Spurs Mystery: Where Did Gate-Money Go When Soccer Players Were Paid Peanuts?

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Spurs Mystery: Where Did Gate-Money Go When Soccer Players Were Paid Peanuts?
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Yaya Touré: A wage cut would hardly leave him destitute

We all know where most of top soccer’s gate-money goes these days—into the bulging pockets of the multi-millionaire players we pay our pennies to see.

Quite right, too, though it would be nice if it was carved up a little more fairly, so the poor fan would not have to cough up a fortune to take his kids to a big game.

I mean, how many Premier League lifestyles would be ruined by a £20,000-a-week maximum wage?

Well, maybe Yaya Touré would feel the pinch at losing more than 90 percent of his salary at Manchester City. But you would struggle to find anyone in civvy street who wouldn't salivate at the thought of earning a cool £1million basic.

Wage-capping is a topic for the future, but have you ever wondered where all the takings went in the, ‘50s and ‘60s, for example, when professional footballers in the UK took home a maximum of £20 a week?

The gate-money didn’t end up in their pockets, that’s for sure. And equally certainly, the fans didn’t get in for nothing. So where did it all go?

When I started watching Cardiff City FC in my early teens, they were a half-decent side. On second thought, they were a completely decent side, because they were in the old First Division, the Premier League of that era.

We would regularly rake in massive crowds when the big boys like Manchester United and Spurs came to Wales. Indeed, when Danny Blanchflower’s all-conquering Tottenham side came to Ninian Park in their 1960-61 double-winning season, the terraces were packed with 47,000 fansmyself among them.

The 1961 victory over Spurs was memorable for Cardiff City fans - but not quite so memorable as this one at Wembley

Of course, we didn’t pay 30 quid or more to get in, as many Premier League fans do today.

I think they fleeced us for two shillings (that’s 10p in today's money) for adults and ninepence (less than 4p) for kids.

My Dad would give his soccer-mad daughter half a crown (12.5p) just to get rid of me on a Saturday. So I’d hop onto a train from Caerphilly to Ninian Park Halt with a couple of male friends and watch my beloved Bluebirds take on the best.

(It’s amazing to think that 12.5p bought a return rail ticket, entrance to the game, a programme and even five cigarettes if you so desired.)

It was on March 11, 1961 that Spurs came to South Wales on their all-conquering travels. I’ll never forget the occasion, because we beat them 3-2.

But where, I wonder, did all the gate-money go?

There were no substitutes in those days, leaving just 22 players to pay at a maximum of  £20—that’s £440 at most. Presumably the managers didn’t get a lot more; let’s say another £30 each for team bosses Bill Jones and Bill Nicholson.

So the people who made it all possible received an estimated £500 between them.

Now for the money that came in through the turnstiles.

Glory glory boys: Danny Blanchflower's double winners take it out on Leicester in the 1961 FA Cup Final

Let’s be generous and say that 12,000 of the fans that day were juniors. That’s 35,000 adults, at 10p (£3,500) (though I'm sure some seats were considerably more expensive), plus 12,000 kids at 4p (£480).

Total gate money = £3,980.

That leaves around £3,500 unaccounted for. OK, there were grounds' staff and a modicum of stewards to pay as well (there was no trouble at games in those days, so the police presence would have been only minimal).

But presumably, £3,000 or so of those takings went into the pockets of the directors—SIX times as much as the players and two managers put together!

Have I got something wrong here?

I never was much good at mathematics, but I’d love to know where all the money actually went. Can anyone enlighten me or does no-one else remember that far back?

Reflecting on the way players were remunerated in the 1960s, perhaps we should not be so harsh on today’s prima donnas. They are the people we pay to watch, so it’s only fair that they get a big slice of the gate money.

The problem is that enormous contracts and greedy agents are responsible for ever-escalating ticket prices that many of us just can’t afford.

One solution would be to cut top players’ wages by at least half (which would still leave them in a life of luxury) and reduce admission prices by 50 percent.

Or would that be too logical to be practical?

Meanwhile, I’m off to look for Sherlock Holmes. He’s sure to know where the missing money went...

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