‘Why do you want a ball, you’ll see enough of that on a Saturday’

  • April 03, 2019 13:42
  • Jon Henderson

If the attitude on the pitch in top-level football has always been to play hard, the attitude off it – particularly towards training – used to be, well, somewhat different.


Viewed from today, some of what went on in training in the 1940s and ’50s seems positively bizarre.

‘We trained hard enough but it was all left to ourselves,’ Johnny Paton, the former Celtic and Chelsea player, says. ‘Alec Dowdalls, the trainer at Celtic, used to come out with a white coat on, have a look for five minutes, say, “You all right, boys?”, then go back in.

‘Once when we wanted to play five-a-side behind the goal – you weren’t allowed on the pitch – I was detailed to go in and ask Dowdalls for a ball. When I asked him, he said, “Why do you want a ball, you’ll see enough of that on a Saturday”.’

Running was the staple exercise that kept players fit. Howard Riley’s account of how Leicester City trained is fairly typical: ‘Clubs have all got academies now and tremendous facilities but our training was basically centred on the Filbert Street ground.

‘Early season training might include going up to Bradgate Park for some long-distance running, but mostly we’d report to Filbert Street where we’d train on the track round the pitch – lapping, sprinting and some hurdling – and have five-a-side games in the car park wearing gym shoes.

‘We didn’t do a lot of training with the ball apart from the games on the car park and the odd practice match on the main pitch during the week.’

Riley would go back in the afternoons to practise crossing the ball with the goalkeeper Gordon Banks and one or two other players. ‘But that was voluntary,’ he says, ‘and the groundsman wasn’t too happy. You always had to get past him if you wanted to go on the pitch, which seems incredible now.’

In so many other ways the footballer’s life was less fraught, more closely related to the everyday grind of those who watched them or the hacks who wrote about them.

‘At Liverpool, we played a European match in Bratislava,’ Gordon Milne recalls, ‘afterwards the lads went for a beer – we only drank beer, there was no wine or anything – and the five or six journalists who were covering the game came along too.

‘They might be criticising us the next day but we’d all sit together. That was how it was. There wasn’t the edge there is today. Journalists are no longer allowed to fly with the players, they don’t talk to them, they fall out with them. Our time was really good.’

Cliff Jones gives a different slant on the lives of his generation being rooted in ordinariness. Having been carried shoulder high from Ninian Park after scoring Wales’s winner against England in 1955, he did what most other young men did on the Monday morning after the game – he clocked on for a day’s shift.

‘At half past seven I went into the fitting shop at the Prince of Wales Dry Dock,’ he says. ‘I was met by my foreman, Dai Ward, who was a good bloke. He said, “Cliff, well done on Saturday. Now there’s your tools, you got proper work to do, son.”

‘I thought, “Eh, you’re right.” And that’s what shaped me and made me realise how fortunate I was to play football for a living and not, if you like, work for a living, because, as I say, football ain’t work.’

And just like Joe Punter on the terraces, players got married on Saturdays during the football season – rather than in high summer in an Italian monastery.

Freddie Steele, the Stoke City striker, had been granted permission to marry on the last day of the 1937-8 season when Stoke looked safe from relegation. Come the final Saturday things had changed and Stoke had to beat Liverpool at home to stay in the First Division.

The full choral church ceremony went ahead as planned, Steele chatting to the priest and church warden about the game that afternoon as they waited for the bride. The one concession to the match was that Steele missed the reception so he could be in good time for kick-off. He then scored with a diving header in a 2-0 win that kept Stoke in the top division.

‘In the Sixties,’ the Arsenal player Terry Neill says, ‘our rivalry with Tottenham was probably greater than it is now and I remember a 4-0 win against Spurs at the old Highbury, a young Pat Jennings playing in goal for them and I scored a penalty. And that was the day George Graham, who also scored a goal for us, was married.

‘As footballers did in those days, he got married at eleven o’clock in the morning [at Marylebone Town Hall]. And Terry Venables, who was playing for Tottenham against George in the afternoon, was his best man. George then brought his wife to Highbury to watch the match.’


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


Wembley hoodoo that almost cost a brave goalie his life

  • March 29, 2019 16:31
  • Jon Henderson

This article contains a first-hand account of how the Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann suffered a grave injury in the 1956 FA Cup final.


In the 1950s the FA Cup, the world’s oldest football competition, was held in far greater public esteem than it is today. Far, far greater, in fact.

And it was because of the great competition’s special status that players strove that little bit harder with a result that the number of injuries was disproportionate to the number suffered in other matches.

Finals, in particular, were keenly contested, things becoming so bad that the epithet the Wembley hoodoo was born.

Mostly it was outfield players who suffered, but goalies copped it, too.

In 1958 Manchester United’s Harry Gregg was the third keeper in successive finals to be unceremoniously clobbered. A challenge by Bolton’s Nat Lofthouse laid him out and it was discovered only later that things might have been so much worse for Gregg. He had gone into the match with a fractured skull, an injury he suffered a few weeks before in the Munich air crash that killed eight of his United teammates.

Twelve months earlier, in 1957, the stricken goalie was another Manchester United keeper, Ray Wood, who was to lose his place after United recruited Gregg from Doncaster Rovers. Wood had a cheekbone shattered in a collision with Aston Villa’s Peter McParland.

It was the year before that, 1956, that Bert Trautmann of Manchester City was the unfortunate victim of a very nasty collision.

Trautmann, a German who had fought for his country in the Second World War, had settled in Lancashire after being captured and imprisoned by the British towards the end of the war.

A goalkeeper known for his bravery, he was knocked unconscious 17 minutes from the end of the 1956 final 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. His recovery took seven months.

During this time, Leivers became his chauffeur. ‘Bert had a plaster on right down to his waist with four pins into his skull.’


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


Summertime and the living was anything but easy for most professional footballers

  • March 28, 2019 16:07
  • Jon Henderson

Finding summer 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 much 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.’

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 Sweden – actually cost him money. He had his wages docked by Birmingham University and the expenses the Football 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 and now out in paperback.


May at 10 | Anthony Seldon

  • March 28, 2019 10:57
  • Biteback Publishing



Biteback is to publish the definitive insider account of Theresa May’s time in power. May at 10 by political and social commentator and official Downing Street historian, Sir Anthony Seldon, will tell the compelling inside story of the most turbulent period in modern British politics for 100 years.

It will describe how Theresa May arrived in 10 Downing Street in 2016 with the clearest, yet toughest, agenda of any Prime Minister since the Second World War: delivering Brexit. What follows defies belief or historical precedent. This story has never been told.

Including a comprehensive series of interviews with Theresa May’s closest aides and allies, and with unparalleled access to the advisers who shaped her premiership, Sir Anthony will utilise his vast experience to unpack what has been the most intriguing government and enigmatic Prime Minister of the modern era.

Sir Anthony, author of the bestselling biographies of four previous prime ministers, including the critically acclaimed Brown at 10 and Cameron at 10, says: ‘This is the story from inside the engine room, which is very, very different from how it looks from the outside. Only 25 people know what really happened. This story has the oil and sweat and authenticity of the seat of power.’

James Stephens, Publisher at Biteback, says: ‘We are delighted to be publishing Anthony’s account of Theresa May’s troubled time at No. 10. Anthony’s access is unparalleled, as is the quality of his analysis. His vast experience and ability to get to the heart of events in modern British politics (and its principal actors) puts him in a class of his own. Like his previous books, May at 10 will be a masterclass in political biography and history.’

May at 10 will be published in October 2019.

For more information please contact

suzanne.sangster@bitebackpublishing.com or call 020 7091 1260


Glaswegian stonemason who led a football revolution

  • March 27, 2019 11:25
  • Jon Henderson

Fergie Suter played a signficant part in the game’s development in the 19th century both as a pioneer of a new way of playing and as a recipient of financial reward.


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 one of a new breed of footballer would be better appreciated – or even rewarded.

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 was undergoing profound changes.

Among the changes was the way the game was being played – and it was Scottish teams who had been pioneering this change by developing the so-called passing game. Up until now football had been mainly a dribbling game with one man tapping the ball forward while his teammates fell in behind him waiting to start a dribble of their own when he lost the ball.

Suter was in the vanguard of this innovation – an acknowledged master of the ingenious idea of passing the ball forward – that created a more free-flowing spectacle. And as a vastly improved spectacle football started to attract more and more spectators who were prepared to pay a fee to watch matches.

Such was football’s popularity since the new way of playing spread that, as Suter boarded his train in Glasgow, there was even talk of players being paid for their services.

Still, though, the future into which Suter stepped was an uncertain one. It was no more than an outside chance 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’

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’. By which he meant that Suter taught them the new passing game.

No one objected to his doing this, though. It was the spin-off of clubs being able to charge spectators because of the game’s sudden popularity, and therefore putting them in a position to pay players, that would help make Suter what many regarded as a villain of the piece.

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.


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