IMAGINE a top-flight footballer, soon to play for England, working afternoons as a petrol pump attendant.
That same footballer could also be seen in his local pub downing pints alongside fans who paid hard-earned wages to pack the terraces on Saturday afternoons to watch their fellow regular pit his wits against some of the greatest attacking players on the planet.
In terms of celebrity status, former Mosley Common colliery worker Tommy Banks – one of the working class heroes of the Bolton Wanderers team that won the FA Cup in 1958 before facing the mighty Brazilians in the World Cup finals in Sweden that same year – is so far removed from the likes of Ashley Cole that it’s mind-boggling to even contemplate comparisons.
Yet he wore the number three shirt with distinction for club and country and was regarded as a talented, as well as formidable, left-back.
The difference, of course, is that 82-year-old Tommy belonged to a different era, an era when ‘star’ footballers earned little more than the national average wage.
Yet the mega wealthy Coles of this world owe a huge debt of gratitude to Tommy for playing a small, but significant, role in the Professional Footballers’ Association’s success in forcing the abolition of the maximum wage, before which clubs could pay their top players no more than £20 a week.
The astonishing events of January 1961 are chronicled in a new biography of Tommy Banks, Ah’m tellin’ thee, written and published by another ex-Wanderer Ian Seddon who lives in Astley.
Footballers’ anger had been fuelled by situations experienced by Banks and his fellow Bolton players when on a visit to Paris on an end-of-season European tour they were given daily expenses of £2 10 shillings (£2.50) while the directors and their wives received £5.
But when push came to shove at a meeting of the northern branch of the PFA in Manchester, delegates were split on whether to accept a new maximum wage of £30 – until Farnworth-born-and-bred Banks got up and delivered the speech that united the union, who then voted for strike action and, ultimately, beat the football authorities into submission.
A Bury player had spoken against the proposed strike, saying his father was a miner and did not earn quite as much as he did for playing football.
At that point, Tommy got to his feet and – as a former Mosley Common Colliery worker himself – delivered a passionate and pointed counter-argument.
His speech, paraphrased by current PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor – another ex-Wanderer who shared a dressing room with Tommy at Burnden Park – went along the lines: “Yes, I hear what you say and I have every respect for your father’s job as a miner because I have been down that pit and at that coal face.
"I know how difficult it is but just let me tell you one thing, ask your dad to come out of that pit next Saturday afternoon and mark ‘Brother’ Stanley Matthews and see what he has to say.”
At that point all eyes turned to Stanley Matthews – the greatest right winger of all time who had been one of Tommy’s greatest adversaries – and, as the words sank in, the meeting roared its approval.
Where there had been division, there was unity and minutes later PFA secretary Cliff Lloyd invited press men into the gathering to see the players’ delegates vote unanimously for strike action.
A’m tellin thee is not your ordinary sporting biography.
Ian Seddon has delivered a fascinating social history while telling the life story of a humble and honourable down-to-earth boy who became a local hero but remained true to his roots.
In his foreword, Gordon Taylor writes: “Today’s multi-millionaire footballers owe a great debt to the son of Farnworth who might well have been formed out of the very coal pitch which featured in that area as he was granite-like, a great player, great person and great character.”
The book is a heart-warming tale of a young man of humble beginnings who became one of the game’s great characters.