At West Ham we played a factory side for free loafers… ESL shows how much money has changed football

IN my early days at West Ham, there was one game everyone wanted to play in.

Obviously we dreamed of playing in the FA Cup final, a title decider, or in front of a packed Upton Park against Manchester United, Spurs or the like.

But the one we looked forward to almost as much was a pre-season match against a side from the Essex Business League.

The Bata Shoes factory team had a beautiful pitch and each year we’d play them in a warm-up game… and get a pair of brown and a pair of black each.

Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, the whole lot, they all wanted to play because we knew we’d get new shoes out of it.

Anyone who was injured would be saying, “Harry, see if you can get me a pair of size nines, slip-ons if you can, mate.”

It was a real big thing, one of our biggest games of the year!

Don’t forget, that the lads who won the World Cup only got £1,000 each – but it was a different world.

It was nothing like now, when some blokes are picking up £100,000 a week and can barely tie their own laces.

Then at Christmas, we’d get a 10lb chicken ­- not a turkey – off West Ham and we’d be delighted with it.


Back then, the clubs were owned by local businessmen. When I played, the chairman owned a wood yard 200 yards up the road from the stadium.

It was Reg Pratt, the Cearns family or Terry Brown – West Ham fans who’d grown up supporting the club.

These days, West Ham’s David Sullivan and David Gold, plus Tony Bloom at Brighton, are probably the only ones in that category.

The rest are nearly all foreign businessmen with no real affection for the club, no love for the place ­- it’s just all about money.

Anyone who thinks otherwise is kidding themselves. And if a breakaway meant the chance to make millions from Asian or Far East TV rights, then so what?

They think about their club, their investment, and nothing else. Not the fans, not other clubs, just pound signs.

That’s why, when the 14 who weren’t invited to the proposed Super League were all kicking off, I had a little smile.

If any of them had been asked, I’m sure they’d have jumped at it.

If anyone said, ‘Hang on a minute, Man City are out, we’re looking for someone else,’ they’d have all had their hands up.

So while the ESL may have fallen apart because of the fans, there will always be something, it will always be about the bottom line.

Remember a couple of years ago there was talk of playing one game abroad.

Then it would have been two, then five, then half a season in China, America, all over the place.

It’s all about owners seeing their investment getting bigger. I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. The fans don’t come into the equation for them.

So while people are saying they want to get rid of John Henry, the Glazers or whoever, the days when someone like Blackburn’s Jack Walker would come in are long gone.

You need to be a billionaire, not a millionaire, to own a club – and the majority of them are foreign.

I heard Jamie Carragher speaking so passionately, saying Henry shouldn’t be allowed back at Liverpool, but even if someone else bought it, it’d be as a business not because they care.

Look at Bury when they were going under. There are Premier League clubs in the area who could have helped out, it would have cost them next to nothing, but no one came forward.

There is no interest in anyone but themselves. That’s every owner, especially at that level – it’s all about their club and nothing else.

Of course, in the end, they are just the custodians, the club will still be there long after they have gone.

But it will only ever be about the balance sheet and the profits – even if it isn’t going to be coming from a breakaway Super League.

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