In those halcyon years of the 1960’s, at a time when footballers were working class hero’s in comparison to today’s world ‘superstars,’ there was an abundance of players who could be characterised in the mould of Carl Jung’s archetypal, ‘Likable Rogue’. Jimmy O was such a player; there was something about him which just didn’t stack up; even though he made his living as a professional footballer, Jimmy O didn’t really enjoy the game. Any time off, from training or playing, you would find him on the golf course, at the races, or visiting a local nightclub. He rarely considered watching football, however, he would be seen supporting his local Rugby League team, whenever he got the opportunity.
Training most days of the week was a necessary chore, but he knew he had to conform to this routine, if he wanted to continue his lifestyle. Most youngsters of the 1960’s, would have given their right arm to be a professional footballer, but Jimmy O would have packed in playing tomorrow, if he could have a job which paid as much, and gave him the free time.
He was usually the first away after training, often spending the afternoon at his local betting shop, or racetrack. With Jimmy O’s attitude it was a bit of a mystery as to how he could hold his own, albeit in a lower tier of the English Football League.
The answer to this mystery could be found in his amazing ability to dribble the football, combined with his acceleration over the first ten yards. He was smallish in stature, about five foot seven inches and his lean torso stood in contrast to his short muscular legs. His bulky thighs gave him the necessary thrust which enabled him to surge past opponents; the ball seemingly attached to his feet. When taking on a defender, the ball would dangle off the toes of his right foot, as he shifted it in both directions, either unbalancing the fullback, or else inviting him to tackle, before Jimmy O wriggled past him to cross the ball.
Jimmy O perceived himself as a ‘bit of a lad’ with the ladies, often boasting to us young professionals about the women he had either “screwed,” or was going to “screw.” After training sessions, as he slid into a dapper grey suit, he would often give us intimate details of his latest exploits. His eyes twinkled roguishly at our incredulous reaction to his yarns. He would often relate them to us as he smoothly slicked back his cropped brown hair, whilst straightening his tie in front of the mirror, before leaving for his lunch at the café across the road.
He didn’t drive a car; which back in those days, wasn’t unusual because although professional footballers of that era were well paid in comparison to the general workforce, they earned nowhere near the salaries of modern day players.
Letters from fans and admirers would be delivered to the club by mail, the club’s Secretary taking them to the dressing room and placing them on each individual’s changing spot. On one unforgettable occasion Jimmy opened an envelope containing a pair of ladies panties, which he promptly paraded around the changing room, flagging them in our boyish faces and assuring us that sometime in our football future’s we would also receive such erotic gifts. The older players took the piss, saying that he was far too ugly for a girl to be interested in him, accusing him of posting the panties to himself.
At one stage in his life one female must have fancied him, because he was married, however, it a seemed a strange relationship in the context of the times. In those uncomplicated days of the sixties you could gain a fee of about 300 pounds if you transferred to another club without requesting a move. Some players, including Jimmy O, made a habit of doing just that. At one of his previous clubs, he arrived at training one morning to be informed that a club in the South of England was interested in buying him, and that he would be released if he wanted to transfer. Jimmy O caught the next available train, and by the same evening had negotiated terms, signing for them on the spot.
“What did your wife say?” Was our immediate response.
“The next day I rang her and told her what I’d done,” he replied casually.
“Did she join you?” Asked one of the apprentice pro’s, in admiration of his audacity.
“Course not,” he replied, “she had a good job, and anyway I knew I’d be transferred back up North after a couple of seasons.”
On many occasions I played directly behind him, giving him the ball as early as I could, and on his day, I would marvel as he cut in and outside defenders before crossing or laying the ball back for our strikers. However, in other games he wouldn’t want to know, and I’d find myself chasing back after two players because he was too lazy to track back. At seventeen years old I was too naïve to yell at him to help me out, but he always complimented me and told me I had played well, even though sometimes I knew I’d had stinker.
“You were great today, Tilly,” he would say, particularly after I had ran my bollocks off chasing his man!
Although Jimmy O was always affable and friendly towards me, other players had commented about a vicious streak in him, which erupted now and then. I once witnessed this dark side of his personality, and surprisingly, this was in an ‘off the field’ situation.
One morning, after I had climbed off the bus near our training ground, he followed me down the road; coming alongside, I turned to greet him but uncharacteristically he totally disregarded me. A fixed sour expression encased his usually good-humoured buoyant face. Without a word of acknowledgement, he strode quickly past me in order to catch up with two of our teammates, some short distance ahead. As he came alongside them, without warning or breaking stride, he raised his arm and crashed his fist into the face of one of the unfortunate players; without uttering a word he stormed off towards the training pitch.
“What was that about?” I asked sympathetically, as I caught up with them.
“Fuck knows,” was the beleaguered reply.
As was often the case in the football environment of those days, the incident was passed off as just; ‘one of those things’ and to my knowledge, no further action was taken.
I lost touch with Jimmy O for a few years, whilst I played my football abroad, but our paths crossed again, this time at a seaside resort, where both our teams were preparing for FA Cup games. He had dropped down into Non-League football; his new club had found him a part-time job to supplement his earnings from football.
“I’m making more money now than I did when I was fulltime,” he bragged to me, “and I only have to train twice a week.”
He was quick to inform me that he could now wear the mantle of an ‘International footballer’. Jimmy O’s grandparents had migrated to Yorkshire from one of the smaller European countries early in the twentieth century, and amazingly, he had been capped by that particular country under the ‘grandparent’ eligibility rule. He made several appearances for them, including two World Cup play-off matches. He further informed me that his marriage had ended in an amicable divorce a few years earlier.
“Guess what Tilly, I’m still pulling in the women,” he boasted to me.
I nodded and smiled, but I’m sure that my face revealed that now, in my mid- twenties, I might not be as gullible to his stories as I was in my teens.
At some stage, during our stay at the resort, I watched his team in a training session, covertly peering out from my hotel window. Although he had ‘put on the beef’ and lost a bit of pace, he was still the chirpy figure of his earlier days, pirouetting around and nut-megging his teammates at every opportunity.
Sadly, the last I heard of Jimmy O, many years later, was when I ‘googled’ the internet for some information about one of my past clubs. Regrettably, he was named in a 1980’s newspaper article as the main suspect in a murder case; involving a young woman……..
Fiction; based on true incidents.