This month hundreds of the highest-paid players on the planet will run out onto the lush, green pitches of the English Premier League earning millions. In this money-mad game, many of these stars will earn more than £300,000 a week. Once upon a time it was £20 and that was your lot. An African-based World Cup winner fought to end this.
The three hours I spent interviewing Terry Paine were steeped in the blood and sweat of the game. They were the kind of conversations rare in football these days – like the benefits of learning ball control with a tennis ball on the streets. It was football with laughter – full of the human frailties exposed by the beautiful game; rather than the vogue, yet false, notion of it as a cross between an academic subject and a computer game.
Paine is the sort of player that England used to be famous for: passionate about the game, down-to-earth, with that openness and innate decency born of growing up in a small town – Winchester, just north of Southampton in Hampshire. It is only that steely glint in his piercing blue eyes that reminds you that you wouldn’t stand a chance in a rough 50/50 tackle.
The bright sunshine on this winter morning, at a table outside an airy Rivonia café in Johannesburg, contrasts with a journey back to the dark days of vicious tackles on mud heaps amid the smokestacks and factories of industrial England. This is where Paine honed his craft as one of the fastest, toughest, trickiest and most enduring wingers England ever produced. He played 19 times for England, scoring seven goals, remarkably as a second division player. Paine won a World Cup in 1966, earned an MBE from the Queen and scores of scars along the way.
“In those days any tackle below the neck was allowed,” he chuckles. “But I never got seriously injured because I could jump.”
Paine’s trade as a professional footballer built a career that straddles the foggy days of bleak, windswept, terraces, where the fans had cigarettes in their hands instead of cell phones, to the glossy, money mad, 21st century game. He played 713 games for Southampton, the club where he began as a wide-eyed teenager, scoring 160 goals in 18 years.
The Premier League club made him honorary president, in 2012, and flies him from Africa for games in another world to the rough, tough one he knew at Southampton. In Paine’s playing days, a pre-match meal was steak, chips, a cup of tea and a slice of toast. In those days there were five people, including the manager, working at the club – now there are 300.
“What you have got to remember is it is business now, and big business. The sport is no longer the sport you and I knew and loved.”
At Southampton’s St Mary’s Stadium there is a swimming pool next to the dressing room with underwater cameras so physiotherapists can study injuries. The club uses special soap powder for washing the kit that reduces the chance of allergies or rashes. Every day, doctors swab the mouths of the players to see whether they are sick.
“If you sneeze nowadays they don’t play you – the medical side has really taken over. The big question is why are players getting so many injuries with all the modern equipment and pitches you’d want to carpet your front room with? No one can work it out.”
St Mary’s Stadium is a carpeted, cosseted world with one of the best youth academies in Europe that has produced a string of internationals, including Adam Lallana, Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale, Wayne Bridge and Luke Shaw.
When Paine was a talented 16-year-old playing for Winchester City, in the 1950s, there was no such thing as an academy. His father was a welder for British Rail and the young Paine spent a year as an office runner there before signing up for an apprenticeship in the body building shop in Eastleigh, a few miles out of Southampton, constructing railway carriages.
“I would have made the worst body builder, I was absolutely useless; football came to my rescue there,” laughs Paine.
It was a colleague in the railway body shop that proved the catalyst for Paine’s career. Arsenal called Paine to London for a trial and a fellow worker, a die-hard Southampton fan, phoned club manager Ted Bates to say he was about to miss out on what the newspapers, these days, would call a teenage sensation. What followed could have led to a court case in the uptight world of modern football.
“Ted Bates got in myself and another player, Colin Holmes, and locked the office door and said he wouldn’t open until we signed. Time was getting on and we were both starving so we signed just to get out.”
Bates sent a cheque for £25 to Winchester City to seal the transfer. Paine’s signing on fee was £10. He spent it on a bright red jersey on one of his first games for the reserves, in the Hampshire League, against Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
Money was scarce for the players, even though most clubs were pulling crowds in tens of thousands. The maximum wage was £20 in the winter and £17 in the summer; it wouldn’t have mattered if you had the dash of Ronaldo, you could have been paid the same as a loyal, lumbering, defender for Sheffield Wednesday.
“We always hoped we would play Ipswich just before Christmas because the Cobbold family that owned the club used to give all the players a turkey. In those days we struggled to buy a chicken for Christmas,” Paine recalls.
This penury was one of the reasons hundreds of English footballers agreed to go on strike in January 1961. The vote among the members of the newly-formed Professional Footballers’ Association – the trade union for players – was 694 for and 18 against.
Paine and his Southampton teammates went to the pub across the road from the ground and voted 8-7 in favor of the strike to be staged on January 14, 1961. The Football League held firm saying removing the maximum wage would send many clubs to the wall. But the league caved in and, on January 18, the maximum wage was lifted.
“They could see the damage it was going to cause; it was no skin off their nose because it was the clubs that had to pay,” says Paine.
One of the first to cash in was the late Johnny Haynes, who played for Durban City in South Africa near the end of his career, the then captain of Fulham and England. His chairman and music hall comedian Tommy Trinder, as many believe in a publicity stunt, said he would pay Haynes £100 a week if the maximum wage was lifted. The day after, Haynes was in the boardroom and got his money.
Paine got his money too – £35 a week and spent his heavier pay packet on a Renault Dauphine, even though he couldn’t drive.
“The chief of police, who was a Southampton supporter, phoned the club and said: ‘Tell Terry Paine to pass his test, we know he is driving and doesn’t have a licence’. Weeks later, I passed.”
Innocent times maybe. But even then the big clubs were winking at corruption. It is still referred to as “tapping up” – the illegal approach to players without the knowledge of their club.
One summer a manager, from one of the big clubs up north, knocked at Paine’s door in Winchester.
“He pops up outside my house and says: ‘Oh Terry, I was on holiday down here and I thought I would come and see you’,” chuckles Paine.
Tottenham Hotspur, and its assistant manager Harry Evans, couldn’t leave Paine alone. Manager Bill Nicholson looked to strengthen his side, in the 1960/61 season, as it strove to become the first club in the 20th century to do the league and cup double.
“Harry Evans would be waiting outside at away games, whispering in my ear. It was all illegal but nowadays they have agents so it doesn’t matter.”
Football agents and their vast fees they charge stick in Paine’s craw, as well as mine. Money that could keep a score of lower division clubs afloat. On this morning there is uproar in the English newspapers about the agent of Manchester United player, Paul Pogba, who charged £41 million to handle the move from Juventus.
“It probably took a few phone calls and a couple of meetings,” says Paine as he shakes his head.
“A line has to be drawn… All the clubs must get together and say ‘right we are going to cap this, don’t pay more than £20 million in a deal. But you know it’s a business now and the agents will say ‘if you don’t want to do the deal, we will go to Real Madrid’.”
Paine was one of the pathfinders for the highly-paid, sports car-driving, product-endorsing footballer of today. He first came to South Africa with fellow World Cup winner Bobby Charlton’s guest team, in 1979, and made his home in Johannesburg, in 1984, where he was offered a job as a football coach. These days he is a football pundit for a sports TV channel and often comments on players at the highest level, with half his talent, who earn more in a month than he did in more than 20 years.
“That’s always difficult; you have to be careful not to over criticize. You always try to give your honest opinion.”
His final verdict on the money-dominated business that is football?
“If I was playing now I would be a multi-millionaire… I think the players I played with would have thrived in the modern era – I wonder whether modern players would have thrived in our era?”
Spot on, from the king of the pin-point cross.