16 April ~ Sir Bobby Charlton kept a roomful of people spellbound yesterday with stories of his life in football. The pick of the bunch was about Bill Shankly and the first day of the 1967-68 season. It was seven in the morning and Liverpool's squad had spent the night at a hotel in Lymm prior to visiting Manchester City. Alone in the lobby, Shankly was itching for conversation. On hearing from the porter that "Bobby Charlton lives round here", he headed out.
Charlton said: "My mother-in-law knocked on the bedroom door and said 'Bobby, we've got a prowler'. I opened the curtain and there was Shankly. I'd never met him before. I said ‘You'd better get up and brew some tea Norma'. On the way in, he said, 'The start of a new season, is this not paradise?'."
Shankly was, in one sense, an apposite choice for an anecdote to illuminate the fourth congress of the European Former Football Players' Associations (EFPA) in Liverpool yesterday. One of the central purposes of the association – established in 2004 in Barcelona – is to help old footballers "from the financial, social and health perspective". Shankly may not have known hard times but he certainly struggled to cope with retirement, hence his regular morning visits to Everton's Bellefield training ground. For many players, according to PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, another speaker, "it is like a cold shower when you've finished playing – the one thing you miss is that camaraderie, that solidarity, that fun, that friendship".
Everton, Shankly's unlikely place of refuge, offer a shining example to clubs in this country through the work of their former players' foundation (EFPF), one of 18 members of the European association and among 30 clubs in the equivalent British body (BAFPA). Everton's club chaplain Rev Harry Ross gave delegates from nine different countries examples of his foundation's work, which extends far beyond funding knee and hip replacements and handing out complimentary tickets. It sent one player to dry out at the Sporting Chance clinic with the PFA's help; it pays for stairlifts and walk-in showers in the homes of stricken old players; and it arranges get-togethers for colleagues from past eras. "We have two old players suffering from Alzheimer's. We send a group of their old team-mates up to talk to them and they bring back the old memories," said Ross. "A few days ago I heard about a former player who'd only played one game in the first team. He was 50 years married. We arranged for him to come to the game, we got flowers for his wife and a chauffeur-driven car to bring them."
Everton cooperate by donating a lump sum from the proceeds of the annual pre-season friendly at Goodison. At the season's end they allow the foundation to raise more funds through a ‘play on the pitch' day. Fittingly, Liverpool was the first city outside of Catalonia to stage the congress and tonight the Echo Arena will welcome some famous old faces for the six-a-side EFPA Champions Cup – including Gheorghe Hagi and Michael Laudrup for a Europe team and Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman for an England side coached by Terry Venables. For more information click here, and for tickets call 0844 561 7672. Simon Hart