The Noble Liar | Introduction

  • November 20, 2018 12:44
  • Robin Aitken

The Noble Liar: How and why the BBC distorts the news to promote a liberal agenda ||

Robin Aitken


DEAR READER, INDULGE ME for a few moments and enter into a thought experiment. Suppose you were to land in Britain from outer space, an alien explorer with no foreknowledge of the country, no understanding of its culture or history, how would you go about trying to make sense of the place? A useful place to start might be to try to determine where authority lay. ‘Who’s in charge here?’, the alien wants to know, deploying that intergalactic travel cliché, ‘Take me to your leader’. But unravelling the question – what makes this place tick? – yields a very complex answer with many ambiguities and conundrums.
         Perhaps our alien would seek out and consult some constitutional expert to guide them through the formal structure. They might be told that Britain, aka the United Kingdom, is a constitutional monarchy, and that all power is exercised in the name of the monarch. They would hear how the Crown is a hereditary institution, with kingship passed down through the family line; that usually the monarch is male, but can be female if the family tree so dictates. It would then have to be explained that although the monarch is the head of state from whom all authority notionally flows, in reality, the individual sitting on the throne exercises almost no executive power.
         Real power, they would learn, lies in the hands of Parliament (and its legislature), which passes laws in the monarch’s name; and that Parliament is the domain of people we call politicians, and that these people are elected by the ordinary citizens who, periodically, are asked to vote to elect those they favour. This system, we call ‘democracy’. We would have to introduce our visitor to the idea of ‘the rule of law’, which embodies the important principle that, once Parliament has legislated, everyone in the country is subject to the law – no one is above it – and that this system relies upon an acquiescence by all, even those who oppose certain specific laws.
         This explanation, though, is far from comprehensive; to make sense of how democracy works the whole question of political parties would have to be untangled – as well as an elucidation of what ‘parties’ actually are. Namely, that they are voluntary groupings that coalesce around certain abstract philosophical and economic ideas. We would have to explain that, while all parties are to a certain extent tribes that stick together in the face of opponents, some of the smaller parties, like the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru are much more tribal, and are largely concerned with group identity. At some point our constitutional expert would also have to try to outline that the foregoing explanation applies only to the House of Commons, and that, when it comes to the ‘Upper Chamber’, a whole different set of – sometimes illogical – rules apply. Luckily our alien is equipped with massively powerful cognitive abilities, so all this information can be taken in without trouble; they are, after all, only seeking to understand what the system is – they are not trying to interrogate our constitutionalist expert about any anomalies or inconsistencies.
         So, Parliament, democracy and the rule of law succinctly explained, there we have it: that is where authority lies in contemporary Britain. Not so fast, alien truth seeker. We have many levels of complexity yet to unravel. There is, for instance, the European Union, and its authority superimposed on our domestic arrangements. It is true, we seem to be on our way out of that particular structure, but there are other international organisations of which the UK is a member, which can also lay claim to some authority in certain areas of life. The UN, NATO, the International Court of Justice, and so on: a whole host of organisations which can exercise some degree of authority. And then there are referendums – those occasional plebiscites that test the public will on matters of importance.
         And so our visitor would come to see that though preeminent, Parliament’s authority is not absolute. And at this point, it would have to be explained that the account given so far only covers the formal structures of power. To understand why that power is exercised in the way it is we would have to introduce our alien visitor to another concept, which we might term moral authority. That is to say, the authority which flows from our understanding of fundamental truth. A grasp of this particular concept is necessary to comprehend why the politicians who we elect do what they do; and to understand the mechanisms by which the legislature is guided, so that it is in accord with the popular will. So, for instance, we hold it to be a fundamental truth that no individual can be executed by the state because we have decided that it is always wrong for the state to kill its own citizens. But from where does such a belief come? Not from the popular will, which has always been in favour of the death penalty; although support for the death penalty has been slowly declining and dipped below 50 per cent for the first time in 2015, according to recent figures. And if you discount the undecided, those wanting its reintroduction outnumber opponents by 45 per cent to 39 per cent. So, answering this question introduces a level of complexity quite above and beyond anything which our back-of-the-envelope introductory course on the British constitution has so far attempted.
         From where does this moral authority derive? Our alien quite understandably wants to know. Where to start? Perhaps with Christianity and the ‘national church’ – the Church of England – and some elementary theology. At this point our alien would have to be introduced to the notion of an omniscient Creator who we call God; an entity beyond human understanding who brought our planet, and indeed the whole universe including our alien, into being through an act of inscrutable will at the beginning of the dimension we call time. One can foresee some potential problems here, but let us battle on regardless (we aren’t inviting a debating contest with this stranger, merely telling it how it is according to orthodox Christian teaching): God has handed down to us fundamental truths which, should we listen to our consciences, will guide our actions. But then we would have to heavily qualify this belief by explaining that the Church of England, though nominally the ‘national church’, has only a relatively small and dwindling number of members. And that, in fact, in the UK there are many other religions, some of which have significantly more committed adherents than the C. of E.
         Our alien might, at this point, be forgiven for some confusion; after all, surely the ‘national church’ of which the monarch is the ‘supreme governor’ has some right to assert primacy in this area? The point could be argued, but not conclusively. There is no clear answer. And anyway, we would be obliged to point out that, according to polling evidence, many citizens reject this traditional idea of a Creator God along with the right of any of the many and various churches to lay claim to any moral authority whatsoever. Many Britons see themselves as secularists – actively opposed to religion of all stripes – and if one had to pigeonhole their philosophy, ‘humanism’ might be as good a label as any.
         So what moral authority do these citizens, the atheists, acknowledge? Well, that is a devilishly tricky question to answer. We would have to admit that many citizens have but little faith in the moral authority of politicians but that – by way of counterbalance – there is widespread support for the notion of ‘the rule of law’. While many citizens are critical of the law as it stands, and believe it should be improved in ways that accord with their own preferences (so that there is a constant debate about what the law should be), the United Kingdom is a country where there is a consensus that the law binds us all. Leaving aside criminals, who obviously reject the law, here perhaps we have arrived on solid ground. It is in the law itself that true authority resides, and the fact that our laws derive from a democratic process invests them with a kind of moral authority. But our alien is puzzled; what, it wants to know, determines what the law should be? The politicians, our expert replies, who take their instruction from the voters. And how do the voters form their view of what the law should be? Ah, now we have hit upon a further complexity.
         The voters formulate their views of how the world should be through their own intellectual processes, which in turn, are informed by a myriad of sources; everything from a conversation with a neighbour over the hedge (a quaint image – more likely these days to be a Facebook exchange), to their own reading and investigation of issues important to them, as well as following formal political debates accommodated by newspapers, radio, television and online sources. These interactions between individuals and the ideas floating around them are what the commentators, somewhat pompously, call the ‘national conversation’ – though it seems most of the time, most people are not included. It is a conversation heavily mediated by various forms of communication – books, newspapers, radio, television, the internet – doubtless all rather primitive in the view of this advanced alien. This debate, unceasingly conducted through all the different types of media available and contributed to by many different individuals and organisations, acts upon the politicians who then enact laws to carry into effect the will of the majority. Simple, n’est-ce pas?
         Our alien visitor, because of their superior cognition, has easily grasped the main points; they get our drift. They see that, in theory at least, in the UK, the voters are the masters: authority flows from the people, upwards, to Parliament, which enacts the will of the people by passing laws that reflect the majority view. They understand that this is an imperfect system in the sense that it means no one individual is ever completely satisfied with the state of the law (because it is unlikely that any one individual agrees with every law), but that this collective expression of the majority’s preferences – what we call public opinion – is a serviceable starting point for ruling the country according to the will of the people. It does not then take our alien long to figure out that the most important influence acting on the whole democratic mechanism is this notion of the public’s aggregate opinion; if the system is working properly, a majority opinion emerges in the public mind and the legislators duly take notice and pass laws accordingly. And it follows from this that the institutions which mould public opinion play a very important role in the whole process. The ideal situation is that through a process of public debate everyone engages with a topic, the different sides struggle for supremacy and eventually one side emerges triumphant having persuaded a majority to support it. Then this winning idea is transmitted via the various mechanisms which act upon the legislators and, at the end of the process, new laws and regulations emerge reflecting the majority opinion. But is this, in reality, how our system works?
         At this point our explanation needs to take a short detour to describe the country’s media landscape. The UK is a country rich in media sources. We have about 100 daily newspapers: some national, some regional, and about 450 weekly newspapers. There are also about 8,000 magazine titles, of which some are very specialist, but about 3,000 of which are aimed at a general audience (an increasing number are available only online). We have an enormously prolific book publishing industry – the UK publishes about 180,000 books per year,1 which is the highest, per capita, in the world. We also have nearly 500 television stations, which variously cater for both a broad range of tastes as well more niche markets, and there are about 600 radio stations. And, finally, there’s the internet, where the range and variety of sources cannot reliably be counted. What this amounts to is a cornucopia of information; we are surrounded by a sea of data, factual news reports and opinion. No one in Britain can plausibly claim to be starved of facts – seek and ye shall find.
         Given all this our alien might conclude that the UK has the wherewithal to nourish a system that reliably reflects the popular will, and, in theory, that is the case. But if our alien, having absorbed the theory, set about doing some fieldwork among the natives, they would find that is not how it seems to an increasing number of citizens. Rather, the country appears at odds with itself over all manner of subjects. Our alien would discover that in the view of many people, the rules which govern our lives make no sense any longer; that there is a deep disconnect between the views of the ordinary citizen, based on their own ‘common sense’, and the prevailing orthodoxies which are promoted in the media and which often end up being enshrined in legislation. Many people feel something has gone wrong. 
         Thankfully, you might feel, we can now discard the rather tiresome device of our alien and bring the subject of this book into focus: it is an examination of why there is such a gulf between the world as the media presents it, and the world as most ordinary people experience it. Why is it that so many people find no echo of their own opinions in the big media outlets that serve them? And this brings the British Broadcasting Corporation to centre stage. The BBC, by a very large margin, is the most important media organisation in the country, and to understand what has gone wrong, we need to examine this mighty institution in close detail.
         This book is about something so pervasive that it is difficult to see it clearly. It is like the story of the three fish. Two fish were swimming side by side in their pond; a third fish swam towards them and as he passed said, ‘Nice water today’, and swam on. After he’d gone, one of the fish turned to his companion and said, ‘What’s water?’ The mass media is the water we swim in and it takes an effort of concentration to see it as it really is. The etymology of the word ‘media’ leads back to its Latin root, meaning ‘intermediate agency’. In our common usage it implies all those intermediate agencies, like the BBC, which present us with information about the world. It is a function so commonplace that we hardly notice it, and yet it has a profound impact on the way we live. Without an understanding of its guiding philosophy we are in danger of being led blindfold into a way of thinking we have not freely chosen, but have merely absorbed.
         In pursuit of better understanding our media, and particularly the BBC, the following pages will explore the size, scope and influence of the Corporation within the context of issues of contemporary importance; Brexit, for instance. The writer and social commentator David Goodhart coined a useful formula for a difference in outlook between two big groups in society; he said that people are largely divided into ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’. His theory is that ‘somewheres’ are more traditional types: the sort of people who feel rooted in a particular place in a particular culture. These are the sort of people who voted to leave the EU. ‘Anywheres’, by contrast, are the kind of people who feel pretty much at home anywhere in the Western world; these are the global citizens who feel as much at ease in Sydney, Saratoga or Sydenham. They have wider horizons and weaker national allegiances and they voted instinctively to remain in the EU. One of the things this book examines is why it has come to be that the BBC – which might be thought quintessentially British – so often sounds like one of these ‘anywheres’.
         If my analysis is right, an understanding the BBC’s ‘deep state’ helps to explain certain obvious biases in its news coverage; why it is, for instance, that the Corporation is so nakedly hostile to Donald Trump’s presidency and Viktor Orbán’s ascendancy in Hungary. Also, why the theories that drive radical feminism are never challenged and why the difficult subject of Islam in the West is consistently soft-pedalled. Most importantly, and overarchingly, this book explains how it is that the BBC has become so deeply hostile to social conservatism – that way of thinking, shared by tens of millions of us, which values a traditional moral code that emphasises virtues like patriotism, self-restraint and decency. Social conservatives are at odds with a media culture which is obsessed with identity politics; they mistrust the campaigns of self-declared victimised minorities – whether defined by sexual orientation, gender or ethnicity.
         The BBC has come to the point where it now, seemingly automatically, takes the side of the identitarians in every debate. It has become an unthinking champion of a set of values sometimes called ‘liberal’ (but in no way distinguished by the tolerance once thought integral to a liberal mindset), which has profoundly changed British society over the past half-century. The culture we inhabit – much of it trashy, tawdry and shallow – is in large measure the creation of our media. Individually, we have not willed this culture into existence, it is the work of many hands, but it has arrived nevertheless because there has been no apparent way to stop it, nor any concerted attempt to do so. The first step in reversing the process is for us to collectively understand it, which is precisely what this book sets out to achieve.
         The title of this book draws on a concept originated in Plato’s Republic; a ‘noble lie’ is a myth or an untruth, knowingly propagated by an elite, in order to promote and maintain social harmony or advance an agenda. The BBC prides itself on being a ‘truth teller’: its hard-won, worldwide reputation is built on the foundation stone of audience trust. But what ‘truth’ is the BBC telling? It is the contention of this book that the BBC, along with its media and establishment allies, has become the vehicle for the propagation of a series of noble lies in pursuit of a political agenda.
         Though the noble lie is always told with the best of intentions, there is an inherent problem with it: the deception misleads people and substitutes imagined problems for real ones. The great danger is that sooner or later people will realise they have been duped, and this will be a moment of great peril for the established order – with unpredictable consequences. This is the prospect facing Britain. What is urgently needed, this book will argue, is a new and bracing honesty which allows the nation to face its problems in full possession of some uncomfortable facts.


The Noble Liar: How and why the BBC distorts the news to promote a liberal agenda ||

Robin Aitken


Money, money, money – but for the players football remains a precarious profession

  • November 19, 2018 10:55
  • Jon Henderson

If Ben Purkiss, chairman of the PFA, the professional footballers’ union, needs inspiration as he seeks to improve the lot of the modern player he should look no further than Jimmy Hill, Jon Henderson writes


The trouble stirring at the Professional Footballers’ Association over the circumstances of many modern players is a timely reminder that although a good number of them earn fantastic wages theirs can be as precarious an occupation as any other.

Ben Purkiss, the PFA’s chairman, drew attention to this fact last week when he said: ‘I would like to see a situation where they [the players] truly understand what we can do for them, not just in times of need but taking the proactive approach. Going into dressing rooms, talking to the younger players, helping them financially, so – for all the players who do fall by the wayside and have their dreams shattered – we are there, they know exactly who to come to and they can come to us straight away.’

He might have added that even those on fantastic wages are not immune from having their lives shattered. The pitfalls for the twenty-first century footballer are evident from figures broadcast recently by a charity for former players. These show that two out of every five of them are made bankrupt within five years of retiring from the game.

Reading Purkiss’s words immediately made me think of Jimmy Hill, the PFA’s chairman from 1956-61. There have been many admirable chairmen of the players’ organisation since Hill but the link between Purkiss and Hill is particularly strong.

It was on Hill’s watch that the players overthrew the maximum wage – rigidly enforced at £20 a week before it was abolished in 1961 – and cleared the way for their earnings to become commensurate with the highly skilled entertainment they provided for huge audiences.

And some might argue that what Hill did created the conditions that produced the sort of distress that Ben Purkiss is now having to deal with.

This would be a distortion. The fact is that Hill was first and foremost a player – if no more than modestly successful for Brentford (1949-52) and Fulham (1952-61) – and remained staunchly on their side through his years as a manager with Coventry City (1961-67) and celebrated TV pundit.

Also, his success in driving through the reform of wages was by no means the opening of the wages’ floodgates. For many years after 1961 the rate of increase proceeded at an orderly, pragmatic pace.

Where things went wrong was identified not long ago by Jim White writing in the Daily Telegraph: ‘What happened later, as post‑Bosman all the power leached into the hands of the superstar player and his agent, was not the fault of Hill. He may have released the genie form the bottle, but he cannot be held responsible for the subsequent failure to corral it. What Hill did was right, proper and decent.

‘The subsequent arms race in player salaries is rather the fault of those owners and administrators who have failed to exercise appropriate control. Just as it was when he was agitating against their parsimony.’

As a journalist myself I interviewed Jimmy Hill on two or three occasions and got to know what sort of a man he was. An anecdote tells its own story, remembering it is from the time when Hill had become a national celebrity through his trenchant punditry:

I asked him one day if he might give away the awards after a fundraising event for a medical charity. ‘Maybe you’d say a few words,’ I said. He came, he charmed, he spoke movingly, alluding briefly to his own mid-life medical problems that he had overcome. He waved aside the charity’s offer to pay for a taxi. But he did accept my offer to drop him off at Victoria Station.

I have a last image of him cheerily stepping out of the car into a windswept night. He had given freely of his services and turned what might have been a mundane evening into something a little special.

He was and still is – even though he died three years ago – an inspirational figure and I am confident he would be right behind Ben Purkiss in what he is trying to achieve.


Jon Henderson is the author of When Footballers Were Skint / @hendojon published by Biteback Publishing.


So great was Matthews’s performance that one observer reckoned ‘you’d have to be a Rockefeller to buy him now’

  • November 16, 2018 14:47
  • Jon Henderson

Eighty years ago today the great Stanley Matthews, at the age of 23, gave what many argued was the best of his many outstanding performances in a 7-0 win by England over Northern Ireland at Old Trafford. One journalist wrote at the time: ‘The poker-faced, bandy wizard sent his stock soaring so high that, all personal personal likes and dislikes apart, you’d have to be a Rockefeller to buy him now.’ While researching my book When Footballers Were Skint, I was constantly reminded by the old professionals I interviewed, quite what a brilliant player he was – and that his occasional remoteness was offset by acts of generosity.


What stands out is not just that nearly everyone I interview recognises Stanley Matthews as a player of conspicuous brilliance for his two clubs, Stoke City and Blackpool, and for England. Also, almost without exception, they treasure a clearly recalled Matthews anecdote – and not necessarily one that ends with them on the seat of their pants as the wizard of the dribble disappears over the horizon.

Although there are, of course, plenty of these.

Bill Leivers remembers when Manchester City played Blackpool in the 1950s: ‘Roy Paul who was our captain, a Welsh international, played left half. Before the game against Blackpool, Roy said to the manager, “Let me play against Matthews, let me play left fullback”, which the manager let him do and I don’t think Roy hardly touched the ball. Matthews ran the legs off him.

‘He always did the same thing, Matthews. He’d move over to the left and you knew he was going that way. He got everyone who played against him feeling, “There’s no way he can come back from over there and go that way.” But he did – time after time after time.’

Roy Wood, who played in goal for Leeds United in the ’50s, sympathises with Roy Paul. ‘I played against some great forwards for Leeds,’ he says, ‘but that forward line of Blackpool’s that included Stanley Matthews and Stan Mortensen was marvellous.

‘On one occasion Matthews was coming along the byline at me with the ball and I dived at his feet, but when I opened my eyes there was no ball and no Matthews. He’d gone. I remember thinking to myself, “What the hell’s going on here”.’

Johnny Paton says he noticed something else about Matthews, ‘which I don’t think many others did.

‘For the first maybe ten minutes of a match he would do different things. First ball he got he’d pass it back to Harry Johnston at half-back, second ball he’d find Stan Mortensen in the middle, third ball he’d cross it right away.

‘The fullback would be thinking, “Matthews isn’t that great” and start to relax and then, oh, oh, and for the rest of the match he’d have his marker in a state of complete confusion.’

Off the pitch Matthews could seem remote, but plenty of stories exist of his special brand of thoughtfulness.

One of these is told by Don Ratcliffe who was in the Stoke City side to which Matthews returned in 1961. ‘I kept asking Stan if I could have some of his handmade boots,’ Ratcliffe says. ‘He wouldn’t give me them. “No, you’ll hurt yourself,” he said. They were very soft, you see, just like skin. Very light.

‘Anyhow, when I signed for Middlesbrough and was leaving Stoke he gave me two pairs, two, brand-new pairs. I was really chuffed with them.’

Ratcliffe was mortified that ‘when I took them to Boro somebody pinched them, one of the players’.

Ratcliffe also remembers that although Matthews could be tetchy the mood soon passed. ‘I remember playing the ball to Stan and he came running up to me, “Don’t you ever pass a ball like that to me again,” he said. “Just remember I’ve got three gorillas trying to kill me. If you’re going to give me the ball just smack it straight to me, very hard.”

‘Anyhow, soon afterwards I got this ball and I was ten yards away from him and I thought, “Yeah, I’ll show you for telling me off.” So I smacked it really hard, but mis-hit it and it was going about four-foot high into the crowd. And he just put his foot up and killed it dead.

‘I couldn’t believe it. He got it on the end of his toe. “That’s better,” he said and put his arm up to say thanks.’

Howard Riley of Leicester has a curiously touching Matthews anecdote. ‘It was only towards the end of his career that I played against him,’ Riley says, ‘and when he turned up to play in a testimonial at Filbert Street he said to me, “All right, Howard.”

‘He played against so many other players more than he did against me that I hadn’t really expected him to remember who I was. I considered it a compliment.’

Colin Collindridge testifies to Matthews’s ‘gentleman’s way of doing things’. The occasion was an FA Cup tie in 1945-46 – the only season when ties were played over two legs. Collindridge scored three times in the second leg but Sheffield United still lost 4-3 on aggregate to a Matthews-inspired Stoke City.

‘As I was running off the pitch this fella came up to me,’ Collindridge says. ‘I looked round and it was Stanley Matthews, who was the best right winger for years. He shook my hand and said, “I know you’ve lost Colin but thanks for a great match.” And that was it; off he went.

‘Now I thank Matthews for this. I wasn’t in his class as a footballer but he still had the time to congratulate me.’

Stanley Matthews made his first Football League appearance aged 17 in 1932 and his final one aged 50 in 1965. In the match against Northern Ireland at Old Trafford in 1938 he gave the supreme expression of his skills as a goal provider.

Willie Hall, the Tottenham forward, was the player who profited, four of his five goals being created by Matthews. It was ample compensation for a perceived slight suffered by Hall when, 10 days earlier, he partnered Matthews on the right playing for the English League against the Scottish League. Matthews was accused of ignoring Hall, choosing instead to flaunt his sleight of foot in the 3-1 victory.

Matthews said he had been dismayed by the criticism and only after he had corrected this did he put on an exhibition against the Northern Irish, scoring England’s seventh goal after a serpentine run from the halfway line.

Billy Meredith, whose performances, mostly on the right wing, for Wales between 1895 and 1920 had made him as feted a player as Matthews, said: ‘Not until the match against [Northern] Ireland had fans talked about him being the best ever… If he’s not the best, there certainly never was better.’


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


It was a man’s game and scrapping ‘was part of my upbringing’

  • November 15, 2018 12:34
  • Jon Henderson

Colin Collindridge is from Yorkshire mining stock, a background that defined him during his career as a professional footballer with three Football League clubs either side of the Second World War. He is 98 today.


Throughout my two interviews with Colin Collindridge – the second was partly to clear up some things he had said during the first and partly to convince myself I had not dreamed him up – I am constantly reminded, in various ways, that where he came from near Barnsley a man was nothing without his manhood and a footballer was nothing if he was not prepared to settle something behind the stands with his jacket off and sleeves rolled up – and then share a pint of bitter and a laugh.

These are things that obsess him over and above the considerable success and popularity he achieved at his three League clubs – Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest and Coventry City – as a speedy left-winger, and occasional centre forward, with a bullet shot.

He and his wife Glenice are as attentive and hospitable hosts as you could find, but even today seated and leaning back, his face softened by a disarming smile and never wasting an opportunity to extol the singing voice of Bing Crosby, Collindridge makes me feel ever so slightly uneasy.

In fact there is one tense moment when his face clouds and he stiffens just a little. He wants to know whether, since I keep glancing at the clock, I would prefer to be on my way. I tell him – and, thankfully, he accepts my explanation – it is the family photographs on the mantelpiece that are distracting me, not the time.

But I get the sense that in common with most men who regard their masculinity as the ultimate badge of worth, he holds women in the highest regard, even fears them a little. Of the two other people in the room with him – Glenice is the other – I suspect he would pick a scrap with me if he wanted the easier victory.

‘I’ve met hundreds of nice females,’ he says, ‘including my missus, who’s a good Nottingham girl who puts me in my place.’

Glenice rolls her eyes wearily at having to listen to a familiar script. Collindrige keeps going: ‘You’ve heard of Jock McAvoy, the boxer, a Lancashire lad who fought for the world light-heavyweight title? Well my missus is a better scrapper than Jock was.

‘And you’ve heard of Betty Grable? Well, she paid a million dollars to insure her legs and they were great legs and my missus had legs that were as good as Betty Grable’s. But she doesn’t believe me, because she doesn’t believe anything I say…’

He returns to his father: ‘He worked in the mines after he left school. He’d got one or two mates who stuck up for miners and he could use his tongue, my dad, but he could also use these [he holds up his fists]. So if the coalmine owners had one or two rough tough guys my dad used to sort them out generally with that [he holds up his right fist], although I think he were a southpaw, actually.

‘He taught me nicely but the only thing was at school I was always in scraps because someone wanted to fight me. And, of course, generally I showed them that one [he holds up his left fist] and banged them with it, because I was southpaw. So that was part of my upbringing.’

Physicality will be one of the most popular reference points for the players I visit, for none more so than Collindridge. And the fact he is from rugged mining stock, and mighty proud of it, is particularly relevant, a hefty strand in what differentiates football either side of the Second World War from what it has become.

Footnote: Glenice, Colin Collindridge’s redoubtable wife, died earlier this year.


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


How two members of City’s reserve team helped to transform the English playing system

  • November 14, 2018 14:14
  • Jon Henderson

Manchester City’s standing as a progressive club goes back much further than the reign of the current manager, Spaniard Pep Guardiola – although in 1954 the players themselves were the innovators


Manchester City’s 5-0 defeat away to Preston North End in their opening match of the 1954-55 Football League season was not the most auspicious start to the launch of a revolutionary playing system.

In fact the so-called ‘Revie plan’ was radical only as far as an English club side were concerned. City were doing no more than copying the way Hungary had played a year earlier when they beat England 6-3 in London.

The victory made Hungary the first continental team to win at Wembley and shook not only the English game’s deeply entrenched complacency, also its understanding of where players should be deployed on the pitch.

This understanding dated right back to football’s emergence in the nineteenth century as a passing game (previously it had been a matter of a player dribbling the ball until dispossessed).

Most significantly Hungary deployed a deep-lying, freewheeling centre forward, Nandor Hidegkuti. This completely flummoxed England’s defence who were drilled to mark a No 9 who occupied a fixed point leading the attack from a central, forward-lying position.

But it was much more than Hidegkuti’s simply playing ‘out of position’ that so baffled England. The England players and domestic press were utterly confused by what was going on all over the pitch.

Over the years Hungary’s manager Gustav Sebes has been credited with deploying any number of formations on that late autumn afternoon in November 1953. It was 4-2-4 – but not quite. Maybe 3-1-2-4 would be more accurate – or perhaps even 2-3-3-2.

Looking back the most surprising thing was that the tried and (stubbornly) trusted way of lining up used by English clubs for years – the WM formation with the full-backs and half-backs forming the W and the forwards the M – survived for more than five minutes after the whistle blew on England’s Wembley defeat.

A certain amount of controversy surrounds the fact that Manchester City’s version of Hungary’s method has been called the ‘Revie plan’, implying that Don Revie, who played for City from 1951-56 and also played for and managed Engand, devised the plan.

In fact it carries his moniker because he was the one who filled Hidegkuti’s deep-lying centre-forward position when City’s first team adopted the system that their reserves had used with great success towards the end of the previous season.

Bill Leivers, a City player from 1953-64 and a member of the side who lost to Preston, says today: ‘I think most of the players who played for City in that match against Preston weren’t very pleased that it is now known as the Revie plan because it most certainly wasn’t called that at the time.’

The two players who came up with the idea, he says, were Ken Barnes, a skilful right-half who ‘never tackled’, and Johnny Williamson, a slow but clever forward. There was ‘absolutely no question’ that they were the ones who introduced the new system that proved so profitable – 26 matches without defeat – when they played together in the reserves.

‘It became known as the Revie plan because Don was the one who played as the deep-lying forward when the first-team took it over. Don was down as centre forward but played in the middle of the park and no one came with him to mark him. It’s astonishing when you think about it.’

Despite the 5-0 thrashing by Preston, City prospered as the players grew used to the system. They finished the 1954-55 season seventh in the First Division, seven places ahead of Preston, and reached the 1955 and ’56 FA Cup finals.

The Preston game was doubly disappointing for Leivers. Not only did his team lose heavily,

he suffered an injury that would have a lasting physical effect.

‘I went up for a high ball,’ Leivers says, ‘and this other player made a back for me. I went straight over the top and landed on the bottom of my spine. I have now got three collapsed discs and I’m full of arthritis.’

And he adds, with feeling: ‘I didn’t go off – but you didn’t in those days, you just walked about, but it put me out for quite a while, at least five months.’


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