I returned from one of my now all too frequent business trips from the USA and was sitting in my office in London (it had been 10 days since Trevillion had told me that he wouldn’t draw for me), when suddenly my phone rang.
“Hello Top Man!!!!!” He was back, and his dulcet tones cheered me up immediately.
“How are you Paul?”
Paul sometimes has no time for phone small talk and just launches relentlessly into conversation and sounding off from his mind what he’s been storing up for what sometimes has been days or weeks. This time was no exception.
“I’ve started to draw the players for you!”
“You were right,” says he in his somewhat cockney accent. “I promised and I will deliver. I always deliver,” he boasted.
I was so happy I nearly cried. I’d returned from the States distraught. I’d no idea how I was going to make Superstar Soccer Pins come to life without Trevillion. I’d toyed with the idea of finding a new artist, but the players were already signed to contracts stipulating Trevillion would be the official artist for the project and the thought of a player revolt, should I change this, wasn’t worth contemplating. The other insurmountable issue was, trying to find someone as good as him. He was the best. He was unbeatable.
Continuing to talk at 100mph “You tell Tony to get us a meeting at the newspaper and I’ll be there. I’ll draw all of the players for you in a week” Bang! My phone went dead.
Yes! I jumped up and called Andrew into my office and then we both called Tony. It turned out that Tony had already made contact with his friend at the London Times who’d referred him to a man at the Sun (all part of the same group of papers at News International), and the man at the Sun, Ellis Watson, was agreeable to a meeting with us. WOW! Two pieces of good news in one day. Things were looking up and a great elixir for jet lag, which I was happy to report had vanished after that call with Trevillion.
If you remember from earlier in our story, I explained that my company in London had 10 employees. One of them was Steve Dalkin whom I had known since we attended school together at the age of 5. We were old neighbors from Glasgow. He and I had lost contact for many years and then in 1985 he’d seen and Ad that I’d placed looking for a sales executive to join the company. His was the only response that I received and the amazing thing was he was already involved in the same industry as us, so he got the job! A perfect fit.
Steve knew a lot of people in the UK’s retail sector from his days at Parker Pen Company and he had an involvement in our pins project only because we all had regular office meetings to talk about what was going on inside the company. That way everyone was up to speed with what the company was doing and it made for an easy transition should someone take sick or leave. Steve had known of our problem in trying to obtain a retailer to promote the Soccer Pins and he’d found a way for me to meet some of the people he knew at the chocolate company Mars based in Slough England. He’d also managed to get a meeting with 2 men at ESSO to try to convince them to put the pins in all of the petrol (gas) stations around the UK. My goodness things were really moving now. I’d also been on the phone and was able to set up meetings with W H Smith in Swindon and also Martins the Newsagent in Essex. Both had shown keen interest and both were major retails chains in the UK. It would be a different story however when I went to visit them in person.
Things really got out of control when Michael started to get his first orders in the US. He called me one evening and said
“You need to be here”
“I need to be everywhere right now”
“Forget about the stupid pins and come over here where you belong. I need the help”
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“We received our first contract from Johnnie Walker. I hate that bitch Terri but you know what? She just gave us an order that makes us $25,000 so right now I love that bitch Terri”
“What did she order?”
“Pins! Pins of the JW striding figure”
“There’s so much else going on and most importantly I’m moving out of my home and moving into an apartment and I’m getting shit from Jacy (his wife) and I think we should employ my mother to help me out in the office”
“How about no way!”
“Look I know how you feel about her and I also feel the same”(I always thought she was a meddling old bag and a pain in the arse) “but she’s unemployed and we can pay her whenever we have money so she’ll not need a regular salary”
“I don’t like it”
“OK well get over here and we can talk about it.”
“There’s no discussion. Next thing we know your dad will want in too.”
“Not in my lifetime” said Mike “ He is too busy trying to interfere on a daily basis so why would I want him in permanently?”
It turnED out that both of them became involved, but that was sometime down the road. At first it was only my aunt Sylvia, Mike’s mother, and then eventually Denis (my uncle) made himself available and of course the scenario didn’t play out well going forward as you will learn.
Meanwhile back in the UK I was on a mission to Mars! Mars the chocolate company that is. Steve had set everything up and we were received really well, as was our concept. We wanted them to put a pin offer on every wrapper and then sell the idea to the newsagent chains. That way once the offer, giving away a free pin with every Mars Bar ran its course, the people who’d bothered to collect their free pin would have to buy the other 19. They loved it and promised me an answer within 3 weeks. They could also see the possibility of expanding the collection into 1994 to encompass the FIFA World Cup that would take place in the USA. It transpired that both England and Scotland did not even qualify for this event. That in itself was a disaster for both federations and more importantly for me, as you will see.
Terry Venables is a very interesting character. In Great Britain he was one of our top soccer coaches. Tracy Venables was one of the nicest people I had ever met. Tracy worked for Tottenham Football Club. So did Terry. Terry was the coach and then the Chief Executive. Most of us at the time thought that Terry was a hot ticket. He’d just purchased a shareholding in Tottenham Hotspur FC and was riding the crest of a wave. The fans adored him and his destiny looked so promising. He’d managed to get Tracy, who was also his daughter, a job as a buyer for club merchandise and she was doing a great job. I’d known her for about 9 months and we got on really well. We’d go for lunch regularly and we’d discuss all sorts things ranging from business to the do’s and don’ts of being single in London. She was so much fun.
One day we were sitting in her office at Tottenham’s White Hart Lane stadium when I just happened to pull out the Pele pin. I asked her what she thought. She was really impressed.
“Can you get me Teddy Sheringham?” (He was the top goal scorer for Tottenham at that time and one of our list of 20 players we were going to make))
“Sure. He doesn’t have an agent Alan. He does it himself. I’ll talk to him for you.” she said.
“Fantastic. I’d like to ask you something else”
“No I will not go out on a date with you Alan. You’re too old for me!” she joked.
“Can you show your father the Pele pin and tell him what we’re doing with the collection. If he likes it I’d like to talk to him about taking an involvement in the project as I really need help from someone who’s well-known and respected in football.”
“I’ll see him tomorrow and let you know. I think he may be interested” she offered with her usual smiling face. I loved Tracy!
The following morning I went to see the team at ESSO retail. They had many hundreds of gas stations around the UK and Europe. In 1970 they’d produced a World Cup coin collection that became legendary and extremely collectible amongst all football fans. Their collection changed the way petroleum was sold and marketed in the UK all those years ago. I believed they’d make a perfect partner. They had prestigious offices just outside London and very close to my home. They’d arranged for a team of 4 people to attend the meeting. I was on my way there when I received a call from Tony.
“ We’re on with the Sun!” He exclaimed at the other end. “Can you believe it!???”
“How when why and where?” I asked. Boy was I excited.
“They want to see us today. Can you make it?”
I explained that I was on my way to ESSO and that once I’d finished I could probably get to the east end of London by 2 pm to meet them.
“Take it as done Alan. We’ll see Ellis Watson. Any problems and I’ll get back to you”
“Tony did I ever tell you how good you really are?” I retorted
“Fuck off Alan. Just get ESSO on board and then we can tie up the Sun and we’ll all be happy”
“Tony do me a favor” I replied. “ If you are telling me to fuck off, please do it with some vigor and self belief. You sounded like a wimp when you said that.” “FUCK OFF would be more appropriate don’t you think?” and our phone call ended as abruptly as it had begun!