Until yesterday I had no memories of Birmingham City winning the League Cup on May 27th 1963. I was in my final year at university back then and thinking of exams and getting a job. I didn’t have a radio or TV so I probably didn’t hear the result for some time. News from Birmingham reached me sporadically in occasional letters from my parents.
Yesterday evening, I acquired some memories as I listened to the surviving members of the 1963 squad, speaking at the commemoration organised by the Former Players Association. I was pleased to hear that the club had provided the Legends Lounge at no charge to them, another indication that the club staff are doing a good job even though the board over in Hong Kong seem preoccupied with other matters.
It was a delight to listen to stories of games gone by and to sense the players’ affection for the club. There were a lot of funny stories and laughs and also some regrets expressed. The quote that stuck in my mind was the advice that Bertie Auld’s dad had given him when he was a small boy: “Retaliate first!”
Some of the more recent ex-players were there and I managed to have a chat with two whom I had seen play, Paul Tait and Liam Daish. I’d met Paul on a previous occasion when travelling back by train after watching Blues play Fulham at Craven Cottage in February 2010. He was with a couple of friends and after we’d chatted about the game for a bit they told me who he was and I didn’t believe them at first. I don’t expect ex-players to travel on trains like ordinary people.
Thinking about it now, I realise that the players of the past were like ordinary people and didn’t get paid the extraordinary salaries that some receive now. Just before the wage cap was abolished in 1961, their maximum wage was £20 a week at a time when industrial workers were earning £15.1 Footballers’ wages started to rise after that but it wasn’t until the TV money started flooding in during the early 90’s that top tier salaries began to soar to heights unimaginable to the ordinary working person.2
Jerry Gill was the most recent player to attend the event last night. Nobody from the 2011 cup-winning squad had accepted the invitation to attend, though some had sent signed pictures. It made me wonder if any of today’s players will ever attend events like the one last night or if their wages and their lifestyles are so different from those of their fans that they no longer feel at ease chatting to us. I don’t know but I would encourage my fellow fans to seize every opportunity to meet the old players that are still around. We may never see their like again.