I joined The Football League as Marketing Executive at the start of 1991 – I’d previously spent 3 years as Commercial Manager of Charlton Athletic FC when the Club were based at Selhurst Park. The formation of the Premier League was sanctioned a little over a year later, on 20 February 1992, following the decision of clubs in the then First Division to break away from The Football League, which had been going since 1888. The First Division clubs formally resigned from The Football League in May 1992 and the Premier League was formed, with the inaugural campaign starting on Saturday 15 August of that year.
You can imagine that for my colleagues and I at The League, the period between February 1992 and August 1992 was a huge time of change and re-adjustment as we had to plan for life without our top Clubs. It was busy, it was stressful but I remember thinking to myself and recording in my diary that I was working in football at one of the most historic and iconic periods in the Game’s history and I saw it as a massive opportunity to play a part in helping to re-brand and re-position The Football League, the World’s oldest football league competition.
We wasted no time in getting going on the task in hand. Barclays Bank had agreed to continue their title sponsorship of The Football League for our inaugural season and under the terms of our sponsorship with Barclays we were obliged to play inter-league International matches.
Agreement was made with The Italian League for a inter-league representative match in March 1992 between the then called Football League Second Division (now called the ‘Championship’) and a Italian Serie B team. Glenn Hoddle, then manager of Swindon Town was invited to manage our squad. I too was to be given a role in the tour party.
My boss at The League, Trevor Phillips, called me into his office – ‘you’ll be going on the trip to Naples; we need to arrange their kit, can you handle it please.’
As The League didn’t have its own deal with a kit supplier – it hadn’t needed one before – I had a blank sheet of paper in terms of who I could approach. As luck would have it, that day a commercial strategy group meeting was being held at our offices and my good friend Alec King, Sunderland’s Commercial Director was down for the meeting. Alec recommended I contact Bob Roberts, the MD of Hummel, who were Sunderland’s suppliers and within minutes of speaking to Bob the deal was done. Hummel could not have been more helpful and we were delighted with the design.
A week before the squad’s departure I received a call from The League’s Assistant Secretary Andy Williamson to tell me that I had been designated as the ‘travel manager’ for the trip. Now as anyone who knows me will tell you, this was probably the most inappropriate job to give me! It is all I can do to get myself to Eastbourne for a weekend without forgetting some essential item or another so to find that I will be responsible for getting almost 40 people to Italy for three days was a somewhat daunting prospect!
Glenn Hoddle had asked his old ‘Spurs and England colleague Peter Taylor, then Watford number two, to assist him and as departure day grew nearer the inevitable started to happen, as several players picked up injuries and had to withdraw from the League Squad. However, replacements were selected and the full squad plus officials left Luton Airport for Naples on 2nd March.
The full Football League squad was:
Manager, Glenn Hoddle, Swindon Town
Coach, Peter Taylor, Watford
Physio, Ken Steggles, Cambridge United
Team Doctor, Dr P. O’Connor, Watford
Bobby Mimms, Blackburn Rovers
Eric Nixon, Tranmere Rovers
David Kerslake, Swindon Town
Jason Drysdale, Watford
Simon Coleman, Derby County
Colin Calderwood, Swindon Town
Mark Smith, Barnsley
Paul Williams, Derby County
Jacki Dziekanowski, Bristol City
Steve Bull, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Paul Kerr, Millwall
Paul Kitson, Derby County
Paul Cook, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Don Goodman, Sunderland
Obviously with my allegiances to my former employers and the team I’ve supported all my life Charlton Athletic, I remember being disappointed that there weren’t any Charlton players in ‘my’ tour party but Charlton couldn’t release any players as they played Grimsby that week. Middlesbrough players also missed out due to their Rumbelows Cup Semi-Final with Manchester United.
The match itself, which was played at Casertana’s stadium in Caserta, saw the Italians run out 2-1 winners, our goal was scored by Paul Kitson.
Despite the scoreline, the game certainly vindicated the ‘new’ Football League in terms of showcasing the quality of the players in the League. Big names like manager Glenn Hoddle, who took the field as a late second half substitute and England International Steve Bull were supported by promising youngsters Paul Kitson and Jason Drysdale.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It was an honour to represent The Football League in Italy and to my wife Helen’s amazement, I didn’t lose anyone – although Paul Kitson gave me a few worrying moments on our return when he couldn’t immediately find his passport and I found myself rummaging through his bag with him, on the floor of the departure lounge!
The downside of my success as a ‘travel manager’ responsible for getting a near 40-strong party of players and officials to and from Italy has been that whenever I’ve gone on holiday since that time in 1992, my ‘little boy lost’ act hasn’t worked with Helen and I’ve had to look after my own passport!