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When Footballers Were Skint A Journey in Search of the Soul of Football By Jon Henderson

Release date: 01st June, 2018
Publisher: Biteback Publishing

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £12.56
You Save: £5.43 (30%)
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When Footballers Were Skint opens with an engaging post-war (1947) anecdote involving former Sunderland player Stan Anderson, who recalls the time he was summoned to the office of George Crow, the club secretary, to agree his first professional deal.

Anderson and his father approached the office with trepidation after being advised by the reserve team coach to ask for £7 a week. Crow offered £4, but Anderson senior suggested £6, a figure which caused Mr Crow to leave the room for ten minutes. He returned and increased his offer to £5 a week and a £10 signing-on fee.

Young Stan was willing his father to accept, mindful, that he was working on a building site “earning one pound eight bloody shillings (£1.40) for a five-day week… and here’s a fella offering me five pounds to play for a great club like Sunderland.” Mr Crow’s generous offer was accepted.

This book’s central premise is that until the abolition of the £20 maximum wage in 1961, footballers were underpaid serfs, a group of workers deliberately kept at the bottom of the pile. This is historically and economically inaccurate. As Stan Anderson’s experience shows, even a callow youth could earn three-and-a-half times more playing football than he could elsewhere.

Average adult male pay in 1961 was £15.36 for a five-and-a-half day week and while nowhere near all footballers earned the maximum and Johnny Haynes would, in the same year, become the first English footballer to earn £100 a week, perhaps a better title for this book would be When Everyone Was Skint.

We’ve grown used to very average footballers earning colossal sums of money, even in the lower leagues, but Henderson, a superb writer, reminds us that it wasn’t always like this. For most of football’s history, its professionals were men who lived locally, caught the bus to the ground on Saturday and enjoyed a pint with supporters after the game.

Football’s social history is an area of the game that remains relatively unexplored, but by bringing together voices such as that of Stan Anderson, as well as a host of others who played before the boom times rolled, Henderson has delved deep into the game’s rich history.

English football has undergone a Stalinist-style purge over the past 25 years: pre-1992 records are no longer discussed, no longer matter, but this book reminds us that they do and that shouldn’t forget them. But please: footballers as a breed have probably never been as skint as the folks who went to watch them play.

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