Terry Venables, Mars Inc, Martins the Newsagent, The Sun, Esso, W H Smith,
The Evening Times, Mel Stein and Paul Gasgoine. What do they all have in common?
If you think that this story has been moving at the speed of light then fasten your seat-belts because it is about to go even faster.
My first task would be to sell my idea to all the football players I wanted to sign. Trevillion told me that he could get me meetings with most of their agents. He knew them personally or he’d had contact with them at some point in time during his illustrious past. I never really knew how true this boast was until I’d made a list of the 20 players I wanted to make for my collection. It wasn’t an easy task, picking the top 20. On the one hand we didn’t want to miss out any important names from the list and on the other hand we’d have to find a balance in order that people buying the product in the UK would collect all 20 pieces and not just one or two. You see in Great Britain football or soccer is more important to more people than anything else in their life and the rivalries between various teams both in England and in Scotland is sometimes so intense that you can actually feel the hatred between supporters when you go to games. For instance if you are an Arsenal fan you can’t stand Totenham Hotspur fans or the players that play for that club and the same applies to Rangers and Celtic or Liverpool and Manchester United. The issue I had was that if I chose Teddy Sheringham of Tottenham Hotspur then I would have to find an Arsenal player to achieve an equilibrium. We decided to go with Tony Adams of Arsenal in the end. It took us 2 weeks to finalize out top 20, and after that we never changed even one player, no matter how many others we believed should be on it.
There was Gasgoine and Adams, McCoist and McStay, Sheringham and Le Tissiere and so it went on. We all believed the final 20 would be good for neutral supporters too, but as I’ve said it took a lot of juggling just to get the balance we needed. Now we were set with our choices, the next task was to prove more difficult. Signing each individual player to a contract.
I employed the services of my lawyer David Gottler. David had been with me for several years and was instrumental in guiding me through the divorce with my ex wife. He’s a no nonsense straight-faced and very upfront human being. He’s also a man I trusted completely and my intentions were to camp in his office until we thrashed out the content of this contract for each player. At first he was skeptical, I’d told him that I’d give each player 500 pounds to sign and that would be paid in an up front advance of 250 pounds when the contract was signed and the balance when pins depicting their image arrived in the UK. Can you believe that? 500 pounds! Gottler thought I was mad. He told me that no player in his or her right mind would accept such a low amount.
“They are all earning 20,000 pounds per week Alan. Why would they want another 500?”
“David, they’re all egotistical morons. They want is to see their face in lights. I’m telling you they’ll take it. They have to. It’s all I can afford.”
“Well” said David in his very best lawyerly voice, “I’ll draft a contract for you but how do you expect to get to all of them to sign at the same time and get them to sign up before they all talk to one another and revolt en mass to get you to pay a larger fee?”
I had no idea how this would happen but I knew a man who did.
“ Paul when do we go to the first agent?” were the first words that I uttered when I returned to my office after the meeting with Gottler.
Trevillion was good to his word. He set up a meeting for the following week with a man called Jeff Weston who worked at the offices off Jerome Anderson. Jerome was one of the largest football agents in the UK at that time and Paul had some involvement in helping him get started some years prior to this meeting. We were hoping for a sympathetic hearing and Jeff was going to be our test case for the contract that Gottler had written. We felt that if Jerome accepted it then all of the other agents and players would too. We were after the Arsenal players Tony Adams and Ian Wright. They were, at the time, two of the best players in the UK and we needed them to spearhead our collection.
Jerome’s offices weren’t what I expected. I was anticipating a palatial building both inside and out but when we arrived I was amazed to find that he’d set up camp above a Real Estate Agency in a not shabby suburb of North London. Looks can be deceiving of course, and so with all the enthusiasm in the world Trevillion and I walked into the office for our meeting with Jeff.
“Paul we all thought you had retired” said Jeff.
“My friend Alan here talked me into one last stand”
“Oh Oh here we go again. No funny business Paul.” I could see by the look of indignation on Jeff’s face that he’d been down this road before with Trevillion.
Jeff suddenly went into a brief diatribe, telling me some of the strange things Paul had managed to do to help Jerome Anderson set up in football management. He had us both on the floor laughing but the respect that Jeff had for Paul was immense and as the meeting progressed I felt more comfortable that we might really get this done.
After Paul introduced me I told Jeff what we were trying to achieve and he asked me immediately what his players would gain from the deal.
“250 pounds each when they sign and another 250 when the pins start selling” I said.
“Sounds OK to me. But what about a contract? Do you have one?”
”I do and it will be the same contract for every player”
I wanted to make it clear to him that we intended to offer every player the same amounts, no matter how popular that player was. The players we’d picked all met up regularly for international games and when they played for Scotland or for England they’d all talk. What we didn’t want was a revolt half way through this project, and Paul and I had decided beforehand that it was 500 pounds take it or leave it. There were so many other players out there anyway that we never felt threatened by the possibility one or even two of them might say no to us.
Jeff looked over the contract and the first words out of his mouth were,
“Not enough money in this for my boys!”
“Jeff how long have you known me?” said Paul.
“Too long Paul”, we laughed.
“Would I be sitting here if I didn’t think that Alan was honest and trustworthy? Would I be sitting here if I didn’t believe this idea would be good for you and your players?”
“I suppose you wouldn’t Paul.”
“Then sign it and we can move on. I promise you Jeff you won’t regret it and neither will your players.”
“Straight to the point as usual Paul. OK I’ll ask Jerome what he thinks and we’ll get back to you by next week”
“Don’t let me down Jeff” reiterated Paul. Then something happened that I found very exciting. Jeff turned round to one of his colleagues sitting in the same office and asked him what he thought of my idea. The man, who I think was his assistant, went crazy, jabbering on and on about how this was the best idea he’d seen in a very long time and how we’d sell millions of these pins to all the fans in the UK.
“How about Ray Parlour?” said Jeff.
“Who?” I said.
“Ray Parlour. He’s the next superstar at Arsenal. Do you want him too?”
I was amazed. Here we were trying to get him to reluctantly sign a contract for 2 players that he managed, and now he was asking us if we would add more of his players to our list. This was great! The idea obviously had appeal and even though the money in his opinion was not too good he wanted more players to be part of it. I was beginning to believe we had something really special.
“Alan I think you should consider Ray. He is a great player and the fans love him.”
“That’s OK Jeff. We are set at 20 players right now but maybe for the second collection we could consider him”
We all shook hands and Paul and I left with a very large grins on our faces.
“Alan I’m telling you now that no one ever gets more than 5 minutes with Jeff and you got half an hour”
“He liked me Paul”
“No he liked the idea not you. These men only see the money for their players they don’t care who you are or where you came from. It’s all about the cash. Most of them are greedy bastards. Sometimes even the players don’t hear about the things their agents sign them up for until the money comes in. Jeff however is one of the nice guys”
That was the first time I had ever hear Paul swear. You know what though? He was right. As we went on to meet all these characters in the football world that run players interests, a few turned out to be more than greedy bastards. Some of them were outright crooks! Some of them were worse than crooks, and I couldn’t deal with them, but for the first meeting Jeff Weston had turned out to be surprisingly nice to me and I appreciated that very much. Things however would change!