Thanks For The Memories: England World Cup Heroes Forced to Sell Their Medals
Only eleven Englishmen have ever played in a World Cup Final. In comparison to today’s players, they earned a pittance but money could never buy their golden memories of that balmy Saturday afternoon in July 1966.
There was just one other thing they alone had that was a tangible reminder of what was probably one of their country’s greatest ever moment’s in sport – a World Cup winner’s medal.
In those days before substitutes, just the starting eleven collected medals, although other members of the squad were to be given them many years later after much lobbying.
Even the England manager, Sir Alf Ramsay, wasn’t given a medal at the time.
We are talking about the likes of Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks and Alan Ball, true footballing legends at a time when opposition teams were equally blessed with superstars like Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Eusebio.
The names of that iconic team in their red shirts came back to me as I tried to digest the enormous numbers being paid by Sky and BT Sport in the UK for the rights to screen Premier League games – $7.824 billion.
With foreign rights and other commercial deals, the EPL is expected to collect in the region of $4.5 billion a year for three seasons from 2016/17.
According to the Daily Mail, the knock-on effect of those figures could be that the average first team wage at the major clubs like Manchester United, City, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in five year’s time could be more than $300,000-a-week, with the superstars pulling in more like $750,000-a-week.
The reason my mind drifted back to 1966 was because of an equally startling statistic that casts a long shadow over the current climate of greed and avariciousness in our “beautiful game.”
It is that of the England starting eleven, all but three were forced through circumstances, mostly financial, to sell their precious medallions.
Those three, Bobby and Jackie Charlton and Roger Hunt, could presumably afford to hang onto the unique memento of the game of their lives.
For some of their teammates, the simple need for cash to provide for their families was more important than sentiment.
Nobby Stiles, the former Manchester United terrier renown for his toothless celebrations after the final whistle of the 4-2 triumph against West Germany, was the latest of the eleven to sell. He’d been working on the after dinner speaker circuit in the UK and suffered a stroke.
“I'm as patriotic as the next Englishman and will always cherish my memories and the friendships I made in my playing days, but at this stage of my life, I would rather have some control over the distribution of my memorabilia and know that my family will benefit,” he told The Independent in 2010.
Like his 1966 teammates, Stiles had to forge a new career once his playing days were over. It was never about earning money, you see, it was about being privileged to ply your trade at the highest level.
Goalkeeper Gordon Banks sold his at Christie’s in 2001 for $188,000, saying he wanted to save his children from worrying about what to do with it when he passed on. Similarly, midfielder Alan Ball sold his for nearly $250,000 in 2005 with the explanation: “It’s time to look to the future, not the past.”
The first person to sell up was George Cohen, who was beset by illness and cash problems after retiring injured at 29. He received $122,000 from his old club, Fulham, in 1998. His full back partner, Ray Wilson – who went on to become an undertaker – got the same amount for his a few years later in 2002.
Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst sold their medals for $228,000 each to their club, West Ham United. Martin Peters, the other member of the Hammers World Cup winning trio, parted with his after being made redundant from his insurance job in 2001.
David Davies, an agent who works on behalf of many of the 1966 team, told The Independent: "For a lot of the guys, the money is more useful than a medal. They have families and children to think about and look after. And for the players, the medal is not the valuable thing; it is the memory of having played in the final and the achievement of having won it."
All true but can you imagine the likes of Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard having to sell their league or cup medals to pay the bills? Something must be wrong when the true heroes of the English game were left with so little when those who have won absolutely nothing in the national shirt have so very much.