Saturday 25 November 2017

Stiles' medal sale a legacy of harsh era

Eamonn Sweeney

There's something sad about the fact that Nobby Stiles is being forced to sell his World and European Cup medals in order to leave his family in a decent financial position after he's gone. Stiles had a stroke in June and enjoyed poor luck with his post-career investments.

His decision to sell means only three of England's 1966 World Cup XI, Jack and Bobby Charlton and Roger Hunt, still have their winner's medals.

In a sport where enormous sums are spent buying moderate players and a general culture of excess prevails, it does seem a pity that players who contributed to the greatest moment in the history of sport cross channel have felt compelled to sell off their medals for sums ranging between £80,000 and £150,000.

You could argue that Stiles, who is reportedly upset about having to make the sale, was more fortunate than many other working class men of his generation who had to work for far longer and ended up with no opportunity to create a similar nest egg for their descendants.

Yet it's indisputable that Manchester United would not be the financial behemoth it is today were it not for the tradition represented by the European Cup winning team of 1968. It seems remiss that there is such a disparity between the sums sloshing around these days at Old Trafford and the relatively paltry rewards enjoyed by Stiles and his peers. There have been books, DVDs and records about 1966 and 1968 which have generated plenty of wealth too. It doesn't seem to have made much difference to Nobby.

Some people are inclined to take a different moral from this story, namely that Stiles' financial worries underline the 'obscene' and 'disgraceful' nature of modern-day salaries. Yet Stiles is on a record as saying he doesn't begrudge current stars their money. The reason may be that he knows full well that even if modern players' wages were much lower, the balance would be going not to their predecessors on the pitch but to their bosses in the boardroom.

Stiles began his career during an era which is brilliantly captured in Eamon Dunphy's great book about Manchester United and Matt Busby, A Strange Kind Of Glory. It was a time when players were treated with great condescension, subjected to the indignity of the retain and transfer system which meant they were little more than indentured servants and kept to a maximum wage which bore little reflection to the profits they were making for the club. In the days before football agents, even the best players had little option but to like or lump the offer made by their club.

That Nobby Stiles feels forced to take this step says a lot more about the game then than the game now. If I was a millionaire, I'd buy the medals and give them back to the man. And that's probably one of the very many reasons why I'm not a millionaire.

Sunday Independent

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