Work at 4.30am, Wembley at 3pm: A 1960 Team GB footballer recalls last time out
17:55 GMT, 20 July 2012
18:09 GMT, 20 July 2012
The footballers representing Britain in these Olympics might struggle to comprehend the sporting life of someone like Terry Howard, one of those who represented a GB football team the last time they entered the Games, in 1960.
The idea of clocking on at 4.30am for work at Billingsgate fish market before being let off early to go to play a cup final at Wembley, for example, would stretch the imagination of anyone from our gilded generation.
Yet one thing the modern-day hopefuls do share with him is a desire to experience what Howard calls the ‘privilege’ of being an Olympian, however different it will all be to what he and his fellow amateurs went through together in Rome 52 years ago.
Memories: Ex-Team GB footballer Terry Howard pictured at Billigsgate Market
For him, it included seeing the then Cassius Clay parading around the athletes’ village with a gold medal round his neck, as well as testing himself against future Brazil World Cup star Gerson. And then it was straight back to Billingsgate, where he has worked as boy, man and pensioner for nearly 60 years.
‘It was brilliant, the whole thing,’ says Howard, now a sprightly 74 and still working a daily 12-hour shift running his own fish merchant’s stall. ‘I’m not surprised that someone like David Beckham is keen to play in the Olympics.’
Howard’s group of elite amateurs, drawn largely from the old Isthmian League and bolstered by some Scots and Northern Irish, did not do too badly either. Despite facing teams studded with professional experience, they narrowly lost to Brazil, held the hosts to a 2-2 draw and were eliminated only at the group stage on goal difference after beating China.
But then, as he points out, amateur football in this country was of a very high order back then, with not everyone of a certain quality immediately drawn to the professional game with the enormous wages on offer as now.
‘We were no mugs and could play a similar type of football to the Brazilians and Italians,’ says Howard, whose son, also Terry, played for Chelsea before enjoying a long career at Leyton Orient.
‘We were beating Brazil when our full back Tommy Thompson broke his leg in the first half, and there were no substitutes. We couldn’t hold them and went down 4-3.’
As a grammar-school boy who grew up in Stepney, east London, near the Redknapps — ‘lovely people’ — Howard was an England junior rugby triallist but developed his football when he went to work in the fish market at 15.
BACK ROW: David Holt (Capped by Scotland five times), Roy Sleap (Played as an amateur for Barnet),
Ron McKinven (206 games for St Johnstone), Mike Pinner (Joined Man Utd in 1960), Tommy Thompson (Played for Blackpool), Paddy Hasty ()Played for Tooting and QPR)
FRONT ROW: Bobby Brown (Played as a Barnet amateur), Terry Howard (Made one GB appearance), Laurie Brown (Played for Arsenal and Spurs), Hugh Lindsay (Last Southampton amateur), Hugh Barr (Played for Northern Ireland B)
There was a vibrant sports culture there, and among his colleagues were boxers Billy and George Walker. In his early twenties he was playing for Hendon Town as a speedy left winger in the side that reached the Amateur Cup final at Wembley in 1960.
Before a capacity crowd — and the Olympic team selectors — he scored a dramatic last-minute winner that got him his ticket alongside players from the likes of Bishop Auckland, Evenwood Town, Dulwich Hamlet and Scotland’s Queen’s Park.
Granted two weeks’ leave ‘by my sympathetic guv’nor’, he and the team set off for Rome more in hope than expectation. ‘My one regret is that we missed walking round at the opening ceremony because we were playing Brazil in Livorno hundreds of miles away the next day,’ recalls Howard.
‘We settled into the athletes’ village after that. It was very comfortable with everything laid on for us, and it was great mixing with the other athletes. There was this big hall with music on and I remember Muhammad Ali (Clay as he was then) swaggering around with his medal round his neck,’ he adds.
‘We played well and drew 2-2 with the Italians. It was packed and they were literally hanging over the barriers.
‘We were a good team with some excellent players. I watch non-League football now, and most of them would struggle to get in the reserves of the amateur sides I played in. We beat China but missed out on goal difference. We stayed on for a couple of days and did a bit of sightseeing around Rome — then it was back home to work.’
All smiles: Howard experienced a far different Olympics from today's athletes
Howard’s career took him to other top clubs of the era in Enfield and Sutton, playing in four Amateur Cup finals, on the day of which he would always go into work before taking the Tube to meet the team coach and head to Wembley.
‘When I was at Enfield, we drew 2-2 at Reading in the FA Cup and I played quite well. They offered to sign me on the spot, but I told the manager I wasn’t interested. I’ve always enjoyed working in the market and it was a good living, I had a young family and had bought a house (off Geoff Hurst, just after the 1966 World Cup).’
Howard missed out on the 1964 Olympics team with a broken leg, but Britain failed to qualify anyway. By 1968, the amateur game had seen most of its talent turn pro. ‘We were true amateurs and felt like genuine Olympians,’ says Howard. ‘I never got paid for playing. They’d cover your train fare and you’d get sandwiches afterwards but there wasn’t any money. The spirit was fantastic. There were no divisions — we still have the occasional get-together.’
So he recommends any modern-day player should grasp the chance to compete in the Olympics with both hands, and believes football belongs there.
Howard adds: ‘I’m not envious of today’s players — I’ve had a great footballing life and made loads of friends. The Olympics was probably best of all.’