English footballer Gary Lineker of Leicester City FC, circa 1980. Photo: Simon Miles/Getty Images
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In ye olden days, retired footballers set up market stalls – or sold toilet rolls

I can think of only two players in my lifetime – who played long before the birth of the Prem – who did manage to make real money after their playing days.

Ex-footballers rarely go on to become multimillionaires, making fresh millions after they have retired from football.

Yet any average Prem player is able to finish football today as a millionaire, which you might think would give them the capital and the spur to go on to achieve greater wealth. David Beckham and Gary Lineker are exceptions, though in both cases their success is football-related. Becks is carrying on the glow he acquired as a player and Gary is still directly involved in football, as a presenter.

In ye olden days, forget it. They earned little and retired with nothing, their best bet of an income being a paper shop or a pub.

I can think of only two players in my lifetime – who played long before the birth of the Prem – who did manage to make real money after their playing days. Francis Lee was a star of Man City and England in the Sixties and Seventies – and still holds the record for the number of penalties scored in one season, hence his nickname Lee Won Pen. He became big in toilet rolls, thanks to a very successful business in paper recycling.

Dave Whelan, also a top player – though he never played for England – was another who later made success in business, and went on to put his money into his home-town club, Wigan Athletic, taking them from the Third division to the Prem and building a magnificent stadium for them along the way.

I met him two weeks ago in Barbados. Strange that. Not me being in Barbados (where else does one go in January?) but the fact that my first job in journalism was in 1958 on the Manchester Evening Chronicle and for a month I was sent to work in the Wigan branch office. I must have passed him in the street loads of times.

I happened to be invited for lunch with him at the very fashionable Lone Star restaurant, which Dave has recently bought, one of his many investments and amusements in different parts of the world. He was moaning about the lack of shepherd’s pie, the sort of stuff he would really like on every restaurant menu. Hear, hear.

Dave played for Blackburn Rovers from 1956-60, breaking his leg in the FA Cup Final of 1960 against Wolves. He did stagger on for a while, turning out for Crewe, but his football career was as good as over.

Looking around for something to do, he worked for a while, unpaid, on a market stall in Blackburn. He saw how well it did, realised there was not a street market in Wigan, approached the council for permission, and started his own stall: “After a few weeks, I had made £10,000 – which I kept under the bed.” He moved into discount grocery stores, built up a chain of 20 in Lancashire, which he sold to Ken Morrison (of Morrison’s fame) over in Yorkshire. With the £1.5 million or so he had made, he went into sports shops, acquiring a small shop called J J Barton, which he built up into a mega chain, JJB Sports.

Any road up, enough of the boring business chat, did you ever play against Stanley Matthews, Dave?

“I certainly did – and I can remember it exactly. It was 1958 against Blackpool. I was full back for Rovers. He gave me the right run around for most of the first half. I must have failed to stop him about ten times. I then decided to move the opposite way he expected – and I really clattered him. As we walked off at half time, he asked me why I did that. ‘It’s my job’, I said. ‘And in the second half I will kick you again.’

“At the end, I went to the Blackpool dressing room, knocked on the door and asked for Mr Matthews. He appeared and I asked for his autograph. He gave me a funny look – but gave it to me. I took it home and gave it to my mother. She put it inside a book she was reading – and then lost it.

“I also played against Tom Finney. This was after I had broken my leg and was trying to get back. I managed to get the ball off him every time, which I couldn’t believe. At the end, he said to me ‘I wanted you to get your confidence back.’ Imagine that happening today . . .” 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, An empire that speaks English

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What happened when a couple accidentally recorded two hours of their life

The cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic.

If the Transformers series of movies (Transformers; Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; Transformers: Dark of the Moon; Transformers: Age of Extinction; and Transformers: the Last Knight) teach us anything, it is that you think your life is going along just fine but in a moment, with a single mistake or incident, it can be derailed and you never know from what direction the threat will come. Shia LaBeouf, for example, thinks everything is completely OK in his world – then he discovers his car is a shape-shifting alien.

I once knew a couple called Dan and Fiona who, on an evening in the early 1980s, accidentally recorded two hours of their life. Fiona was an English teacher (in fact we’d met at teacher-training college) and she wished to make a recording of a play that was being broadcast on Radio 4 about an anorexic teenager living on a council estate in Belfast. A lot of the dramas at that time were about anorexic teenagers living on council estates in Belfast, or something very similar – sometimes they had cancer.

Fiona planned to get her class to listen to the play and then they would have a discussion about its themes. In that pre-internet age when there was no iPlayer, the only practical way to hear something after the time it had been transmitted was to record the programme onto a cassette tape.

So Fiona got out their boom box (a portable Sony stereo player), loaded in a C120 tape, switched on the radio part of the machine, tuned it to Radio 4, pushed the record button when the play began, and fastidiously turned the tape over after 60 minutes.

But instead of pushing the button that would have taped the play, she had actually pushed the button that activated the built-in microphone, and the machine captured, not the radio drama, but the sound of 120 minutes of her and Dan’s home life, which consisted solely of: “Want a cup of tea?” “No thanks.” And a muffled fart while she was out of the room. That was all. That was it.

The two of them had, until that moment, thought their life together was perfectly happy, but the tape proved them conclusively wrong. No couple who spent their evenings in such torpidity could possibly be happy. Theirs was clearly a life of grinding tedium.

The evidence of the cassette tape threw Dan and Fiona into a terrible panic: the idea of spending any more of their evenings in such bored silence was intolerable. They feared they might have to split up. Except they didn’t want to.

But what could they do to make their lives more exciting? Should they begin conducting sordid affairs in sleazy nightclubs? Maybe they could take up arcane hobbies such as musketry, baking terrible cakes and entering them in competitions, or building models of Victorian prisons out of balsa wood? Might they become active in some kind of extremist politics?

All that sounded like a tremendous amount of effort. In the end they got themselves a cat and talked about that instead. 

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder