I’m often asked how I first got into professional football and I must admit that, when I tell the story of how I went from being a Bank Clerk to overseeing the commercial activities of a Premier League football club, I sometimes don’t believe it myself! One day I was sitting in the plush offices of Midland Bank, London South Regional Head Office concentrating on developing my career in marketing and sales training in the Bank, the next day I was sitting in my sparse office in Charlton Athletic’s portakabin at Selhurst Park concentrating on getting a new stadium announcer for the forthcoming match against Liverpool!
I’ll never forget that, as a long-standing supporter of Charlton Athletic, players who were heroes of mine, overnight became colleagues and I’m proud to say, friends. Players who I had cheered ‘from the terraces’ like Bob Bolder, Steve Gritt, Mickie Bennett, John Humphrey, Carl Leaburn, Colin Walsh, Mark Reid, Stuart Balmer, Paul Williams, Paul Mortimer, Garth Crooks and many others gave me so much support and assistance when I first came into the game and continue to be good friends to this day.
However, when I left Charlton in January 1991 to become the Marketing Executive of The Football League, little did I realise that this familiarity with players would carry on, but this time with some of the absolute legends of the game and none more so that the immaculate Bobby Moore OBE.
As I said, I joined The Football League’s Commercial Department as Marketing Executive in 1991 which at that time consisted of Commercial Director Trevor Phillips, Head of TV, Lee Walker, Marketing Manager Darren Venn, Licensing Consultant John Geraghty and Sponsorship Liaison Officer Jack Taylor OBE, the legendary 1972 World Cup Final referee!
This of course was the pre-Premier League period and I was brought in by Trevor Phillips to work with the Clubs and to account manage a couple of sponsorships, one in particular being the soon to be launched innovative family football initiative in association with Jewson – Jewson Family Football.
Literally, after a few weeks of joining the team I was in a top London hotel being photographed with Jewson Managing Director Les Morrell and Tottenham Hotspur and England star Gary Lineker launching Jewson Family Football!
I was and still am to this day, very proud of the Jewson sponsorship as I had significant input into its structure and content along with Rob Pope of Jewson’s sponsorship consultancy, The Sponsorship Workshop, which was based in Milton Keynes. Without a doubt Jewson played a huge role in showcasing the excellent work that Football Clubs were undertaking in their communities and at a time when community outreach work by Clubs was really still a relatively new concept. Basically there were two aspects to the Jewson sponsorship; an annual fund of £700,000 was made available and Clubs could submit proposals for grants towards improvements to their Family Enclosures. In addition Clubs were invited to submit applications for a Jewson Family Football Award which recognised excellence in community marketing.
One of the key aspects of this sponsorship was that Club applications for grants and submissions for awards were assessed by a specially selected panel of judges comprising Tom Pendry MP, Kate Hoey MP, Les Morrell, Football League CEO Arthur Sandford, Sunday People Sports Editor Bill Bradshaw and…….. Bobby Moore OBE.
I felt that we needed someone to represent the players on the panel and I said this to Trevor who agreed with me. ‘Call Bobby’ he said, ‘he’ll do it, here’s his number’. Now with the greatest respect to my former playing colleagues at Charlton, this was something different; here was my boss telling me to call England’s legendary World Cup Captain and I’d been given his private phone number. I remember going back to my office and ‘hovering’ over the telephone while I waited to compose myself before calling Bobby Moore, the Bobby Moore, the man who lifted the World Cup for England in 1966………!
I finally composed myself enough and dialled the number……’hello’ came the unmistakable voice of England’s greatest ever captain…….’hello Mr Moore, my name is Steve Sutherland and I work with Trevor Phillips at The League and he suggested I call you to ask whether you’d consider becoming part of a judging panel for a new Family Football sponsorship…’. ‘Sounds interesting Steve’ replied the great man, ‘ I’m sure I can do that, give my regards to Trevor and let me know when you want me to come in to talk about it…..and call me Bobby’. ‘Thanks…. Bobby,‘ I replied, ‘that’s great; I’ll be in touch with some more details and look forward to seeing you soon’.
From that moment on my relationship with Bobby grew, as it did with his business partner and former Fulham team-mate John Mitchell, who as Mitchell Moore Ltd organised all of The Football League’s pre-match soccer skills programme at the end of season Play-Off Finals. Bobby enjoyed his input on the Jewson panel and he never missed a meeting. I became ‘Stevie’ to Bobby and John and have great memories of our chats in my office when he used to pop in to visit Trevor or to join me on the Jewson committee. To this day my wife Helen never tires of telling people that she spoke to Bobby Moore once when he phoned me at home and Helen answered!
Whilst I have great memories of working with Bobby on the Jewson sponsorship; my greatest memory of him was when I persuaded him to play for a Football League staff team against a Charlton Athletic staff team put together by joint managers, Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt in the spring of 1992. Unbeknown to any of us that day, this was to be Bobby’s last ever football match.
Alan and Steve, who were colleagues of mine from my Selhurst Park days at Charlton, had challenged me to bring a Football League staff team to the Club’s training ground at Sparrows Lane, New Eltham to play their ‘staff team’. Now whilst we had some good footballers on the staff at the time, we certainly didn’t have any ex-pros to match Curbishley, Gritt and former player and then Club groundsman, Colin Powell and I knew that I had to ‘bolster’ my squad. I already drafted in my friend and Charlton fan, actor Karl Howman who wasn’t a bad player but I needed something else. I had the answer, I’d ask Bobby and John to turn out.
I must be honest, I didn’t really expect Bobby to say yes but that’s exactly what he did say and in fact he seemed well ‘up for it’. His one condition though was that I wasn’t to tell Curbishley and Gritt, he wanted that to be a surprise.
The day arrived and all that week I’d been swapping banter with Alan and Steve and it was obvious that they thought it would be a pretty easy match. One by one the cars pulled into the training ground and out got my squad but when Bobby and John got out you should have seen the faces of Messrs Curbishley and Gritt! ‘didn’t I tell you they were playing? I asked knowingly, ‘they work with The league at our Play-Offs so technically they’re staff!’
As ‘my team’ formed up for a team photo I remember looking to my left and seeing England’s World Cup captain at the end of the row and thinking that ‘it doesn’t get much better than this’ and also ‘if my former Midland Bank colleagues could see me now!’. When the referee blew his whistle for the captains to do the toss I gestured to Bobby to go up…’no Stevie, you’re our skipper’ was his response.
Everyone enjoyed the game which turned out to be quite a close affair and the final score was 1-1 but Bobby was brilliant, he hardly broke sweat. He played with his socks rolled down and just controlled things from the back and me and the rest of the team just obeyed his every command.
That team photo has had pride of place on the wall of every office I’ve had since that great day at Sparrows Lane and I’m looking at it now as I write this.
I often get asked, ‘were you a player before getting into the commercial side of football?’ and my answer is always the same ‘not professionally but I was Bobby Moore’s captain once and I did play at Wembley Stadium 14 times…’ but that’s another story…..!