Club Website editor Dan Pope takes a look at football 60 years ago through the window of a newspaper published in March 1951.
My brother bought me a fantastic present recently. It wasn’t even my birthday, but he’d seen an old football newspaper in a retro market stall and thought I might like to see it.
I spend a lot of my time reading about the game, but All Football was new to me and exciting, particularly as it was dated 20 March 1951 and priced 2d (that’s two old pence, kids).
The front page grabbed me immediately. The headline about a £1 pay rise and the huge collars on the shirts marked this out as football from another age – a time when my dad was still in short trousers.
At first I didn’t want to remove the paper from its protective cover, but I just had to read more, especially as this particular edition’s 60th birthday came around.
I want to share just a few snippets of the paper with you now. If you’re old enough to remember, it may help you reminisce. If, like me, you weren’t even a twinkle in your father’s eye, it might raise an eyebrow or two.
Either way, I hope it gives you just a little glimpse of what football was like 60 years ago this month and how it has changed since, for better or worse.
Money money money
The most obvious thing to hit me as I read the paper was the scale of football finance at the time. The best footballers in England in 1951 – among them Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright and Tom Finney – would have earned no more than £12 a week, which equates to £273 in today’s money (or £14,215 a year).
Compare that to the £180,000 or more that Wayne Rooney receives from Manchester United each week – I find it hard to use the word “earn” in this context – and it illustrates how much football finance has changed over the years.
Despite the relatively modest salaries, a Football League proposal for a £2 per week pay rise for top earners was criticised by union chiefs as a “bluff to persuade the public to accept the increased price of admission next season.”
Football clubs putting up ticket prices to cover increased player salaries? Maybe some things haven’t changed.
Player salaries are probably not the best place to draw comparison between 1951 and 2011 – the abolition of the maximum wage in 1961 changed the landscape of player earnings completely – but they were not the only figures in the paper that highlight the disparity between the two eras.
My favourite example is the story of Jackie Sewell, whose £35,000 transfer from Notts County to Sheffield Wednesday made him “the first professional player in football history literally to be worth his weight in gold.”
I love that snippet, and not only for the fact that people in 1951 knew how to use the word “literally” in its correct and proper context, a rarity these days.
I love the fact that of all the football papers in all the world, the one to fall into my lap contained such a nugget of information, if you’ll pardon the pun.
According to the Real Madrid website, Cristiano Ronaldo weighs 84.5kg. At today’s prices, his weight in gold is approximately £2.4m, which means that, at a cost of £80m, the most expensive player in world football today is worth 33.3 times his weight in gold!
Considering Lionel Messi is only 67kg and valued in some quarters at over £100m, his weight in gold ratio could be off the charts, so I think I’ll move on.
Suffice to say, football’s riches are at a whole new level today.
Despite their relatively modest earnings, footballers in 1951 were made of sterner stuff than their modern day counterparts.
A week doesn’t go by at this stage of the season without some manager or other bemoaning the fact that their team has to play three times a week… try three times in four days!
That was the timetable for top flight teams over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend in 1951. For example, champions Spurs travelled to Craven Cottage on Good Friday and Fratton Park on Saturday before playing host to Fulham on Easter Monday.
And don’t forget, there weren’t any substitutes in those days to rest weary legs in the second half. In 1951 professional footballers were real men.
Women in football – seen and not heard or not seen at all?
While football men were men, women were something of a rarity at football matches in 1951. Hardly surprising either, if the view of All Football’s top writer, John Hickey, was a reflection of the football press at the time.
Hickey roundly condemned the appearance of women at football matches, using his ‘Speaking Out’ column to voice his opinion on the matter:
“The only true supporters of any sport are those who have played, or could play it, however badly.
“Football can be played properly by men for the simple reason that only men can take part in any sport in which there is bodily contact.
“Women can be as tough, physically, as any man. But in different ways – football is not one of them.”
I wonder what Hickie, if he were still writing today, would make of all the women and girls who attend football matches up and down the country every week, not to mention the appearance of female assistant referees in Premier League games.
I’m glad that at least our football media has moved with the times. Oh, hang on…
Matthews & Milburn – two of the game’s true greats
One of my favourite things about the paper is that it features both Stanley Matthews and Jackie Milburn, helping place in the context of their time two legends of the game.
Newcastle United hero Milburn is pictured in classic striking pose on the front page, as he leads the Toon to an FA Cup semi-final victory over Wolves, with “speed, punch and craft”.
Also featured on the cover is Stanley Matthews, whose Blackpool side were lined up to meet Newcastle in the cup final. A cartoon on page three about the ‘Magic Man of soccer’ asks “will Stan collect that elusive cup winners medal this year?”
Matthews and Blackpool had missed out in the 1948 Cup Final but the medal would remain elusive for the ‘Magic Man’ that year, as a Milburn brace won Newcastle the first of their three FA Cup titles that decade – the last domestic honours won by the club.
Of course, the elusive winners medal finally came Matthews’ way in 1953, as Blackpool beat Bolton 4-3 in the game that will be forever known as the ‘Matthews Final’.
Not everyone becomes a knight of the realm or gets their own cup final named after them, so it was great to read a bit about Sir Stanley – and ‘Wor Jackie’ for that matter – from the same pages that football fans would have read back in their pomp.
Football has changed in many ways since 1951, but one thing remains the same – a truly great player will always be recognised as such, no matter what the era.
Dan Pope, Club Website editor
A taste of football in 1951
If you fancy a more detailed look at All Football from 20 March 1951, the eight thumbnails below each link to a page of the newspaper. Enjoy the read!