From Bald to Bale – a tale of two Saints
David Armstrong's life is a world away from the Galactico's
If you were stunned to learn that Gareth Bale will earn £300,000 per week at Real Madrid, imagine how someone who once did the same job as Bale for rather less money is feeling.
It would have taken David Armstrong, another left-sided former Southampton attacking midfielder, nearly 10 years to earn Bale's weekly wage in the 1980s. While Bale will never need to work again when he retires, Armstrong, 58, sells office equipment and draws industrial-accident benefit after an ankle injury ended his football career at 33 and required six operations, a story told in his new book, The Bald Facts.
Jealousy, though, is not part of Armstrong's make-up. "It's a short career, as I know all too well," he said. "If people are willing and daft enough to pay players silly money I don't begrudge it. Good luck to them. But for ex-players such as myself, and the fans, it's harder to relate to clubs that are paying those fees and wages. With the dire economic situation in Spain I can't comprehend how they can pay that amount of money when people there are struggling.
"I wasn't a Gareth Bale. I'd have classed myself more as a sort of Frank Lampard, so if I was playing today I suppose I'd have been earning the same as Frank is. But I didn't come into the game to make money, just to play and show people what I could do. I think I'd have been highly embarrassed at what I would have been earning now."
Is Bale worth it, if anyone is? "I was doing radio summarising when he first came into the Southampton side and you could see he had great potential – magnificent skill, strikes a good ball, a great engine, and he's been brought through a Southampton system that emphasises how important it is to continue to work and to learn as he has done. I hope it works out for him at Real Madrid."
The Saints team that the Durham-born Armstrong joined from Middlesbrough in 1981, if not exactly full of galacticos, was certainly studded with stars, such as Kevin Keegan, Mike Channon and Alan Ball, and finished runners-up to Liverpool in 1984. Ron Greenwood gave him his first cap, Bobby Robson a start against West Germany at Wembley. But four years after playing for England, he was hobbling to sign on at the dole office, where his distinctive bald dome made anonymity impossible.
The left foot that provided innumerable assists and most of his 118 goals between 1971 and 1988 is now fused and immobile. But at least it no longer causes him such agony that he once considered amputation. "It crossed my mind," he said. "I was taking a step and cringing because I couldn't put full weight on my ankle joint. It was raw bone rubbing on raw bone. You would think, 'Do I really need to take that step?' I cried myself to sleep on many occasions, as my wife will verify, and thought: 'I can't go on like this'.
"I had a second fusion operation after an unsuccessful first one, and if it hadn't worked, I thought I'd rather have the bottom of my leg off because it was wearing mentally on me and my wife. I still have to watch every step I take and to concentrate if there are any cobbles or bumps. But I am now pain-free for the first time in 25 years."
The ankle had taken many knocks before the final tackle in a game for Bournemouth. "I played through injuries, I played on with an undiagnosed broken bone at one point. But I wouldn't change anything. I'm very fortunate to have played for as long as I did."
Never a drinker or gambler, he began to struggle financially after a ruinous divorce settlement gave his first wife £15,000 of his £35,000 salary. Bailiffs knocked on his door soon after he had been persuaded by Lawrie McMenemy to join Southampton rather than Manchester United, and later needed the help of the PFA and Middlesbrough ex-players' association to cover the mortgage and fund some of the operations.
"It's not easy asking for help, it's embarrassing, but needs must," he said. "I don't blame my first wife, I blame myself for marrying and then leaving her. The problem is that my injury robbed me of the second half of my working life. I literally limped through all my coaching badges. Jimmy Quinn offered me work at Reading but I had to be honest and say I couldn't stand on my leg day in and day out.
"There have been difficult times, but a lot are worse off than me. People die of cancer and other diseases – I've only got a bad ankle."
The Bald Facts: the David Armstrong biography, by Pat Symes (Pitch, £17.99)
Latest in Sport
Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt: Examining the Impact of 'Taker's WWE WrestleMania return
Arsenal vs Monaco: Theo Walcott 'involved in spat' with fans after Champions League defeat
It's time to stop the 'small club' jibes after Chelsea signed £200m Yokohama deal
Paul Scholes: Jose Mourinho's attempt to influence football's decision-makers is not working. In fact, it may have backfired
After record-breaking £5.136bn Premier League TV deal, why are Everton the only British club to win in Europe?
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 What color is The Dress, white and gold or blue and black? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Oscars 2015: Birdman beats Boyhood as Eddie Redmayne and Patricia Arquette win big - as it happened
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia