I got rung up in 1885 by the Sporting Chronicle looking for a quote. God, my memory is going, no phones then. Oh yeah, now I remember, they wrote to me. They wanted me to agree with them that football was never going to be the same again; money was ruining it. This was the first season, as you'll recall, that professional football had been introduced. I said top hole, champion idea, a labourer is always worthy of his hire, should have happened long ago. They never used my quotes. The rotters.
In 1905, Athletic News Football Annual asked me to go and see Alf Common. Small, tubby chap, 5ft 8in but weighed 13 stone, bit of a joker - you remember him. What a sensation when he got transferred from Sunderland to Boro for £1,000, the world's first four-figure transfer. The football world wailed - it's the end of civilisation, money is ruining, etc. But I thought it a capital bit of news, long overdue.
I went to see Alf, got some quite good stuff out of him, and hoped to ghost his life story. The team always travelled to away games by train, with two saloons provided by North Eastern Railways. If a bossy ticket inspector interrupted their game of cards to count the players, Alf used to sneak into the other saloon and get counted twice, thus annoying the bossy inspector. What larks.
Alf, like many an overweight north-eastern lad, was a bit of a boozer, eventually taking over a pub, and the book never got finished. Instead, now what did I do, let me think, 1905, that's it, I went over to the Lake District to see Beatrix Potter. She was working on Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and had just got engaged to her publisher, Norman Warne. Sadly, he died that same year, which rather put the kibosh on my project. My book about her didn't come out till many years later, in 1988.
In 1961, while working on the Sunday Times, they asked me to do a tut tut piece, is it the end of football as we know it, etc, all because Johnny Haynes of Fulham had become the first £100-a-week player. I said it's groovy news, man, right on. So they asked Brian Glanville. He had been writing about football since 1863 when it all began. Instead, I went up to the Cavern Club in Liverpool to see a scruffy group called The Beatles, thinking I might get a column out of them. Perhaps a book.
A fortnight ago someone from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport emailed me - which was their mistake, as I don't use email. So they rang, asking if I'd write a piece in the NS agreeing with the minister who was to make a speech saying that it was obscene for people like John Terry of Arsenal to earn £150,000 a week. Or day, perhaps hour, they were checking on the figure. And which club he plays for.
I said no way, I'm all for players earning as much as possible, a labourer is worthy of his hire, etc.
So, friends, you can see I have a long history of supporting footballers earning big bucks. Most fans think the same. If our heroes are doing the business, they deserve what they can get. Hence I've always believed money has not ruined the game, despite what everyone has been saying for 122 years.
Until now. The more I think about how Spurs cynically prised Ramos away from Seville, offering £5m, plus compensation to Seville, and a mega pay-off to Jol, right in the middle of the season, the more I think it's appalling. They did it because they can do it, because the Premiership is awash with money. It totally distorts and corrupts football. Football can't now be the same again. Alas . . .