When ‘The Clan’ tried to cash in
In March 1972, seven high-profile London footballers gathered at a fancy eaterie to be snapped by legendary photographer Terry O’neill, hoping to exploit their star quality. It didn’t quite go to plan
March 1972. In a plush London restaurant, a selection of the capital’s finest football talent meet for a photo shoot. They call themselves The Clan. Winger Alan Ball, who had recently gone to Double-winners Arsenal for a record £220,000 fee, is present and correct in his suitably stylish polo neck and jacket. QPR’S forward Rodney Marsh – about to sign for Manchester City – is there. So too are Rs team-mates Terrys Mancini and Venables. They’re joined by West Ham’s 1966 World Cup Final hero Geoff Hurst, plus the Chelsea duo of defender David Webb and playmaker Alan Hudson.
Godfather-style, they pose for leading snapper Terry O’neill with the iconic shot appearing in The Sun the next day.
“Footballers have got to become more astute and realise there are a wealth of possibilities out there,” states midfielder Venables. “The Clan hopes to exploit this potential.” At the click of the camera’s shutter, Huddy, Hursty, Bally, Marshy and friends were to be thrust into a turbulent new era of commercial opportunity for top football players.
Bearing in mind the heady atmosphere that surrounded the shoot – or perhaps more presciently the copious amounts of champagne on offer – it’s unsurprising that the exact details regarding the birth of The Clan remain open to conjecture.
In The Mavericks: English Football When Flair Wore Flares, author Rob Steen wrote: “Alan Ball and a business acquaintance conceived the bright idea of forming The Clan... the syndicate comprised some of the league’s notorious attractions with the aim to generate extra income from various promotional ventures.”
“It’s all a bit hazy,” Ball later said, “but I recall seeing Terry Mancini puffing on some enormous Cuban cigars.” Mancini did pose with a cigar, though he insists: “I’ve never actually smoked one in my life. I’m not really a cigar fan.” And as for Steen’s claim that Chelsea forward Peter Osgood was a founding member of The Clan, Ball revealed: “Ossie never turned up for the shoot and had no involvement in it subsequently.”
The idea had actually been conceived jointly, not by Ball but by the legendary photographer O’neill – official snapper of Hollywood actress Raquel Welch – and Man City manager Malcolm Allison, who was unable to attend on the day of the get-together. Both Hudson and Venables insisted that the gathering happened at a restaurant somewhere near the King’s Road (Chelsea fan O’neill’s old stomping ground), but the picture was eventually taken at Terrazza Est, near Fleet Street.
“I had never worked with footballers,” recalled O’neill, who embodied London’s creative spirit of that time. At night he’d often socialise with Swinging London’s ‘in-crowd’ at the Ad Lib club. O’neill also snapped Hollywood A-listers including Frank Sinatra and Robert Redford, huge pop groups such as The Rolling Stones and The Beatles and top models Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton.
“In my eyes they were stars as much as models and musicians,” said O’neill. “George Best mixed with the stars from films and music, and some claimed The Clan was attempting to cling onto Best’s coat-tails. I suppose there may be some truth in that, but I was starting to look at other ways in which I could bring out the individual in footballers when I took their photograph.
“The photograph came first, and then the boys looked into different ways that the group could make money.”
Mancini, who made five appearances for the Republic of Ireland, adds: “Some of the boys were a bit more astute in the commercial area, but there weren’t the advisers to guide us back in those days. It began with good intentions, but was all a bit disjointed.”
In fact, The Clan failed to make much money at all. “I reckon it just ran out of steam,” Chelsea midfielder Hudson tells FFT. “It generated nothing for any of us, but that wasn’t quite the point.”
Ball always maintained that the image The Clan portrayed was paramount. “The photograph was so important, because footballers were now beginning to stand out as individuals and looked more into possible spin-offs.”
As the game began to enter the brash Technicolor era, the 1970s football star flaunted his wealth.
“If you were a little bit spiky, like Bally, Marshy and I, things would come your way because of it,” reveals Hudson. “You became a name. I did some modelling shots and personal appearances all over London. I’ve got no idea if I could have made any more out of it, but I enjoyed the whole thing.”
Individual members of The Clan, who would usually get paid for their trouble, posed on the bonnets of their flash new motors, showing off the most recent MG on the market.
“I used to love bombing around in my car,” said Ball. “A bloke I knew at a local dealer set me up, but I had to make sure that, in interviews, I kept going on about my brand new MG.”
“Sometimes we’d let journalists know that we were at such and such disco or casino,” says Hudson. “It certainly went down well with the management of the bar or restaurant or whatever – they all loved the publicity and would often ply you with free food and drink.”
Footballers’ profiles soon became the ultimate example of working men made good. “I could identify with that as I had come from a very similar background,” said O’neill. “In the 1960s, the East End had taken over the West End – and why not? Footballers were now showing that if you had talent, you could do very well for yourself.”
Several members of The Clan craved the publicity, and free entry to London’s hotspots, more than the money. “I had quite a gung-ho attitude,” adds Hudson, who won two England caps. “I never saw myself as a businessman – we can’t all be like Terry Venables!”
Though Geoff Hurst and Rodney Marsh both had property interests – the former went on to forge a prosperous business career after his playing career came to an end – Venables was the Clan member who most successfully used his profile to exploit all the extracurricular activity opening up to footballers during the ’70s and beyond.
“I like to explore various ideas,” El Tel revealed, at various intervals a big-band crooner, novelist, board-game inventor, nightclub owner and pundit. “Footballers shouldn’t feel they are straitjacketed to just playing the game.”
As the ’70s progressed, so did players’ awareness of the many riches available. Showing a formidable level of ambition, Kevin Keegan led the way, appearing in Brut commercials with Henry Cooper, BP adverts and TV shows such as Little and Large and Superstars (falling off his bike in one of ’70s television’s most famous moments). The Ballon d’or winner also released a solo UK single entitled Head Over Heels in Love, which reached No.31 in the charts in 1979.
“I was always keen to explore different avenues, always wanting to work hard,” said the former Liverpool and Hamburg forward. “Some of the guys earlier in the ’70s had dabbled in it, and my advisers learnt from their mistakes.”
Others were able to benefit, too, with Keegan’s England colleague Peter Shilton negotiating a profitable boot deal with Gola courtesy of agent Jon Holmes. And when Nottingham Forest’s Trevor Francis became England’s first £1million player (after VAT) in 1979, agent Dennis Roach stated: “For Trevor, there are numerous media and business avenues he might choose to explore.”
Reflecting on the photo shoot, O’neill said: “It was all quite innocent, but it lit the blue touch paper.”
Thanks to this iconic picture, the next generation of upwardly mobile players in the 1970s were about to enter a whole new world of commercial opportunities. They haven’t looked back since.
Clockwise from bottom left Mancini, Webb, Hurst, Hudson, Venables, Marsh and Ball