The Greatest Footballer You Never Saw

Posted by in May's Magazine

Before we shake hands at the net and pose for the photos, a disclaimer regarding the following ramblings: I am not in any way seeking to curry favour with ‘Scottish Tennis Ace™’ Andy Murray. So the fact I’ll be lavishing praise on his off-court venture, Cromlix House Hotel, must be seen entirely in the context of a piece about the entrepreneurial aspirations of sportspeople – speculative or otherwise.

That said Andy, if you do have any free double suites (breakfast and a round of golf included) going at your beautifully restored, tastefully decorated and ‘a must for all discerning hotel lovers’ Cromlix House, give us a bell. By the way, I never doubted that the scrawny, angry-looking white kid from Dunblane would go on to forehand seven shades of shite out of all comers, sticking it right up the blazers at the LTA on the way.



Self-serving overtures to global tennis icons aside, there’s a serious point here. Namely, the correlation twixt sporting success and business success. Maybe not an eyebrow raiser these days – they’ve been index-linked for long enough. Fortunes fluctuate with the NASDAQ. Mr D. Moyes being the latest casualty. That’s the spiv-fest which is football today, a bear pit awash with filthy lucre.

No amount of player visits to hospitals can really disguise that fact. A challenging assessment ultimately rooted in hard and sometimes, for fans, unpalatable economic truths. Witness the existential gymnastics performed by the Celtics, Man Utds and Barcelonas of this world. All great clubs with great histories, all of whom spout the ‘we’re different, we’re more than a club we have traditions true to the people’ line. Pish.

Whether it’s a board refusing to back a call from its own fans to pay club cleaners the living wage, timing a manager’s departure to coincide with the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, or paying your tax-avoiding galacticos more than the entire GDP of Catalonia…you’re just like the rest.

So sport is business. You might think, ‘So what? Everyone needs a living’. Sure. But before uncapped salaries (thanks Jimmy Hill) and global marketing deals, your average sportsperson had to sweat that little bit harder to carve out a slice of financial security when the legs gave out and that crafty cheroot habit put you out of the big leagues.

Back then, it usually meant buying a pub – countless jobbing footballers, snooker players and dartists did it. A pal of mine reckoned Hibees legend, Joe Tortolano, should have bucked the trend and started his own sunbed empire. Some branched out into property, providing us with the genius football chant (to the tune of Yellow Submarine), ‘We all live in a Robbie Fowler house’. Better that than a Fred West one.

Fowler’s vast property portfolio sees him sorted financially ‘til the year gazillion. Other pros weren’t so perspicacious – former Notts Forest and England international Neil Webb comes to mind. He went from delivering through passes to delivering leccy bills, dole cheques and round robins from snobby aunts, i.e. he became a jobbing postie.

Webb was honest about it though, claiming footie was the only thing he was ever good at it, unlike the dullard Shearers of this world who pose as pundits and make a living out of stating the obvious. But what of those who fell into obscurity and/or financial ruin? Well, while I’m no Paul Krugman, I’m more than happy to offer some retrospective wisdom.

The Jocky Wilson Skywalk
The late great Jocky Wilson. How we miss his stumpy panache. As we know, poor Jocky fell on hard times, ending life as a recluse in his beloved Kirkcaldy. His mistake was in not creating a glass skywalk, arcing over the Fife town, its glorious trajectory based on the jerky flight of his snatched and urgent arrows. A money-spinning tourist attraction, which ultimately would have served as a lasting tribute to his dentally challenged genius.

Kirk Stevens’ Pocket Rehab
Eighties Canadian snooker star Stevens was known for his dashing white snooker attire – complete with white waistcoat. But it was the powdery white stuff he was ramming up his schnozzle that led to his downfall. Kirk overcame his coke addiction and now does charity events. But he could have turned his travails into financial triumph for tired and emotional celebs. Why spunk thousands on a week at the Priory when you could download Kirk’s ‘Rehab’ app onto your phone? It would simply consist of a before and after photo of Kirk.

Thank God It’s Robin Friday’s
Robin Friday. The greatest footballer never to play for England. Some would say the greatest footballer ever. Full stop. Friday’s off-field penchant for class A drugs, Colt 45 liquor and dancing naked in Reading nightclubs made him a ‘colourful’ character. Sadly this non-conformist excess eventually did for him at the tender age of 38. He should have channelled his demons into a dressing room themed, nudist, disco/boozer/venue. Then again, maybe the fact he (allegedly) defecated into Mark ‘Lawro’ Lawrenson’s kit bag back in 1977 was enough. Why run a business when you can do your business instead? Job done.

Info: (Hi Sir Andy!)

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