I think that is fundamentally wrong. When I started playing, a majority of the players came from what you would call not affluent backgrounds; hard-working backgrounds. It would be a lie to say you are not aware of the financial benefits and the status that comes with playing football – but that certainly wasn’t on my mind when I was a little kid playing on my local estate, kicking a ball against the wall.
"The real measure for me is when you talk to those players at the end of careers and ask them what they miss"
I think the majority of players would have the same story if you spoke to their friends and families. When you are a seven-year-old, all you want to do is play football and I don’t think it is because you have some concept of being a millionaire. Don’t get me wrong though, as the journey progresses there is an element of that and it does now happen earlier. But for the majority it is people who love playing the game.
I’m retired now and when you talk to other players who have retired and you discuss what you miss – no-one talks about the money, they really don’t. To a man they talk about team spirit, about the winning and losing and going out there as a team. About pride in when you played well. I’ve not had one discussion about how much they got and how they miss that. Of course if we could continue to get paid like that, we would all be better off, but the real measure for me is when you talk to those players at the end of careers and ask them what they miss.
A lot of people talk about money when they discuss players being willing to be squad players or sit on the bench but I think one of the things there is the changed perception of not playing. There was a time when every team had 11 first teamers, a few seniors not playing and five kids. If you were left out you were straight into the manager saying 'why aren’t I playing, Boss?' Now we have bought into this squad ethos of 25 players, so there is no shame in not playing – and that has been created by the clubs.