ‘I think I’m the best winger in Europe.’

Jones says he knew straightaway that he had said the wrong thing.

Nicholson: ‘Is that right, son. I’ll tell you now that’s a matter of opinion. On the way out close the door behind you.’

‘Yeah, that was it,’ Jones says. ‘He didn’t mess around, Bill. But I had another terrific season, banged in a few goals, Spurs won the European Cup Winners’ Cup and Bill said, “Cliff, about that rise. OK, I’ll give it to you.”

‘I went up then to £70 a week. It was a big jump and in a successful week I could be knocking off £100, which was good money compared to the man in the street, the working man.’


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


One England footballer sold eggs his chickens laid to fellow players, another worked as a plumber between representing his club and country

  • May 07, 2019 11:45
  • Jon Henderson

Jon Henderson on why he found writing When Footballers Were Skint such a rewarding experience...


Like a conductor without an orchestra, a writer without anything to write about is a lost soul.

A few years ago, I’d finished a biography of the footballer Stanley Matthews and my novel was going nowhere. What to do next?

The answer arrived when a friend mentioned an American sports book written by Lawrence S. Ritter in the 1960s. It was called The Glory of Their Times.

A work that remains popular, it traces the history of baseball during its formative years as an organised sport through a series of interviews with former players.

Straightaway it struck me that football lent itself to a similar exercise. There was only one problem. No one was still alive from football’s earliest days.

The solution soon came to me: make the defining moment of my book that profound event in the game’s development – the abolition of the maximum wage.

Up until January 1961, when the maximum – then standing at 20 quid a week – was scrapped, the game had changed very little. If anything players had become relatively more skint than they had been in the early days of the century.

At first, the new age looked very much like the old one. Players’ wages increased only slowly. The tide really turned when television began to tap into the possibilities offered by such an immensely popular entertainment. Nowadays the professional footballer’s life, sustained largely by television money, is as far removed from it was in the 1960s as a hermit’s is from a hedonist’s.

As I hoped, the several interviews I did with players who had started their careers before the limit on pay was removed – one, Colin Collindridge, who died only recently aged 98, started his before the Second World War – provided me with rich material, tales that seem scarcely believable today.

Even the greatest players, men such as Stanley Matthews and Tom Finney, who were both to be knighted in due course, were too impoverished to own a car, lived in the same rows of terrace houses as the fans and thought nothing of travelling to matches on public transport.

Almost without exception they had to find summer jobs. Building sites were the favourite where players could ‘keep up their strength and get a suntan’, as one of my interviewees, Terry Allcock of Norwich City, put it. Many others had a day job running alongside their football careers.

In Finney’s case, he continued to work as a plumber while for many seasons thrilling the supporters not only of Preston North End but England, too. Tommy Banks, of Bolton Wanderers and England, did work on a farm and kept his own chickens. ‘I had 100 hens who used to lay for me,’ Banks said. ‘I sold eggs all over Farnworth and in the Bolton Wanderers dressing room.’

I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did writing it.


‘My leg swung back and I managed to grab the lower part of it before I hit the ground’

  • May 03, 2019 15:03
  • Jon Henderson

Compared to the understandable concern that has followed Jan Vertonghen’s injury in Tottenham’s Champions League match on Wednesday, the response to injuries suffered by footballers in the 1950s and ’60s seems decidedly medieval...


In most cases in the days before substitutes were allowed it used to be a dab or two of the ‘magic sponge’, a pat on the back and, when a player was too badly hurt to be fully operational, a cheery instruction to hobble back on the pitch ‘and cause a bit of trouble’.

And if the injury was really bad things could be much, much worse. Excruciatingly awful, in fact, in the case of Blackburn Rovers’ Dave Whelan.

At one time things became so dismal in FA Cup finals that the epithet the ‘Wembley hoodoo’ was born.

Because of the Cup’s special status 60 years ago players strove just that little bit harder, which was almost certainly what caused the disproportionate number of injuries.

Mostly it was outfield players who suffered, but in the three finals from 1956-58 it was the goalies who copped it.

Bert Trautmann of Manchester City was the unfortunate victim in 1956.

Trautmann, who had settled in Lancashire after being captured and imprisoned by the British towards the end of the Second World War, was knocked unconscious when he launched himself at the feet of the Birmingham City inside-forward Peter Murphy. It would turn out that this was much more than just a nasty blow on the head.

Bill Leivers, City’s right back, was a few yards from Trautmann when the incident happened.

‘So many times I’d seen him in goal and he was absolutely fearless,’ Leivers says. ‘He’d go down head first and he’d get up and go “Woooo…”, but his pride wouldn’t let him do any more than that.

‘At Wembley he did his usual thing and went down for the ball head first. When he came round I was saying to myself, “He’s really badly hurt”, because he kept feeling his neck, which he wouldn’t normally have done.’

Trautmann kept playing until the end of the match and it was not until four days later that he was found to have dislocated five vertebrae the second of which was broken. He was encased in plaster down to his waist and had four pins inserted in his skull. His recovery took seven months.

The good news for Trautmann was that Manchester City beat Birmingham 3-1.

Twelve months on a collision between the Aston Villa winger Peter McParland and Ray Wood, the Manchester United keeper, was the defning moment of the 1957 final. Even though it transpired that Wood, who was carried off on a stretcher, had suffered concussion and a broken cheekbone, he came back on, first to play on the right wing and then back in goal.

Villa won the match 2-1 with McParland scoring both his team’s goals.

By 1958, when Manchester United reached the final again, this time against Bolton Wanderers, Harry Gregg was United’s keeper.

A no-nonsense shoulder charge by Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse in the fiftieth minute flattened Gregg and sent the ball spinning into the net for a goal that stood. Only later did it become clear that the effect of Lofthouse’s charge, despite which Gregg was soon back in action, might have been so much worse.

Gregg had performed heroically when he survived the Munich plane crash earlier that year, pulling from the wreckage his teammates Bobby Charlton and Dennis Viollet. But it turned out that the crack on the head he received had in fact fractured his skull and, unknowingly, he carried that injury into the 1958 final, which Bolton won 2-0.

The really wince-making injury from this time, though, was Dave Whelan’s horrific mishap playing for Blackburn against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1960 final.

Whelan, playing at left back, was clattered shortly before half time by the Wolves winger Norman Deeley.

‘He went for me,’ Whelan says. ‘I got the ball and he got me. Studs. Stud marks are still on my shin. He came a foot over the ball. Bang. Both bones gone.

‘My leg swung back and I managed to grab the lower part of it before I hit the ground. If I hadn’t the bone would have been protruding, coming out, because it just snapped straight in two. It was so painful and it was constant.

‘They had no injections then. Nowadays the doctor will come on and if you’ve got a break he’ll give you an injection immediately – just to kill the pain before they get you off. None of that.

‘They put me on a stretcher, which was two poles with a canvas in the middle, carried me off and in the Wembley dressing rooms they had about six baths in a row and they put me across one of the baths. Well, the canvas went up and it moved the bone. I screamed – and that happened just as our players were coming in at halftime.

‘They put me on the floor then, but I still hadn’t had anything to kill the pain, and even in the ambulance they didn’t have anything either.’

Whelan was taken to Wembley hospital where a doctor was waiting for him. He had been watching the match on TV, seen the incident and knew where Whelan would be heading. ‘When I arrived there,’ Whelan says, ‘he came into the ambulance, took one look and injected me straight in the leg.

‘It killed the pain within 30 seconds, there and then – while I was still in the ambulance. I said thank you to him afterwards because he was a very good doctor. He was from Poland.’

To add to Whelan’s agony, Blackburn lost 3-0 – and Deeley scored two.


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