We arrived back at the Sun early the next morning and Ellis had arranged for some of his sports writing team to be in the room with us. I’d brought my whole team again. We went through the presentation yet again, but this time, the men in the room had many questions.
“I believe this will be very big,” said Ellis
“One of the main issues we have is budgeting for the free pins that we’ll have to give away to the readers” I said “and not only that, Martins want to try to estimate how many boxes to buy”
“This is what I think we’re going to do Alan. We’ll launch this idea in the News Of The World, our sister paper on the Sunday before it comes out in the Sun. This way our readers will have warning that the following day they will have to begin collecting the 5 coupons that we intend to publish daily. On that Monday morning we’ll give you a full double page color spread in the Sun and then we’ll run it daily for the next 5 days to ensure its full exposure”
“Let me get this right” I laughed, “You’ll run it in full color for 5 straight days! And I presume that you’ll run the competition for the 5 numbered sets on the last day?”
“We will. I think that you can expect about 100,000 people to enter this competition, and then we’ll pick 5 winners. The ‘boss’ wants to come into the meeting so let me go fetch him while we’re all discussing this” And without further comment, off Ellis went.
Paul and I were just staring at one another. We were in a complete daze. Full double page color spread! You couldn’t buy that kind of publicity. It was worth thousands and thousands of pounds. Perhaps even hundreds of thousands! Amazing things were happening. Ellis returned with Kelvin McKenzie.
“Hello Paul, are you back to annoy us again?” was his opening remark. “I hope you’re behaving.”
“You know me Kelvin, always got something on the go” replied Paul.
“Yes but is it legal!” we all laughed,” you’re a character Paul, you never go away do you? You show up every 3 years or so, like the flu, just to bug me” more laughter.
“We’ve had some fun Kelvin haven’t we?” said Paul.
“Well let’s get on with it then.” Kelvin was a no-nonsense editor who always came straight to the point and seemed to be shouting at someone either on his mobile phone or in person. He was a hoot.
“I love this idea,” he said looking at me but not having the remotest idea who I was. “I like the fact that you have the collector cards as well as the pins but how will people who buy this product store their cards once they get them? Where will they put them?” he said while looking at his team of journalist assembled in the room, “ Might I suggest we put a full double page collector chart in the center pages of the Wednesday issue so the punters can stick their cards onto the chart and hang it on their bedroom walls?. Paul you can do the art for that? Right?”
“I’ll do it Kelvin” Paul said, without any hesitation.
“OK we’ll make a decision in the next week or so” He quickly got up and in a flash he was walking out of the room with a quiet “see you” to all of us.
“It looks like you have a winner here boys,” said Ellis. “ I’ll be in touch shortly and I’ll call Andrew and sort out all of the details. In the meantime keep me informed as to your discussions with Martins and let me see the purchase order as soon as you get it from them.”
The meeting broke up and we all left.
On the way out I said to Paul, “Its hard not to get excited Paul”
“You never know what these people will do. Don’t get too excited until you see it in black and white and remember, whatever they for us is never good enough. Remember that. We want more. We will never be satisfied until we get more!”
What was this man on? There we were leaving the largest newspaper in Europe with a deal for free full double page color all week and Paul wasn’t happy?? He just didn’t make sense to me. He was fucking nuts and a wee greedy bastard! He wanted more! More for Christ sakes! ‘Be grateful for what you have’ I thought. But as usual he was right and I was wrong and it would only be a short time before I realized this. Paul after all was an ex-newspaperman and no one knew the papers as well as he did. I should’ve taken on board his thoughts but because I was so elated with what I’d just witnessed inside that meeting room I didn’t really care at that point in time what the heck he thought. I just wanted to get out of there, get back to my office and call the man at Martins. We had to get our act together as time was of the essence and we needed to be ahead of the game in order not to let anyone down.
As we were parting I told Paul that he had a few more days left until I had to have the drawings and after that we were in deep shit if he didn’t deliver. We also needed the art for our retail boxes too. He promised he wouldn’t let me down, and I believed him.
Back at the office I had to collate all the players contracts and mail out their first cheque for 250 pounds. There were several players who hadn’t signed yet, and we were on the phone constantly trying to give them a gentle shove, to send it back to us. It wasn’t an easy job. I had a secretary at the time called Mary and she seemed to get on well with most of the agents and if not for her charm I fear it would’ve been a task that would never have been completed. She did a wonderful job. I think that one of them even asked her out on a date!
Martins was next on my list of things to do.
“We have the Sun Mr. Johnson!!!!” I shouted down the phone.
“OK now we can move on the order. I want to see you next week and we can go over the whole deal,” he said. Whoops! I was going to have to be in the US next week, how could I get to Martins? I didn’t really want to tell him this on the phone so I just confirmed the appointment and hung up. I thought that I’d end up sending Andrew to see him but in the end we discussed it and Paul and Tony went to cover for me. They told him that I had an emergency in the US and it worked out in our favor, eventually.
Do you ever wonder why sometimes in life things just happen to you? What I mean by that is, why is it that you could be sitting on a train or plane and the person next to you is your fathers brothers uncles best friends golfing partner. Or, you could be in a meeting and someone says to you that you should go and talk to so and so in such and such a city and you call this person and it leads to a huge contract, and one that your never even anticipated. I felt that my life was like that. I’d always believed that in life it was where you were and who you were with on that day that led to the next phase of your life. Like being in the right place at the right time with no explanation of why you were there at all but in the end it works out to be the greatest decision you ever made. Life is 90% luck and 10% common sense. I’ve always believed that. You either have it or you don’t and unfortunately most of the populace don’t! Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not? Anyway at this time in my life I really felt that I had it. Everywhere I went I was meeting the right people, contacts who would further my business or personal life generally for the good. It was truly an amazing experience and it would continue that way for many years to come. You understand where I’m coming from I hope. I was blessed to be born in an era where we could just fly a mere 10 hours and be at the other side of the world and I was blessed that I’d so many good friends and business associates and lucky that life was indeed treating me nicely. Even when life became difficult I was always grateful for what I had. And then, with everything going on it was hard not to become complacent with my new-found bout of good fortune. I didn’t though, and I decided to work even harder to make myself, and the rest of the people surrounding me a success. You see whatever anyone tells you, life isn’t all about the money. Yes, its nice to have money but at the end of the day you can only spend so much and you can only live in one home and drive one car and go on one vacation at a time. I’ve made money and I’ve lost money but if I can make more for the people around me that don’t have as much as I do, then, in my opinion, this is a blessing. We’re put on earth to help one another and this was my chance to do my bit and give others around me some pleasure from my success.
I had to begin the planning process for the order that I knew we’d get from Martins and also decide how many pieces we’d keep as a back up in case the pins flew out the door when the Sun ran their piece. This wasn’t an easy task. The difficulty lay in the fact that we were all totally inexperienced as far as the UK retail industry was concerned. We’d no idea what would happen if Martins sold 30 pins per day per store or 400 pins. We were blind and we’d have to make an educated guess in this instance. It all hinged on what they told us when we went back to visit them that following next week.
My big lunch with Venables followed the very next day. I arrived at Scribes armed with a contract that Gottler my attorney had provided. It was 20 pages thick and filled with legal verbiage that meant very little to me. The blanks had to hopefully be filled in that very day, It was with some trepidation that I entered Terry’s club, believing that I could bullshit my way through the meeting and come to terms with this footballing maestro.
Again Mr. Ashby attended the meeting too, and while I was there Terry was running in and out of the room taking one call after another and to be honest I was beginning to get a little downhearted by all his the extra curricular activity. I was trying to concentrate on the deal at hand, but something was seriously wrong and I couldn’t put a finger on exactly what the problem might be. We didn’t even order lunch and after a brief discussion on the content of the draft contract I’d produced, both Ashby and Venables made their respective excuses and ushered me out of the club stating that they’d plough through the contract the following day, add or deduct any clauses they felt were inappropriate. This felt weird. Had I upset them? Before I knew it I was out on the street. It turned out to be the luckiest escape that any human being could’ve had. I just didn’t know that yet!
As I explained before, Venables was involved in a take-over of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club with a man called Alan Sugar. Maybe I didn’t explain it in detail so bare with me for a moment while I try.
Venables was Tottenham’s coach. Sugar ran a computer company, which was publicly traded. Tottenham were in financial difficulty. Sugar and Venables put money into the club to buy out the owners. Venables then became the Chief Executive and appointed a new coach to take his place on the training ground. This dream partnership (they were both Spurs fans, supposedly) was about to fall apart but I didn’t know it just yet. It was falling apart the day I took the contract to Venables to sign and it was falling apart in an acrimonious manner. There was about to be a war between Sugar and Venables that would run for months and go all the way to the highest court in the land. It would also be reported in all the daily newspapers, TV and radio as a kind of soap opera. It was massive news all over the UK. Rather than me digressing into the politics of who did what and to whom and who was right and who was wrong,(it has been well documented in lots of ways over the past few years), most people read or watched as the whole mess unraveled in front of them. It wasn’t pretty, accusations flying in all directions. Mr. Venables didn’t come out looking too pretty when all was said and done. I was fortunate to avoid this mess, only just. Shear luck on my part!
To be honest, I didn’t really know what was happening until they failed to return their contract to me, and then a TV program called Panorama hit the BBC, lambasting Venables and Ashby. There were rumors of illegal activity buzzing all over the press and in the end it was my incredible good fortune that I didn’t get involved with either Venables or Ashby. If I had, who knows what would have happened, but it wouldn’t have been good.
Terry, I must add wasn’t an unlikable character, indeed, quite the opposite. I liked him immensely and as I’ve said before I really liked his daughter Tracey. He was however surrounded by people who wanted to take advantage of his fame and personable nature and I fear that was the root of most of his problems.
I was lucky that he would have no involvement in Superstar Soccer Pins. A close shave for me, to say the least!
I remember when all of this Venables saga had blown over and been resolved, Paul and I were sitting in his living room and he said to me, “Just think where we would’ve been if Venables had got involved with our pins?”
“Cell block 3 Paul” I jokingly responded.
I had to call Marie in Taiwan to confirm the delivery details for what was now turning out to be a substantial order. This may have been her largest ever order since she started her company.
“Marie I think we may need about 750,000 pins!” I exclaimed.
“Wow that ees a lot” she responded in her French Taiwanese accent.” You believe zey weel order so many?.
“No, but I will. I need to have back up stock here in the UK just to cover Martins in the event that should they sell out during the first 4 weeks, we can be ready to re stock. Delivery time is 8 to 10 weeks Marie I have to be sure that the pins will be here on time.”
“What if zey do not sell?” she asked. (Don’t you love that accent?)
“Then I’ll have made a gross financial error and we’ll all be eating lettuce leaves instead of steak for the next few years while I recoup the losses.”
“Alan are you sure you want to do this?”
“Of course Marie. How else do you succeed in life if you don’t try? I think it will be huge here and as long as you are paid and the factory is paid then it is not your problem”
“I was only being thoughtful” she said, “I wouldn’t want you to lose money on a whim”. Her concern was truly appreciated and I knew she was being genuine. Marie was a fantastic business partner and our relationship is still good today even though we haven’t done business or seen each other in 15 years. I am not saying that life with her was always perfect but it was near as damn it.
“When will you have the art Alan?”
“I think all being well it should be ready by the end of this week”. I was really guessing at this point, as you never knew with Trevillion.
“Send it as soon as you can and then I can get on with the sampling”
“OK we’ll talk in a few days but tell the factory to be prepared.”
Putting together a retail package is a complete nightmare when you don’t have any prior retail experience. In this case Tony was great. He and I had agreed that he’d take care of this for me from start to finish and for this he’d receive a royalty on every pin sold. He actually did more than I could’ve ever asked for. He’d found the Sun and he was now helping create a “Tombstone” shaped box that would be our sales aid at Martins all over the country. It had to be good and he did a brilliant job of making it look good assisted by Trevillion art. The box was be sky blue in color with all the players heads dotted over the carton. I thought it was great when I saw it in sketch format so we were excited to know what Trevillion would make of it when he did the actual drawing. Thank goodness we didn’t have to wait too long.
True to his word 2 days later he appeared at my front door unannounced, as per usual, carrying a case full of artwork!
“What you got there Paul?”
“Your art” and then at the top of his voice as if to generate maximum excitement he shouted, “I DIDN”T LET YOU DOWN DID I?” as he spread the art all over my showroom floor, “YOU ARE THE TOP MAN ALAN. THIS IS MEGA. I AM TELLING YOU THIS IS MEGA WOOOOOF!” He sometimes made that indistinguishable sound at the end of a sentence for maximum effect. It was a sound similar to that of a Grand Prix race care shooting past. You know wooooooooooofffffffffff. Not a Zoooom but more of a controlled woooff. Anyway it had its effect and it always made me laugh. He used to sing the ‘Match of the Day’ song too, and always at the same time or maybe just after he did the woooofffff noise. For those of you who have never seen Match of the day I apologize, but this is a program on UK TV for more than 40 years and is an institution for all soccer fans. It had a really catchy tune to start the show. Whenever Paul sang this he wasn’t only in a great mood he was also very proud of what he’d done that day. He’d also sig it in weird situations too. If I saw a lady that I wanted to chat up in a restaurant and he noticed I was trying hard to make it happen he’d sing. He’s a very funny man but this was one of those quirky things he did that you hated and then grew to love and then you would actually do it yourself in similar situations even when Paul wasn’t there. I’m sure it could be an irritation for everyone with me when I did it but I adopted this mannerism for several years until I got bored with listening to myself!
The art was truly magnificent. In fact it was better than that. I can only describe it as beautiful.
“About fucking time you did something for this team Paul!”
“What do you think Boss?” he smiled.
“I think they’ll be nice when they are finished” We loved to spar.
“These are the crown jewels Alan”
“You know what Paul? It would have been easier to get my hands on the Crown Jewels!”
“Wait until you put these on your pins. There will be nothing else like them.”
I looked at all 20 drawings for about half an hour and then Andrew came back into the room with the news that Ellis had called to say they weren’t going to do the collector chart. They didn’t have the funds.
“ What a blow “ exclaimed Paul!
“That’s OK Paul at least they’re still doing the double page color spread. Right Andrew?” I nodded at him with slight trepidation, as I didn’t want him to give me more bad news while I was still admiring the “Crown Jewels.”
”He said we’re still on for that”
“Andrew” Paul interrupted, “ Don’t let up. Keep the pressure on that man. If you let up he won’t do anything for you. I know what I am talking about here. You keep calling him and let him know you’re not happy. You’re giving them 1 pin for every reader free of charge! They should be rolling over backwards forwards and every other way possible to do what they can to promote this for you guys”
The funny thing was, he was right. There was I, prepared to give away 1 pin to every Sun reader, which might amount to 3 million pins (highly unlikely but possible) and they’d blown off the collector chart. Give credit where credit is due. Paul had a point.
“Andrew call Ellis and ask him out to lunch” I ordered.
“Don’t be stupid Alan. Andrew call him up and tell him you’re very upset that they pulled the chart and you want to make sure they don’t pull anything else they agreed to or you’ll go to the Mirror!” The Mirror is the Sun’s greatest rival.
“Can I do that Paul?” asked Andrew.
“Do it Andrew. Make them sweat. They’ll won’t want the Mirror to get their hands on these. I promise you they’ll take notice if you threaten them like this” And of course as always Paul was right. They did take notice and never pulled another plug until the project actually started.
To attempt to describe Paul’s drawings is not an easy task. They looked like colored illustrations with a little body and a large head. They moved. There was so much power in each individual drawing and the players looked like they were coming right at you. They weren’t cartoons. They were modern-day Gladiators. Every one was outstanding. You really didn’t need to look at the bodies though because the faces said it all. Paul then pulled out the art for each collector card, depicted as small pieces of paper with the appropriate player showing his respective skill. To be honest it looked like he’d doodled these on a roll of toilette paper and had then decided to hand them over to me to put together. Paul told me to go and sort them out and then transfer them into card size.
“They’ll look great once you have them in the correct order and size. Your printer will know how to handle them.” he said
“I bloody well hope so Paul or we’re fucked!”
“Here’s the art for the box. I put Gazza at the front because he’s the number one ticket right now and the kids will like him being there. Gazza will sell these for us by just being at the front of the box on the lid.”
“OK Paul it looks great. You did a better than average job on that lot” We all laughed.
Andrew had the unenviable task of copying all the drawings and then sending them to each of our contracted players for approval. He had to collate all the art into a format that Marie and more importantly the factory/printer could understand. This wasn’t easy and it involved a lot of color copying and organizing, which to be honest he did admirably. I knew now that within a few weeks we would have the samples and the approvals we needed to get this project up and running. The question was would Martins give us the order we needed to bring it all to fruition?………………………………
Authors Note. If you enjoyed reading this story so far, please let me know. There are 400 pages left of what became an incredible tale. I hope to have this published as a book in the future, but it’s too much to continue publishing as a blog. The story weaves its way across several continents and side tracks into a power struggle, which then involves theft, lots of cheating and finally a court case, all of which are true. The ending is unbelievable, but as I’ve mentioned, it’s too much to continue in this blog format.
Happy New Year to all my followers. Here’s hoping you have a prosperous and healthy 2014.