Wish you were here

Jon Spurling looks at how footballers' holidaying habits have changed radically since the days of the maximum wage

For England’s multimillionaire footballers, there is one major consolation to having flopped so dismally on the grand stage earlier this summer. With cash to burn, they have the choice of jetting off to any destination in the short gap between the World Cup and the new season. Frank Lampard, with girlfriend Christine Bleakley in tow, holidayed in Italy with the Redknapps while the newly single Ashley Cole took a break in Los Angeles. According to the tabloids, Cole quickly got over the trauma of his split from Cheryl by partying until the early hours in “the city’s top nightspots”.

It wasn’t always like this of course. Before the abolition of the maximum wage, many leading players took on other jobs in the summer to supplement their (relatively) meagre income. Even the better-off footballers didn’t travel far for a break. Stanley Matthews, fresh from England’s poor display in the 1950 World Cup, treated his brood to an invigorating week in Skegness, where he insisted on rising at 6am and embarking on solitary runs on the windswept beach. Quite what Mrs Matthews and the kids made of this fitness regime is unclear, although even the notoriously uptight Stan later admitted that his insistence on eating in “virtually the same restaurant each night” may not have been convivial to a jolly holiday.

To put it mildly, old-fashioned bosses didn’t approve of their charges (released from the shackles of wage restrictions in 1963) squandering their new-found wealth on foreign trips. As the package holiday era took off Spurs boss Bill Nicholson and coach Eddie Baily lambasted several of the first team squad for returning to pre-season training with “long hair and suntans, looking like girls”. “When we [Nicholson and Baily] were your age,” Baily informed striker Martin Chivers, “we had rifles in our hands. The only time anyone our age travelled abroad was to go to war.” Bill Shankly loathed taking a break of any kind, although his wife Ness did occasionally manage to prise him away from the Melwood training ground for days out to the beach at Southport. Rumour has it that he once threatened to fine defender Alec Lindsay the money it cost him to take his family to Spain “to teach you not to waste your money like that”.

Inevitably, it was George Best who broke the mould when it came to footballers going on holiday. By the 1970s, he regularly used Spanish resorts as his boltholes. He fled to Marbella to announce the first of his retirements (in 1974) and it was in Majorca that he developed thrombosis in the leg from sitting awkwardly on a bar stool for too long. Best was also the first footballer to regularly journey beyond Europe and, revelling in his popstar persona, rubbed shoulders with the likes of Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow in the burgeoning Mexican hotspot of Acapulco. In after-dinner speeches, fellow 1970s Flash Harry Frank Worthington still gets mileage out of a story of meeting a blonde there who hailed from the “Swedish” (actually Belgian) town of Knokke.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of East Midlands travel agencies’ interest in the resort of Cala Millor, Brian Clough was a pioneer in using Majorca as a mid-season break for his Derby team. Famously, Clough then irritated Leeds United players by refusing to break off his family holiday there to begin pre-season training after he was announced as the club’s new boss in 1974.

By the mid-1980s, with players increasingly affluent and able to enjoy multiple holidays, the booze culture so prevalent in the English game was simply transported to assorted Mediterranean resorts. In his autobiography, Addicted, Tony Adams talked of blokey holidays in Kos, Rhodes and Torremolinos, and of urinating in the lobbies of plush hotels. He later recalled bumping into a host of young top-flight footballers out there. The tabloids repeatedly published photographs of fans drinking and partying with stars they’d cheered or booed on the pitch a few weeks earlier.

Although, on the face of it, players downing copious amounts of alcohol was becoming frowned upon by the mid-1990s, it didn’t prevent Liverpool’s Don Hutchison from dropping his boxers in an Ayia Napia bar, sticking a Budweiser label to his genitals and being snapped by a British tourist, who promptly sent the picture to the Sun. Hutchison was fined £5,000 and transfer listed. Six years later, stills from a video showed Kieron Dyer, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand “partying” with several blondes on their balcony in the same resort.

These days, only the most well-heeled football fans are likely to bump into Premier League stars on holiday. Peter Schmeichel summed up the terrible hardships facing footballers taking breaks abroad these days: “The problem is that people, no matter how well meaning, just want to talk football. It can make things difficult.” The majority of leading stars tend to holiday in plush apartments, on pricey yachts (Frank Lampard was a guest on Roman Abramovich’s expensive piece of hardware three years ago) or in hotels that can only be located in brochures you don’t see in your average travel agents.

Only occasionally have footballers strayed from the norm when it comes to travelling abroad. Manchester United skipper Martin Buchan, regarded as one of the more cerebral players of the 1970s, nipped off to Australia to go backpacking across the outback with a pal, and Newcastle’s Jeff Clarke informed Shoot! readers that he liked nothing better than to pack his knapsack and go hiking in the Lake District. Bumping into a footballer from yesteryear is always guaranteed to raise a frisson of excitement and gives one an inkling of the world they have come from.

A couple of years ago, former Wolves and Everton striker Wayne Clarke and his family stayed in the same Menorca hotel as my family. Wayne was splendid company (I forgive him for glazing over when I repeatedly told him after a few beers that his brother Allan was nicknamed “Sniffer” – maybe he knew this already?) as were his wife and daughter. On the Clarke’s final day of the holiday, Wayne’s wife suddenly announced that she had something “unbelievable” to tell us about her husband’s former Everton team-mate Neville Southall.

Just as Mrs C was about to reveal all, our daughter announced she was about to jump into the pool without her armbands. When I returned from saving her from drowning, Wayne’s wife had gone to pack, taking her “Big Nev” revelation with her. I wonder whether a chance meeting with Gareth Barry or David James in some far flung destination could induce such a heady mixture of excitement and frustration.

From WSC 283 September 2010