Scottish Daily Mail
LESSONS MUST BE LEARNED
‘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
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.