Wayne could learn from story of Stan the survivor

Ian Wooldridge

Last updated at 00:00 15 October 2003


APART from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a junior composer from the age of six, I racked the remnants of my brains to think of anyone who warranted a 217-page biography at the age of 17.

Steve, our unfailingly cheerful postman, came to the rescue by thrusting into my hands a bulky package. It contained a review copy of The Story of Football's Wonder Kid: Wayne Rooney.

Lord knows how I could have been so stupid. By page three I discovered that Wayne was on Pounds 13,000 a week the moment he signed as a professional footballer for Everton in January this year and will probably earn Pounds 20million in worldwide commercial endorsements very soon.

Seriously, how could Wolfgang compete with that?

He only wrote 41 symphonies, 21 piano concertos and a few musicals like The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute before they tossed him, stony broke, into a pauper's grave.

Obviously, this is an absurd comparison but I have another which isn't.

Stan Rickaby, an immaculate, sleek- haired right back with Middlesbrough, West Bromwich and England in the immediate post-war years, has this week published his autobiography Upover And Downunder. It took him seven years to write in longhand and is 220,000 words long.

Never sanctimonious, it is a story of a lad born into a Christian home in County Durham during the depths of the Twenties depression. His father, out of work for five years, scrabbled around in mine workings for scraps of coal.

The home was always immaculately clean. Stan won his way to grammar school and was very good at football.

But essentially, this book isn't about football. It is about survival from an era when footballers were paid far less than airline pilots and were left to their own devices when their legs gave out.

The careers of that generation, of course, were cauterised by World War II. Rickaby landed on the Normandy beaches on D-Day+4 and fought his way up to the carnage of the Nijmegen Bridge. His colleagues and Germans lay slaughtered all around him.

He returned to a fine football career in England and eventually became player-manager of Poole Town in the Western League. This was when I first met him as a young sports writer on the Bournemouth Times. Stan remembers me as 'hirsute' (wrong, even then) and ' knowing little about football' (correct to this day).

But never, ever was there financial security. He studied accountancy and joined Bernie Cornfeld's disastrous insurance scam, left for Australia where he and his German wife, the lovely Leni, took multiple jobs which brought them in contact with brown snakes and even deadlier drunken Aborigines.

It is an enthralling book. I don't suppose a single English footballer will bother to read it, preferring to pleasure a compliant teenage tart over the back of a chair in front of a large mirror in some extremely expensive hotel.

I do not imply that Wayne Rooney indulges in these gymnastics but only draw attention to the disparity between footballers of a now near-forgotten age and those of a generation in which many of them appear to believe that astronomical salaries put them beyond the law.

Upover and Downunder by Stan Rickaby is published by Britespot at Pounds 14.99. Wayne Rooney, by Harry Harris and Danny Fullbrook, is from Robson Books at Pounds 9.99. And I still don't understand why publishers don't round up their prices to the nearest quid. Does a penny off attract more buyers? I doubt it.

i.wooldridge@dailymail.co.uk

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