James Lawton: Bellamy in need of old school discipline

Click to follow
The Independent Football

AS £45,000-a-week Craig Bellamy of Newcastle United sat in the Highbury stand, as furtive as an absconding schoolboy after missing training because of a feigned injury, Niall Quinn shook his head, sighed and turned back to the past.

AS £45,000-a-week Craig Bellamy of Newcastle United sat in the Highbury stand, as furtive as an absconding schoolboy after missing training because of a feigned injury, Niall Quinn shook his head, sighed and turned back to the past.

He said that when he was a young lad at Arsenal one of the incentives to good behaviour was the avoidance of a clip around the ear from a senior professional. Quinn is not yet 40 but he was speaking of another age, one when a concept like collective responsibility in the dressing-rooms of English football did not take your breath away.

Was it really true? Bob McNab, a member of Arsenal's Double-winning team of 1971 and an England player whose greatest pride lies in the fact that Georgie Best never gave him the runaround, this week confirmed, albeit somewhat reluctantly, that indeed there was a system of self-policing in the marble halls.

He put it into practice when he replaced the injured Frank McLintock as team captain. During a close-season tour some Arsenal players were questioning curfew rules imposed by the manager Bertie Mee on the eve of a game in the Bahamas. "Bertie told me," McNab said, "that while he understood the approach was more relaxed on such a tour he definitely wanted players to be in their rooms at a certain hour.

"There was a bit of opposition to this but I insisted that we had been given our instructions and we were all pros. Well, I wasn't making much headway with one of the lads so, yes, I did give him a crack."

What McNab did not want to admit, but then agreed that it had been mentioned many years ago in a book written by the former Highbury manager Terry Neill, was that the "disciplined" player was not some uppity apprentice.

It was one of the greatest performers in the history of English football, indeed in the opinion of many hard judges, including his England team-mate Nobby Stiles, the man of the match when West Germany were beaten in the 1966 World Cup final. It was Alan Ball.

"Bally" had arrived at Arsenal after the great Double year and, for all the glory of his career, was finding out about the culture of a fiercely professional team.

McNab lives in Santa Monica these days and works in property development. His daughter Mercedes is a Hollywood actress. He inhabits a world utterly remote from the English football of the Sixties and Seventies, but his passion for the game survives to the extent that he too has been following the Bellamy saga via the internet.

"You know the real problem - the difference between my day and Craig Bellamy's - is that I was on £90-a-week basic. After coming down from Yorkshire I lived in London for more than a year before I could afford to buy a little house - and if somebody interfered with my chances of doubling my money with a win bonus - or maybe trebling it if we played two games in a week - he had to account to me and his team-mates.

"Frank McLintock was the captain - and he earned £5 more than me. The idea of being less than honest about your fitness, whatever position you were asked to play, wouldn't cross your mind. How much does Bellamy earn? Forty-five grand a week. Apart from pride, we had the incentive of our bonuses ... we knew we had a short time in football. We were hungry footballers, it was simple as that."

That was the world that still lingered a little when Quinn arrived from Dublin in the Eighties, and that maybe made him the player and the person he was. When he retired, after the years when his professional earnings soared, enabling him to buy a fine house and racehorses, he stunned the football world by paying all the proceeds of his £1m-plus testimonial game to charity.

"I just wanted to give something back," said the man who alerted the football public to another set of values when the Bellamy controversy first broke.

Quinn conjured a time when the players of Leeds United slaved to avoid the dreaded yellow bib which was awarded to the least impressive worker on the training field. When Ian St John, fighting to put an impoverished Portsmouth back on track in the Seventies, laid out a player who had been less than committed in a vital practice session. Later the great Liverpool player went into the dressing-room and apologised to the team, said he had gone too far, and was told, "He deserved it, boss." When Francis Lee, the great Manchester City and England striker who made his millions when the playing was over, lectured Rodney Marsh, the glamour boy signing from London, when he came into the old Maine Road dressing-room wearing beads and sandals and somewhat overweight.

It was, surely, a time when the Bellamy story just could not have happened. When someone would have taken him to one side and told him how to behave.

Comments