Footballers, award nights and after-dinner speaking
Talking about the old days
13 June ~ The gregarious former Southampton defender Jim Steele arrived at my youth team's 1995-96 end-of-season presentation, removed the FA Cup winners' medal hanging around his neck and handed it to me, before making a beeline for the bar. He didn't return for it until after he'd finished dishing out the awards a few hours later. By then everyone in the room had got their paws on it. I have no reason to believe he was paid to show up, though many dads were happy to buy him a pint, so they could talk about that 1-0 win against Manchester United in 1976.
A team of teenagers left having touched a piece of local footballing history, while Steele staggered into a taxi. Everyone went home happy.
End of season presentations during this time were often fuelled by Chinese whispers that Matthew le Tissier or Rodney Wallace were ten minutes away in the car. There was always a palpable sense of disappointment when they didn't arrive. One year we got Neil Heaney instead. If he did have better things to do than dish out awards to 13-year-olds at a community hall on a Saturday night he didn't show it.
For every unpaid gig handing out medals to kids, there is a room full of men in sports jackets willing to pay a king's ransom for anecdotes about the old days. If the figures quoted on Unit One Entertainment are to be believed then Andy Gray commands a fee of £6,000 for a night's work. That work could feasibly boil down to recalling how he bundled Watford goalkeeper Steve Sherwood into the Wembley goal netting in the 1984 FA Cup final, which is good money by anyone's standards. Of course, there would be his travel expenses and overnight accommodation to consider but, barring a tour rider of Elton John proportions, it remains a lucrative exercise. As long as he gets bookings, of course.
Anyone hankering for Gray's chemistry with old sparring partner Richard Keys will be excited to discover they can be booked as a duo via Garston Entertainment. The testimonials speak for themselves. Newport County describe the double act as the best entertainment the club has ever had – which some might interpret as a scathing indictment on the club's entertainment policy. Not that Gray is the biggest hitter in the world of after dinner speaking. According to Comedians.co.uk, an evening with Kevin Keegan will set you back £8,000 – eight times what Jan Molby would cost.
Rather than Keegan's fee, it's the curious first few lines of his biography on the website that catches the eye: "Kevin Keegan is a Liverpool and footballing legend. With his crazy hair styles and fantastic football, Kevin is never without something to talk about in his after dinner speeches." Even Keegan's harshest critics would concede there are far more interesting aspects of his character than his hairstyle. At £8,000 to hear him speak you'd certainly hope so. Mark Sanderson