Veterans’ verdict: our generation would adjust far better to today’s game than the modern player would to when we played

  • August 13, 2018 17:26
  • Jon Henderson

Stars of the 1950s such as Tottenham’s Cliff Jones and Peter McParland of Aston Villa are in no doubt that they and their contemporaries would do just as well if they were playing now.


One forum where old pros can savour a little of the adulation the modern player does and air their views pubicly on changes in the game is the corporate box, that essential addition to the twenty-first-century stadium.

As the star hosts in these boxes on match days the veterans mingle with champagne-fuelled clientele eager to ask questions.

Cliff Jones says not only does he enjoy doing this but he gets paid more than he did when he played for Tottenham from 1958-68. And the question he is asked more than any other is how he thinks he would have fared in today’s game. His reply is that the more relevant question would be: how would the modern footballer have done in the time he, Jones, played?

He says: ‘I think players of my period would adjust far better to the modern game than today’s modern footballers would to the game of yesteryear when it was much more physical.

‘The game may be quicker today, but when I played the ball went forward quicker. You watch Barcelona today. Sometimes they pass right across the midfield, 20 or 30 passes, and they’re still in the midfield.’

Terry Allcock, arguably the deadliest striker Norwich City have ever had during his 11 years (1958-69) at the club, has a similar story. ‘These days,’ he says, ‘I still host the match sponsors at Carrow Road. I look after 20, 25 people and many of them say to me, “Do you think you could play in today’s game?” I say, “I’m sure I could because I had two good feet, I could head the ball and I could score goals for fun, really.”

‘And then I say that they couldn’t have played with us because we were too physical.’

Alex Dawson sees in the modern game the same possibilities that existed for him when he started out for Manchester United in the 1950s: ‘In one respect I wouldn’t really fit in today because the game’s played at a much faster pace. On the other hand what I did was score goals and I think if you’ve got that ability it doesn’t matter which era you play in you’ll always be successful.’

Like Dawson, Peter McParland, an ace scorer for Aston Villa (1952-62), was an attacking forward who sees even greater scope in the modern game for his style of play than existed in his day. ‘I’d fancy playing against lots of the defenders in England now,’ he says, ‘because they give you space. I liked a wee bit of space to get a smack at it, get in and score a goal.

‘If you gave me space I was always capable of eating it up and getting something out of it. And that’s happening now in the game in the goalmouth and my job was to be in there getting touches and that.’

What McParland says he would not enjoy about playing today is ‘all the shady stuff that they do, pull your shirt and all that, which is absolutely outrageous as far as I’m concerned.

‘And you have to put up with it otherwise you’d probably be off for hitting people.

‘During my career you could probably count on one hand the number of times my shirt was pulled. Nobody pulled your shirt and it’s annoying to watch that sort of stuff.

‘When someone came to mark you tight for a corner kick we didn’t pull each other and wrestle with each other and all that because the referee would have given a penalty. Now it’s a penalty only once in a blue moon.

‘I think they’ve got to look at that now. The managers don’t care now if they’re doing it because they’re getting away with it. If they didn’t the manager would have to say, “Hey, you’ve got to stop pulling shirts and dragging fellas down in the penalty area”.’

Howard Riley, an artful winger for Leicester City (1955-65), speaks for ‘most of my generation’. He reckons ‘we’d have been OK playing the modern game. We’d have adapted. As long as players have got the skills and the speed and the awareness – that’s what it’s about.’


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


Eastham's story: from football star to (highly successful) cork salesman - and back again

  • August 10, 2018 12:18
  • Jon Henderson

In 1960 George Eastham walked out on Newcastle United after more than 100 first-team appearances in four years. His action, which led eventually to a move to Arsenal, would change the transfer market for ever.


‘When you think about it,’ George Eastham says, ‘it was a silly sort of situation. All I was looking for was a job in the afternoons because footballers did nothing in those days. You finished at lunchtime and then the rest of the day you became a good snooker player or whatever, a good golfer – but you didn’t have anything to do.’

Eastham was approaching his twenty-fourth birthday. His wedding was coming up. It struck him that rather than potting snooker balls all afternoon it would make more sense to find a second job and save some money.

‘In those days, when you married they gave you a club house to reside in, you paid your rent and that was how it worked. There was no buying your own house because you couldn’t afford it.’

The house he had been given was on the shabby side. If he could earn a little more he might be able to do something about it.

‘But I couldn’t get a job and I couldn’t come to any agreement with Newcastle,’ he says. ‘They told me, “Oh, we’ll get you a job, no problem, no problem.” But nobody ever did anything.’

So one day he told them: ‘I’m off to London to find a work.’

In London he went to see Ernie Clay, an army friend of his father’s, who had a firm in Reigate, Surrey. Thanks to Clay, later the chairman of Fulham football club, Eastham started work as a cork salesman. His career as a footballer was placed on hold because Newcastle had withheld his registration.

The club were entitled to do this under football’s retain-and-transfer rule – aka the slavery rule – despite Eastham’s contract with them having come to an end. What is more, in accordance with the rule, Newcastle stopped paying him and refused to release him to play for anyone else.

The upside for Eastham was that everyone wanted to buy cork off the man whose photograph and story were all over the front pages. ‘Everywhere I went was an open door,’ Eastham says, ‘nobody said they didn’t want to see me because I was in the newspapers. So I sold a bit of cork and I was getting more money selling it than I was playing football.’

Eastham hung on for seven months before Newcastle relented in October 1960 and allowed his transfer to Arsenal. For the moment, this ended one of the most acrimonious ‘moving on’ stories in English professional football.

Eastham repaid Arsenal with six productive years after starting off true to form: two goals on his debut and an early skirmish over his wages now there was no upper limit. In 1966 he would be picked for England's World Cup finals squad but did not get a game.

He fondly remembers his Highbury days – ‘I did well at Arsenal,’ he says. ‘It was a good club for me’ – and evidently the fans liked him, too. An approving profile on the Arsenal website says that Eastham was ‘blessed with a left foot which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the end of Liam Brady’s leg’.

He is touched when I tell him this: ‘Well, that’s good enough for me.’

Something else was happening in the autumn of 1960. Professional footballers generally were on the march and their leader, Jimmy Hill, would soon threaten the strike that ended the maximum wage.

Emboldened by their victory on pay, the Professional Footballers Association resolved to carry on and remove the scourge of the slavery rule.

‘Newcastle were probably hoping that after I eventually signed for Arsenal the dispute over the retain-and-transfer system would fall away,’ Eastham says. ‘But the PFA were looking to me to be the man to take the fight forward, to bring an end to the system.

‘They were coming to the end of their resources – they weren’t a big PFA in those days, they were a small PFA, the money wasn’t coming in like it does now – but they offered to pay my expenses if I carried on.

‘I said, “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go the whole hog.” I wasn’t happy with the way things had gone with my transfer. So the case went to High Court and that broke the retain-and-transfer system.’

It was an historic triumph that could hardly have been concluded by a more appropriate figure. The judge appointed to try the case in 1963 was Mr Justice Wilberforce, whose great-great-grandfather, William Wilberforce, led the movement that resulted in the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

It seems almost too neat to be a mere coincidence that 156 years on Richard Wilberforce would be the one to abolish football’s so-called slavery rule.

Little could Richard Wilberforce or anyone else have known that his landmark decision, even though loudly hailed at the time, would eventually transform the game by quite such a multiple.


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


There were more knives and forks in front of me than we’d got in our house

  • August 08, 2018 11:36
  • Jon Henderson

Alec Jackson made several debuts on 6th November 1954: one was travelling by train, another was having lunch at the Dorchester – and then there was his first game for West Bromwich Albion in English football’s top division.


For many of the young men whose football careers started either side of the Second World War, their first railway journeys as professional footballers were also the first time they had left the localities in which they grew up. The sense of departure must have been as keen as that of an astronaut being fired into space.

Such a man is Alec Jackson. Had he not become a professional footballer Jackson might never have travelled by train for more than a few miles from his home in Tipton in the West Midlands, where he was born in 1937.

Jackson still lives in Tipton. His father was a factory worker and ‘my mum was just a mum’. Jackson himself was educated in Tipton and worked in the town as a machinist for the engineering firm W.G. Allen.

He tells how he was discovered playing for the St John’s Church team at Prince’s End in Tipton. ‘I never got any proper coaching when I was young,’ he says. ‘After we’d seen how the top players did it, we’d go down the fields and we’d have a go at it.

He says he did go to train briefly at Walsall when that club showed an interest in him. Apart from this, the furthest he had ever been until West Bromwich Albion spotted him was Great Bridge, a village just down the road but still within Tipton.

Once signed as a professional as a 17-year-old in September 1954 Jackson’s progress in speeding past some of the Football League’s best fullbacks was rapid. Two months later he boarded a train to London to make his First Division debut for Albion against Charlton Athletic. ‘I couldn’t believe what was happening to me,’ he says. ‘It was unreal, putting me out of contact with the life I’d been used to. A new world hit me.’

He says that at times he found it hard to cope with being so suddenly thrust into the spotlight of professional football. ‘But my football got me out of trouble.’

The journey to London for the Charlton game started when Len Millard, the West Brom captain, picked him up at Great Bridge. When they arrived at Birmingham station a crowd of supporters travelling to the match spotted them.

Jackson reckons he was only five feet tall – he grew to about five six – and being unknown to most of the fans he was probably mistaken for Millard’s son. When they found out he was in fact a player they all crowded around wanting his autograph.

On the train an incident revealed ‘how illiterate I was in terms of my new surroundings’.

One of his new teammates went to buy a round of teas and coffees. Jackson was used to drinking out of a big mug at home and when the teammate called out, ‘How many sugars do you want, Jacko?’, he replied, ‘Oh, put me about six in.’

The coffee cups were only this big, he says, holding the tips of his thumb and index finger three inches apart, and whoever it was shouted back: ‘Where the hell do you think you’re going to put these six lumps then?’

When in London, the team went by coach to a hotel for lunch. ‘I’d never seen anything like it. It was just across the road from…. What do they call that park? That’s it, Hyde Park.

‘It was the Dorchester Hotel.’

When the players sat down for the meal Jackson had a moment of panic. ‘There were more knives and forks in front of me than we’d got in our house.’

Jim Sanders, the goalkeeper and a senior member of the team, came to his rescue. He put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and said: ‘I’ll sit right across from you and whichever tool you’ve got to use I’ll give you the nod.’

‘So every time I went for one he’d either shake or nod his head.’

Not long afterwards Jackson was running onto the pitch to make his debut for West Brom in English football’s top divison. And his impact could hardly have been more immediate. He scored within three minutes against Charlton to set up a 3-1 victory. ‘All I can remember about the goal was that once I’d knocked the ball in they couldn’t catch me,’ he says.


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


What happened when the music hall comedian met the field marshal

  • August 06, 2018 16:10
  • Jon Henderson

One day the Fulham footballer Johnny Haynes was the butt of his chairman’s razor-sharp humour – soon afterwards he was coining it as the country’s best-paid player.


Tommy Trinder is probably the funniest man ever to be chairman of a Football League club.

Born in 1909 in south London, Trinder deployed his rubber features in a double act with his quick wit. He started working in music hall in the 1920s and went on to become one of the country’s best-loved comedians, renowned for his catchphrase, ‘You lucky people’. He was also well known for his association with Fulham Football Club, serving as its chairman for nearly 20 years.

In the 1950s, when Trinder was appearing in a show on the south coast, Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, the president of Portsmouth FC, asked him to watch a match at the Portsmouth ground.

Although Trinder accepted Monty’s invitation, he was more interested in the match Fulham were playing elsewhere that day. In fact he was even more interested than usual because it marked an early appearance by Fulham’s notable young prospect Johnny Haynes. When the result came through, a Fulham win in which Haynes had scored two goals, Trinder told Montgomery that Haynes would one day captain England.

Montgomery seemed less fascinated by this than by how old Haynes was and Trinder told him off-guardedly that the player was only 18.

‘Shouldn’t he be doing national service?’ Montgomery said.

Back on guard, Trinder’s razor repartee came to his rescue: ‘That’s the other thing about him – he’s a cripple.’

Legend has it that some years later the performer in Trinder and his high regard for Haynes steered him towards another corner. The problem stemmed from his constant eulogising to anyone who would listen about just how good a player the Fulham and, by now, England forward was.

Crucially, he eulogised to Haynes himself. ‘If I could pay you more than 20 quid a week, Johnny, you know I would,’ Trinder supposedly told Haynes, confident that football’s wage cap was set in reinforced concrete. ‘With your skills you’re worth 100 quid a week. Easy.’

And not only did he tell Haynes, he told the press – and Haynes kept the cuttings to prove it.

But there is much more than this to why Trinder ended up paying Haynes over the odds when maximum earnings disappeared and pay bargaining arrived in 1961. It was far more an act of pragmatism than a consequence of an arm being wrung.

The fact is that at the end of the 1960-61 season, three months after the demise of the regulated wage, the Italian club AC Milan were trying hard to sign Haynes, as well as Jimmy Greaves, then of Chelsea, for a record-shattering transfer fee of £100,000. Milan were prepared to pay Haynes a £15,000 signing-on fee and a weekly wage of more than £200.

Trinder’s offer to Haynes was made in response to this. The size of the salary he promised the Fulham captain varied according to which newspaper you read: anywhere from £4,000 a year to £100 a week. And the London Evening Standard reported that by staying in England Haynes could top up his annual income to £7,000 with a few a little earners on the side: ghosted newspaper articles, advertising – Haynes replaced the cricketer Denis Compton as Brylcreem’s shiny-haired pin-up – and business interests.

Haynes himself confirmed that reasons beyond football were what were keeping him in London, among them a 22-year-old cabaret dancer called Eileen Farmer.

Inevitably, other clubs moaned about Trinder’s largesse. Bill Jones, the Cardiff City manager, for example, wondered sourly how his generosity would be funded. ‘Gates are the only income clubs receive,’ he said, ‘and these are dropping.’

On the other hand, the press generally praised the Fulham chairman for being more than just a funny man. At last someone was recognising that if clubs did not start to pay wages that were competitive with other countries the English game would fall further behind than it was already.

J L Manning, the Daily Mail’s trenchant and influential columnist, described Trinder’s action as a ‘bold, brave and sensible application of soccer’s New Deal’. Manning warmed to his theme: ‘It took the issue of strike notices by the players’ union and the whip of Parliamentary and public condemnation of our football system to wring from the clubs the concessions that now help to keep England’s captain here.’

He might have added that Trinder was not as daft as he looked.


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


Bluffocracy by James Ball and Andrew Greenway || REVIEW by Stuart Crank

  • August 03, 2018 14:17
  • Stuart Crank

Government of PPE, by PPE, for PPE || REVIEW by Stuart Crank / @S_W_C__

Day by day, from one blunder to the next, goings-on in Westminster are increasingly coming to resemble a pantomine production - and a third-rate one at that, complete with ridiculous villians, a decaying backdrop, and a notable lack of any heros or heroines. But worst of all, one in which none of the cast seem to remember their lines and directions. They all look like they’re “winging it”.

This is exactly what James Ball and Andrew Greenway hit upon in their new book, Bluffocracy, an upcoming addition to Biteback’s polemical Provocations series. They argue that the British political class - the government, media and civil service - is overrun with bluffers. By ‘men - it’s usually men - whose core skills are talking fast, writing well and endeavouring to imbue the purest wind with substance.’ So that we are, in effect, governed by a ‘bluffocracy’.

The authors lay the blame for the bluffocracy on the education system, and on ‘the ultimate course for a bluffer in waiting’ in particular: Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at Oxford. Since its conception approximately a century ago the course has been the golden ticket for those who aspire to one day walk the corridors of power. Exemplified by the fact that the course boasts several Prime Ministers, several hundred Cabinet ministers, legions of journalists, and even a few Presidents among its alumni.

The authors - two PPE graduates, guilty as charged - argue that the course is ‘the perfect preparation for bluffers in public life’. Structured in such a way that it rewards those who can master a task (on the surface at least) in a matter of days or even hours. ‘It is the degree where one is presented as knowing everything, and it provides a bluffer with the tools to give that impression. Beneath the surface, it teaches you exactly how to do enough, in just enough time, to make sure the mask doesn’t easily slip off.’

Cover bluffocracyThis tendency for bluffing is exported over to those sectors and institutions which the majority of it’s graduates gravitate toward - namely, the government, civil service and media. ‘For a country that remains incredibly snobbish about vocational education versus going to university, there is an irony that PPE, perhaps its most notorious degree, is actually the ultimate vocational course.’Irony aside, given the high amount of its graduates that do enter public life, the stucture of the course exerts a profound influence on the composition and operation of this country’s governing and media institutions.

It is because of this that ‘we live in a country where George Osborne can become a newspaper editor despite having no experience in journalism, squeezing it in alongside five other jobs… [and] where the minister who holds his job for eighteen months has more expertise than the supposedly permanent senior civil servants’.

On first hearing, this supposed bluffocracy doesnt appear to be the most of pressing concerns, what with Brexit, HS2, the housing crisis, and not to mention the coming revolution in AI. Besides, the notion that those of who inhabit the upper eschelons of power are bluffers - knowing a little bit about everything, and an awful lot about nothing - is hardly a novel one. Ever since Castiglione and the Renaissance the “jack of all trades, master of none” ethos has been well documented, even encouraged.

But the authors are adament that the our prevailing bluffocracy is in many ways more serious and insidious a problem than may first appear. ‘Hardwired blagging is woven into the cause of many challenges we’re facing, shaping the short-termism and lack of detail that plagues our national institutions, and contributing to the crisis of trust in British political life.’

And it is here that they are really onto something. Confidence in the competence and motives of our political class is at an all time low - and that really is saying something. Nowhere was this made more evident than on 23rd June 2016, when the electorate (albeit narrowly) rejected the edicts of the pro-EU establishment. “Project Fear” as it has become known, really was a bluff-too-far for many.

For those that did vote leave, they did so in the hope that their lives would improve; so that politicians closer to home would pay closer attention to their grievances, and address them effectively. But if our governing and media institutions continue to be run by bluffers, it is likely that these hopes will be met with disappointment. There is, after all, little point in ceding the rule of 100,000 Brussels Bureaucrats only to be left with 100,000 Balliol Bluffoons in the driving seat.

Indeed, if our bluffocracy continues unabated and unchanged - and if the events since June 2016 are anything to go by, this seems more likely than not - then leaving the EU is likely to make the electorate even more disillusioned with the competance of our political class. For exporting blame over the English Channel will no longer be an option, and Britain’s bluffers will be centre stage, warts and all, for all to see.

If this does transpire, then, like the paying audience of a shoddy pantomine, the electorate - leavers and remainers - will be tempted to storm out and demand their money back, risking the end of this production for good. What to be replaced by, nobody knows.

Polemical by name, and certainly polemical by nature, Bluffocracy is a forceful, erudite, and insightful edition to Biteback’s already groundbreaking series; and essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the bluffoonery underlying the issues of governance in contemporary Britain.


Click here: Bluffocracy by James Ball / @jamesrbuk and Andrew Greenway / @ad_greenway

Published: 16 AUGUST 2018