Scottish Daily Mail


‘It’s sad. The fo­cus is on re­search but that takes time. Peo­ple are dy­ing now. Play­ers of my gen­er­a­tion need help now ...and not just for de­men­tia.’ JOHNNY GILES

- by Hugh MacDon­ald

IT may be im­per­ti­nent to break into Johnny Giles’ 80th birth­day party but it is in­struc­tive. The guests on the Ir­ish ra­dio show celebrity oc­ca­sion included Graeme Souness and Kevin Kee­gan.

The pro­gramme’s ti­tle, Off The Ball, had a shud­der­ing res­o­nance to the time when foot­ball was a war, where bat­tles were con­ducted far from a spher­i­cal ob­ject and where the ad­jec­tive long ap­plied to mem­ory as well as ball.

Souness, the so­phis­ti­cated en­forcer of Liver­pool leg­end, im­me­di­ately con­fronted Giles about a tackle in­flicted by the Ir­ish­man when a short corner had been taken and ac­tion had oth­er­wise trans­ferred to the six-yard box.

Kee­gan, an­other Liver­pool leg­end (apolo­gies but there is no other more pithy de­scrip­tion), was greeted by Giles with the re­join­der: ‘ How’s your chin, Kevin?’

This was a ref­er­ence to the mo­ment in the 1974 Char­ity Shield fi­nal when Giles punched the Eng­land star. as Souness and Kee­gan ami­ably nursed their griev­ances, shins and chins, decades on, Giles had a sim­i­lar re­sponse to both.

He told Souness he had been re­tal­i­at­ing for a tackle al­most a year ear­lier. He in­formed Kee­gan that the then-permed for­ward had tried to ‘do’ Billy Brem­ner and Nor­man Hunter at Wem­b­ley. Giles stepped in to de­liver ret­ri­bu­tion.

‘There is a moral­ity to it,’ he agrees of his ac­tions in an era when foot­ball was bru­tally phys­i­cal. ‘What you find when peo­ple say: “you did this, you did that”, the re­ply should be: “But what about your­self?” I have no doubt I did things I should not have been do­ing but it was the cli­mate of the day.’

Giles, once voted the great­est Repub­lic of Ire­land player of all time, was the sub­tle, in­tel­li­gent player who made Leeds United move with the grace of a bal­le­rina. He was also the com­peti­tor who would have made mike Tyson look like a bal­le­rina.

He can — and will — talk of play­ing with Brem­ner, clash­ing with Souness, con­fronting Ber­tie auld, be­ing man­aged by greats. He can also speak of be­ing taught by Bobby Collins, a ne­glected Scot­tish fig­ure in the game’s pan­theon.

But the big­gest les­son in his life came from a less cel­e­brated source in the shape of Johnny Watts, a jour­ney­man de­fender for Birm­ing­ham City.

‘I got done when I was 20,’ Giles re­calls. ‘a re­ally bad tackle from him put me out for months with an­kle lig­a­ment dam­age. In 1965, Ed­die mcCreadie (the Scot­tish full-back with Chelsea) had a hor­rific tackle on me. The game was get­ting tougher and tougher and there was no pro­tec­tion from refs. you had to com­mit griev­ous bod­ily harm to get a yel­low card.’ Giles, in­ci­den­tally, was booked for punch­ing Kee­gan.

The Ir­ish­man did not melt un­der the in­juries he sus­tained but he did nurse his right­eous wrath to keep it warm. ‘I made a con­scious de­ci­sion. I said: “I’m not go­ing to go through this again. This is it. I’m go­ing to be dan­ger­ous”. For my own pro­tec­tion, to be all owed to play, I got my re­tal­i­a­tion in first, as Danny Blanch­flower would say.

‘I knew what was said in dress­ing rooms. It was: “If you get stuck into this guy he’ll pack it in”. I didn’t pack it in. I would have loved to have played to­day. you are pro­tected nowa­days. That’s good. But back then was a dif­fer­ent world.’

It was one that Giles( right) roamed with a code that was shaped in the cru­cible of un­re­lent­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. He is a man of al­most Bi­b­li­cal prin­ci­ple. The eye-for-an-eye phi­los­o­phy is ob­vi­ous but his ad­her­ence to other val­ues per­sisted from manch­ester to Leeds United, to man­age­ment with West Brom and the Repub­lic of Ire­land to his ca­reer as an in­sight­ful and frank pun­dit. age has not dimmed him. He re­flects on a past when man­agers of strong so­cial­ist cre­den­tials — Bill Shankly, matt Busby, Jock Stein — all worked to keep down play­ers’ wages. He rages against a present when foot­ball au­thor­i­ties seem slow to ad­dress the plight of former play­ers.

‘all the at­ten­tion now i s on head­ing the ball and de­men­tia and I un­der­stand that,’ says Giles, whose friend and brother-in-law, Nobby Stiles, is a re­cent vic­tim of the con­di­tion.

‘But I come from a gen­er­a­tion of older play­ers who are dy­ing off and I think the PFa has an obli­ga­tion to look af­ter th­ese play­ers.

‘Re­gard­less of how the play­ers get de­men­tia, they have not been treated as well as they should have.’

He is angry over the de­lay in fi­nan­cial help to suf­fer­ing play­ers and their fam­i­lies. ‘It’s sad,’ he says. ‘The fo­cus is on re­search but that takes time. Peo­ple are dy­ing now. The play­ers of my gen­er­a­tion need help now and not just for de­men­tia. That is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Fa and PFa. The PFa has money in the bank. What’s it do­ing there?’

IT was op­por­tu­nity, not money, that de­fined the ca­reer of Giles. ‘It’s a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion when you are a player and the man­ager loses con­fi­dence i n you,’ says the Dubliner. Giles played well in manch­ester United’s 3-1 vic­tory over Le­ices­ter City in the 1963 Fa Cup fi­nal. But he learned a les­son

while los­ing to a mar­vel­lous S Spurs team in the previous y year’s semi-fi­nal.

‘I was 21. I was play­ing against a mid­field of Blanch­flower, (Dave) mackay and (John) White. I wasn’t ma­ture enough to do what I wanted to do. I had a very bad game. matt lost con­fi­dence in me and that was it.’

His fine dis­play in the 1963 show­piece drew no praise from Busby. a trans­fer re­quest was ac­cepted and Giles, stub­bornly con­fi­dent, signed for Leeds in the Sec­ond Di­vi­sion. ‘I didn’t fall out with matt,’ he says. ‘He had a pa­tience and charm about him. He was gen­tle in his ways, but he was deadly.’ asked to elab­o­rate, Giles

adds: ‘ He was ruth­less but great man­agers have to be. He was tough, too, and brave. He al­ways told us to keep on play­ing, never set­tle for 1-0, al­ways go for the killer goal.’

He be­lieves, though, Shankly and Busby ‘col­luded’ to con­trol play­ers’ wages. ‘ Matt didn’t throw the money about. When we had the max­i­mum wage, he told us all we should be on 100 quid a week. When it ended, he of­fered us 25 quid plus a fiver ap­pear­ance money. We talked to the Liver­pool play­ers who said Shankly of­fered the same. They col­luded to keep money down. We weren’t ask­ing for favours, we just wanted them to be fair.

‘The Celtic play­ers will tell you the same. Jock paid them noth­ing.

I could not un­der­stand that, given where Busby, Shankly and Stein came from. They had been poor, they were treated badly as play­ers, too. I would have thought they would have said: “If I get into a po­si­tion of power, then I’ll be fair to the play­ers”. That’s what it is about. Don’t be gen­er­ous, be fair.’

If this tough les­son still ran­kles, he i s pas­sion­ate about t he ed­u­ca­tion, at Leeds. It came prin­ci­pally from Collins, the Scot who ex­celled f or Celtic and Ever­ton but who f ormed the cul­ture at Leeds.

‘The mantra was that no one leaves Old Traf­ford and be­comes a suc­cess and that Matt Busby was a saint. I didn’t be­lieve that,’ he says. ‘I was young but I was lucky enough to ra­tio­nalise my sit­u­a­tion. I felt I had no fu­ture at Old Traf­ford and my sec­ond point was that if some­one come in for me, then they ob­vi­ously wanted me.’ He chose Leeds be­cause he felt they were a club on the rise but also be­cause of Collins. ‘I was a great ad­mirer of him. He was ten years older than me and I saw him play­ing for the Scot­tish League in Dublin and I thought he was great,’ he says. ‘ I played against him on a few oc­ca­sions when he was at Ever­ton and then I knew he was great. That was a huge in­flu­ence on my de­ci­sion. ‘ He was a great ed­u­ca­tor. Leeds would not have been able to do what they did with­out Bobby’s in­flu­ence.’

Giles won two ti­tles, an FA Cup, League Cup and two Fair Cities Cups with Leeds. He and Brem­ner were the touch­stones of a team that were con­stantly in com­pe­ti­tion for the big prizes.

‘Billy had great abil­ity and an un­be­liev­able con­fi­dence,’ he says of his part­ner in cen­tral mid­field. ‘He was al­ways go­ing to be the star in his own head and a lot of the time he was. He had a cock­i­ness about him. He wasn’t a good trainer — do­ing a cross coun­try he would be the last in — but put a ball out there and he would stay out all day. Billy didn’t worry about op­po­nents. He be­lieved in him­self.’

How was that col­lab­o­ra­tion so strong? ‘I was much calmer. Billy would want to go for­ward if we went a goal down. He had this zest and I was more com­posed. That’s how you get a nat­u­ral part­ner­ship. Billy knew when to help me when I was in trou­ble and I was the same with him. We both had the same am­bi­tion to win matches. We came from the same stock.’

The top prize of the Euro­pean Cup eluded them both, with the clos­est run be­ing when Leeds fin­ished run­ner-up in 1975.

Giles, though, be­lieves the best chance was in 1970 when they were beaten by Celtic in the semi-fi­nals.

‘ We were well beaten but I thought the team that won that tie would win the cup,’ he says, sur­prised that Feyeno­ord were the even­tual vic­tors.

‘We could have no com­plaint but there were cir­cum­stances. It’s not excuses but we were caught in a fix­ture pile-up. But, again, Celtic were the bet­ter team.’

He faced an­other com­bat­ive Scot in the two-legged tie. What was his view of Ber­tie Auld?

‘Ber­tie was bril­liant but tough as nails. He wasn’t dis­crim­i­na­tory. He would do anybody,’ he says, the smile an em­blem for a ful­fill­ing ca­reer.

‘I have no regrets,’ he adds. ‘I al­ways say I was lucky. I had an an­gel on both shoul­ders.’

Maybe. But, bless­edly, there was a bit of the devil there, too.

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 ??  ?? No mess­ing: Giles once laid out Kevin Kee­gan (above) and (be­low) with the late Stiles
No mess­ing: Giles once laid out Kevin Kee­gan (above) and (be­low) with the late Stiles

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