A shorter version of this article was published in the Sunday Island on November 20, 2022.
“Who could have known, who could have guessed that Cristiano Ronaldo was in fact a wildly solipsistic egomaniac?” Barney Ronay in the Guardian.
Gloucester City played its home games at Longlevens from 1935 to 1964. The ground was within easy walking distance from my home in the early 1950s. Walking back from a game on foggy November evenings in the early 1950s, I looked forward to a tea of hot toast with salted and peppered beef dripping, possibly extra-salted from a runny nose.
Football was different in the early 1950s. The ball was a heavy leather thing which got even heavier on a wet day and was a great health risk to those heading it. The players wore baggy shorts and looked older than their years. I recall the smells of Gloucester City football ground. My father knew some of the players and took me into the dressing room, which was full of naked men and reeked of embrocation and wintergreen (which was applied to my toes swollen and bursting from chilblains) . The manager was a dour Scot called Jimmy Buist. There was a player called Hardisty who looked very hard and also very old with a shiny bald head. There was another called Beatty who bore a resemblance to an actor who was in a lot of films at the time, Robert Beatty. The actor was a Canadian based in Britain. He had a thick head of dark hair heavily Brylcreemed. Beatty the footballer, a Scotsman, also had a fine head of dark hair generously Brylcreemed. My father used to make a strange joke, pointing at the greasy looking pillow on the bed beside my mother, “I see Beatty’s been here.” My father also had a fine head of auburn hair, lavishly Brylcreemed.
There were some younger players in the Gloucester City AFC dressing room, including the brothers Etheridge. Dick Etheridge was manager in 1967 (also in 1970 and 1980) and brother Bobby did a stint in 1985. Frank Tredgett was a player I remember who became manager in 1960.
In 1959, the manager was Ollie Norris, a Northern Irishman who had played for Middlesbrough. Norris had achieved some notoriety as a curly-haired inside forward trying to stop Spurs’ captain Danny Blanchflower taking throw-ins by jumping up and down in front of him. That was before an economist stole Danny’s identity and became ubiquitous as a financial pundit. Amid a financial crisis at the club in January 1960 Norris was dismissed as full–time player/manager and offered, as an alternative, a part–time role as player/coach – an offer Norris rejected.
Occasionally there were charity games which gave the Gloucester stalwarts the chance to defeat conglomerations of international stars – I remember seeing the legendary Jackie Milburn play at Longlevens. His team lost.
Watching the games I got smells of wet turf, Woodbine cigarettes, Smiths potato crisps (with the blue twist of salt) and Niblets, American Cream Soda.
My father and I went upmarket in 1955 when we started going to Birmingham on the train to New Street to see Aston Villa when Pat Saward joined the club from Millwall. As a kind of shorthand, I tend to refer to Pat as my cousin. We were not related by blood – but we shared an uncle by marriage. His Uncle Thomas married my father’s sister, Peggy. Pat was born in Cobh, County Cork but brought up mainly in Croydon (I lived in Croydon after getting married at the same register office as Camille Pissarro) after spending time in Singapore and Malta (Pat’s accent was strongly Croydon rather than County Cork). Pat’s transfer from Millwall was finalised on Paddington Station and the price on his head was £7,000. A little short of what Ronaldo might expect.
Pat was part of the team when Villa beat Manchester United in the 1957 FA cup final. (I have held his medal in my hand.) There was controversy when a “robust challenge” by Villa’s Peter McParland broke the jaw of United keeper Ray Wood. (Danny Blanchflower’s brother, Jackie, took over in goal). McParland was signed to Villa for a fee of £3,880. McParland and his wife visited my Aunty Peg’s Albert Terrace home in Cobh. His wife’s skirt dropped off as she got out of the car
Eddie Cochran was killed on April 17, 1960, when the taxi carrying him from a show in Bristol crashed en route to the airport in London, where he was to catch a flight back home to the States. I was standing on the terrace at the Holte End of Villa Park when I heard the news. I was also there on the Holte End when Derek Dougan made his debut appearance for Villa on Saturday, 19 August 1961 aged 23. Villa had signed Dougan from Blackburn Rovers on 1 July 1961 for a fee of £15,000. He was signed by manager Joe Mercer as a replacement for Gerry Hitchens, who had been sold to Inter Milan earlier in the summer for £85,000. Teammate Peter McParland later commented that “when Derek came to us at Aston Villa I think it was at a time when he was not taking the game particularly seriously”. I was there on Saturday, 19 August 1961 when Dougan ran on to the pitch with a shaved head. Shaved heads and tattoos were not commonplace in 1961 Birmingham.
My father and I would report to the players’ gate at Villa Park before a game and Pat would come out and hand us two complimentary tickets for VIP seats in the stand, sometimes sitting with the directors and the players’ wives, including Pat’s wife to be, Faye. My ten-year-old self would hand over an autograph book. After the game we would return to the players’ gate and Pat would hand back my autograph book enriched with the signatures of the home and visiting teams. He would then take us into Birmingham for a chat and a coffee. In the early days, he would take us on one of those cream-coloured double-deckered Birmingham buses. I remember being seated on the top deck of a bus accompanied by many members of a first division team, some of them internationals. One of them was Jackie Sewell, who gained six caps for England, scoring three goals, one in England’s historic defeat against Hungary in 1953. Sewell joined Aston Villa in December 1955 for £20,000. Sewell earned the distinction of earning international caps for two countries – Zambia and England.
Peter McParland, Jackie Sewell and Nigel Sims in later years
With wife Faye
Can one imagine Ronaldo travelling on a bus? Later Pat acquired a car (a big beast) in which he drove us into the centre of Birmingham. I still blush at the thought of me falling down the stairs in the Kardomah.My cousin Paddy recalls seeing Saward zooming around Cobh in an open-topped red MG.
In 1962, when I was 15, I spent six weeks in the summer at my Aunt Peg’s house in Albert Terrace, Cobh. For part of the time, Pat was staying there too. Every morning, he would get up early and immerse himself in the rain barrel in the back yard. When he strolled into town, many young (and old) ladies’ hearts went a-fluttering. I recall that one of his favourite haunts was the Horizon Bar at the foot of the precipitous East Hill.
After retiring as a player, Saward joined the youth team coaching staff at Coventry City, before becoming assistant manager to Jimmy Hill. From 1973 to 1988, Hill was host of the BBC’s Match of the Day – the Gary Lineker of those days (Lineker gets £450,000 per year from the BBC). Hill regularly attracted 12million viewers but only earned £50,000 — which is £130,000 in today’s money. In 1957, Hill became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the players’ trade union, and campaigned to have the Football League’s £20 maximum wage scrapped, which he achieved in January 1961, when his Fulham teammate Johnny Haynes became the first £100-a-week player. In those far off pre-Beckham days Haynes made a side-living from advertising Brylcreem. (The cream, which originated in Birmingham in 1928, is an emulsion of water and mineral oil stabilised with beeswax.)
Saward, Alan Dicks and Jimmy Hill at Coventry.
I enjoyed the film The Damned United, in which the versatile Michael Sheen played the mercurial football manager Brian Clough. I was disappointed that there was no mention of Pat Saward. In July 1970, Saward was appointed manager of Brighton & Hove Albion, and he achieved promotion to the Second Division in 1972. “With his extrovert personality, attacking style of play and infectious good humour, he was immensely popular at the Goldstone Ground”, wrote one fan. In October 1973, Saward was sacked and replaced by Brian Clough. Club captain Eddie Spearritt said that Saward was backed by the players and they did not want him to leave. Clough was in charge at Brighton on a match-playing basis for six months, 32 games, from the beginning of November 1973 to the end of April 1974 before moving to Leeds where he lasted 44 days, like Liz Truss’s premiership.
I left Gloucester for Manchester in October 1966. My home in my first year at University was at the Tower Block of Owens Park, a mixed- sex hall of residence where I made many good friends, some whom I am still in touch with today. One of my neighbours was Peter Hammill who went on to lasting fame with the band Van der Graaf Generator. My home was in Fallowfield, within walking distance of Manchester City’s then home, Maine Road. I used to go to Old Trafford regularly also in the heyday of Best and Charlton. I saw Denis Law play for both clubs. My heart was really with City, who brought a lot of gloom on foggy Saturday, but the likes of Rodney Marsh, Colin Bell, Mike Summerbee, Joe Corrigan, Kasiu Deyna, Francis Lee, Denis Tueart and Neil Young could bring great joy also. I remember one afternoon when the only way that Stoke defender Mike Pejic could deal with Marsh’s trickery was to hang on to his shirt. Rodney stopped in his tracks, took off his shirt and handed it to Pejic. After a game one could warm up on a hot curry at one of the many Indian cafes in Rusholme.
I do not resent celebrities amassing shedloads of money. I am brimming over with muditha. Marina Hyde writes mordantly and brilliantly in the Guardian on the hypocrisy of politicians. She used to be a sports columnist and knows the subject of football. She will have none of politicians carping about rich footballers getting “involved in politics”. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford forced the UK government to U-turn on its free school meals policy. “So we are left with a 22-year-old footballer having to point out the realities to men whose job it is supposed to be to know.” Rashford came from very humble beginnings to achieve his riches and he is very conscious of his responsibilities. Hyde asks, “how many Gavin Williamsons would you have to amass before you were even close to the value of one Marcus Rashford? How many Matt Hancocks? How many Boris Johnsons?”.
That said, I can find no empathy for today’s glitzy, global, blingy football. Dreary winter afternoons shivering with a cup of Bovril on the terraces at Maine Road watching the magic of Rodney Marsh and Colin Bell when Joe Mercer was manager (he previously managed Aston Villa) are long gone. Manchester City are now hugely successful and their home is the Etihad Stadium. Aston Villa is currently owned by the NSWE group, a company owned by the Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and the American billionaire Wes Edens. My first sighting of Roy Keane, who had transferred from Cobh Ramblers (their home ground was called Villa Park) to Nottingham Forest under Brian Clough was at Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium. There were some people from Cobh sitting behind me. Arsenal now play at the Emirates Stadium. On 7 October 2021, Newcastle United was bought for £300 million by a consortium led by the sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia.
David Beckham is very different from those Aston Villa players I sat with on a Birmingham bus in the mid-1950s. Beckham amassed some $800 million but still is happy to takes some more from Qatar. The World Cup is being played in Qatar with no expense spared in money or human lives. I will not be watching. Paul Waugh asked in the i-paper, “Will you be watching the Qatar World Cup?” Just 13 per cent said yes, 74 per cent said no and 13 per cent were undecided.
Following his spell at Brighton, Saward coached in Saudi Arabia, as well as managing Emirati club Al-Nasr. He also had a property in Minorca. After retiring, he stayed in Dubai until health issues prompted a return to the UK to be near family. He died in September 2002, aged 74, as a result of bronchial pneumonia, although I have seen Alzheimer’s’ mentioned.
Cristiano Ronaldo made $115 million between May 2021 and May 2022, making him the third-highest-earning athlete in the world, according to Forbes. It means the 37-year-old, has now earned well over $1 billion during his illustrious career.