‘I paid 82.5pc tax for most of the Seventies’
Malcolm Macdonald, 67, found fame as a professional footballer in the Seventies playing for Luton Town, Newcastle United, Arsenal and England. His prolific goalscoring (210 from 435 appearances) earned him the nickname “Supermac”.
He has since been a football club manager and worked in media. Now he lives in Northumberland with his wife, Carol, and their dog, Billy.
Did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
Greatly. I lived in Fulham, west London, in a rambling semi-detached house and when I was 16 my father died. He’d been a self-employed painter and decorator and for four years had been ill with a dodgy heart.
So at 12 and the eldest of four brothers, I felt it my responsibility to bring money home. I did Saturday jobs at a butcher’s and greengrocer’s, and morning and evening paper rounds for sixpence each.
I was playing football, but when I kept arriving to school late because of the paper rounds, the headmaster instructed my sports master to drop me from the first team.
So my father said he knew I wanted a career in football and advised me to leave school and I did.
What was your first full-time job?
At 15, working in a sports shop for £8 a week. I also played for local sides. My father died the following Christmas and I committed to selling the house and buying a tobacconist and confectioner’s in Forest Row. I did the business handover and for six months ran the shop, learning the ordering and bookwork.
I took driving lessons and my driving instructor, who was an ex-footballer, referred me to a side in Sevenoaks, where I was spotted by Tonbridge Football Club and signed with them.
I’d close the shop and arrive late for training. My first pay packet was so heavy I thought there was a bonus in it, but it was £5 short and there was a wristwatch inside. My manager, Harry Haslam, said: “No excuse for being late now, son.”
With appearance money, bonuses and travelling expenses my £8 became £13 to £20 a week.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I spend on necessities and I’m profligate in always buying highquality handmade shoes.
Do you use cash, debit cards or credit cards?
All three. Credit cards I pay off at the end of each month.
Have you invested in property?
This is where I’ve always made my money. My wife and I have a portfolio of three buy-to-let properties (total value £1m) and have a reasonable income from it.
We’d have more but the exwith Chancellor added an additional tax when you buy a second property.
Now councils have sold off so much property that people have turned into buy-to-let, these investors are doing the job councils used to do: putting roofs over millions of people’s heads, but being punished for it.
I know there are nasty people in the buy-to-let industry but they’re very much the minority.
Have you ever been ripped off ?
Yes, an unsavoury business episode in the Eighties when we took someone to court three times. The judge in the High Court ripped him apart and he was banned as a company director.
We’d done some business with him and he’d forged my signature on all the documents; the companies went bust and they were coming after me.
He’d shifted everything into bank accounts in Scotland and you couldn’t touch it, but I didn’t lose money.
It caught me up in a horrible whirlwind but, fortunately, I got legal aid.
Does money make you happy?
Not necessarily. What does make me happy is that my wife, Carol, and I get on wonderfully together and have been together 21 years.
Have you put money aside for your retirement?
Yes but I’m not sure anybody can say they’re well-off because the cost of living has risen so dramatically. I’ve got a couple of pensions but they’re not massive. I haven’t taken my state pension: I’m leaving it to keep building. I understand it goes up by 8pc a year.
I also have my buy-to-let income.
What has turned out to be your best financial decision?
Buying an American-style ranch house here in 2000.
The owner worked for a company that went bust, so they had to sell quickly and I got a hell of a deal. I bought it for £230,000 and sold it five years later for £450,000.
Was football a good living?
Tonbridge sold me for £1,750 to Fulham, who sold me for £17,500 to Luton, who sold me to Newcastle. One day after training, the Luton manager, Alec Stock, took me out to the centre circle, looked over his shoulder to make sure we weren’t being overheard in an empty stadium and said: “We’re not going up, which means our little club has to sell its most expensive asset, and that’s you, old son.”
In the last game for Luton I scored a hat trick against Cardiff, and he sent me to Joe Harvey, Newcastle United’s manager, who said: “What did you think you were doing scoring a hat trick in your last game for Luton Town? Your manager’s been here this morning, after already agreeing a fee of £155,000, and put it up £10,000 per goal you scored!”
But from 1971 to 1979, when I retired, I was paying 82.5pc tax, so even when I was on £500 a week Arsenal I never took home more than £100.
Throughout the Seventies all the pop stars eloped to America and become tax exiles, able to make music sold in British shops anywhere in the world, but football had to be played here.
What did Arsenal pay for you in 1976?
I was with Arsenal’s manager Terry Neill when he rang Lord Westwood, the Newcastle United chairman who he accused of twice reneging on his original offer for me of £275,000.
He said: “Now, my Lord, I am offering you precisely one third of a million pounds [more than £2m today] and I would like an answer that you stick with.” And he agreed.
Club secretary Ken Friar showed me a photocopy of the cheque to Newcastle United for £333,333.34.
I said “shouldn’t it be 33p on the end?”, but he said the chairman had insisted on 34p because a third of a million would be 33.3p and he wasn’t having them quibbling that we’d done them out of a third of a penny.
What was your business in Italy?
I started a company there in 1990, fitting premium phone lines for Telecom Italia. I saw an opportunity, as the Italian government insisted its Italian companies be foreign-owned.
I found financial backers and it took off really well, but one Christmas the government pulled the plug, taking all the equipment from 138 companies.
I’d had a feeling something was going on and got £500,000 out and our investors put it elsewhere in the world. I’d saved them half a million so they looked after me quite nicely.
Do you gamble?
When playing for Arsenal, I bought the leg of an old greyhound.
We’d go to see him run, and the trainer would give us the word if he was in good form. So I’d have a bet and usually won because of this advice.
Has your “Supermac” nickname helped your career?
It’s very nice but can be a weight around your neck.
For example, I could never become an insurance salesman because as soon as I’d start talking about my policies they’d say: “Yes, but do you remember that game in…?”
Macolm Macdonald said he made his money from property investments, rather than his wages playing football