Football: Football's route to riches

I can't help wondering what the family of Neil Franklin must feel about today's salaries
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The Independent Online
TOMORROW, AT 10.30pm on BBC1, Alan Hansen presents a programme called The Football Millionaires, in which he interviews, among others, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Alan Shearer, Jamie Redknapp and Dwight Yorke. Rather unattractively, most of them are at pains to explain that being a football superstar on pounds 20,000 or so a week is not all it's cracked up to be, what with the unwanted attentions of the tabloids and all those flipping autographs to sign. Only Shearer is honest enough to admit that there has never been, nor possibly will ever be, a better time to be a top professional footballer.

The fundamental problem with such programmes is that most footballers are worth listening to only when they have a ball at their feet, especially David Beckham, who is Artur Rubinstein with his boots on, and Arthur Mullard with them off. Nevertheless, Beckham makes perhaps the most interesting contribution to The Football Millionaires, recalling that, following that sending-off, the most supportive of his colleagues was Tony Adams. As the post-match gloom descended, Adams sat next to him outside the England dressing-room (the implication being that he was not welcome inside the dressing-room) offering consolation. The born-again Christian Glenn Hoddle, by contrast, cut him dead.

One conspicuous absentee from the programme is Steve McManaman, who is not only more articulate than most players, but will soon be one of the richest. It is said that Real Madrid are to pay him pounds 65,000 a week, and I hope that the Liverpool crowd will wish him well. At the same time, I can't help wondering what the family of Neil Franklin must feel about such stratospheric salaries.

Franklin - who died two years ago aged 74 - played 27 consecutive games at the heart of the England defence, and was, in the estimation of Sir Tom Finney, "the best centre-half I ever played with or against." But Franklin was dissatisfied with his earning power. "I remember standing on the pitch with him in 1948, before England played Scotland at Hampden Park in front of a crowd of 130,000," Sir Tom told me recently. "There was a band marching up and down with bagpipes, and Neil said to me, `there's something wrong here, Tom. These buggers are being paid more than we are.'"

In the spring of 1950 - to the surprise of his club Stoke City, who had repeatedly refused his request for a transfer - Franklin left to play for the Santa Fe club in Bogota. Colombian clubs were free to sign foreign players in breach of contract because they were not affliated to Fifa, and offered the kind of money that quite understandably seduced players on a maximum wage of pounds 20 a week.

But Franklin soon found that Bogota was definitely not to be confused with El Dorado. He never saw the pot of gold he'd been promised, and his pregnant wife and six-year-old son found it hard to settle there. Within a few months he returned to England, tail between his formidable legs, and found himself both snubbed by his erstwhile colleagues and villified by the authorities. Despite his proven ability, none of the top clubs wanted him. Tom Finney tried to persuade the Preston North End manager, Cliff Britten, to sign him. "I said, `he's a marvellous player, he'd walk into any side.' But Preston wouldn't have him, and he never played for England again. Eventually he ended up at Hull City, who were in the Second Division."

Speaking of the Second Division in bygone years, last week I referred to Sunderland's giant-killing exploits in the 1973 FA Cup, and referred to their 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the semi-final at Villa Park. I was wrong. Jim Dixon writes from South Gosforth to say that he found my column slightly disconcerting. "Having supported Sunderland since 1959 through the downs and downs, I find that I was in the wrong place when a rare moment of glory occurred. Some 55,000 of us turned up at Sheffield Wednesday's stadium, but it seems we should have been in Birmingham."

Apparently I was also wrong about the game being on Match of the Day. "We didn't actually see the highlights until Sunday afternoon on Tyne Tees," adds Mr Dixon. "No hard feelings. It's just that Sunderland and success are not words you usually use in the same sentence, so please don't spoil my one moment in 40 years." If I can count a few chickens on Mr Dixon's behalf, he at least has Premiership football to look forward to next season. In the meantime, all I can say to him is a big fat mea culpa - who, I think I'm right in saying, is married to Giovanni Culpa, reserve team goalkeeper for Internazionale.