x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Stiles forced to sell his medal as Rooney ups his price

Nobby Stiles became the latest member of the triumphant 1966 World Cup Final squad to put up his Cup Winners medal for public auction.

It was one of the iconic sporting images of my childhood. The face of the Manchester United footballer, Nobby Stiles, stretched into an expression of sheer joy, dancing crazily about the famous old Wembley pitch in the aftermath of England's 1966 football World Cup Final triumph over West Germany.

The image captured perfectly the nation's ultimate sporting triumph.Who cared that he'd taken his teeth out, that his proud England shirt was besmirched by mud and sweat, his once pristine football socks now ruckled round his ankles like two gigantic collapsed leg warmers; or that he was brandishing the precious Jules Rimet Trophy above his head as if it was some cheap tin cup he'd just won on the hoop-la at his local fairground?

Afterwards, along with the rest of the triumphant squad, he was pictured clasping his precious Cup Winners medal to his bosom as passionately as if embracing his wife or sweetheart. Which in some ways he was. Of one thing we could be assured: that medal would be with its owner, for better or for worse, till death do them part.

At least, that's what old sporting romantics like me would like to imagine. But the reality of modern life was revealed earlier last week when Stiles became the latest member of that triumphant squad to put up his precious souvenir for public auction, along with nearly every other artefact from his illustrious sporting career.

Stiles himself couldn't bear to attend the sale, preferring instead to shop for shoes in his local mall until his son texted him with news of the final realised sum - in this case, Dh2.5 million (the buyers, incidentally, being his old club, Manchester United, who will display the item at their club museum).

"In a perfect world he'd never have sold it," admitted Stiles's son John after the auction, "but he had a little turn at the end of the summer." For turn, read stroke. Now aged 68, Stiles has been suffering from ill health for some while, and as we all know, old age doesn't come cheap.

For anyone with a keen sense of irony, the timing of the auction couldn't have been more piquant. For even as this legendary footballer was bidding a tearful goodbye to his heritage, half way round the world in Dubai, another United player, Wayne Rooney, was celebrating his 25th birthday. And in truth, he had even more to celebrate.

Rooney had just strong-armed his employers at United into offering him a new deal, having conducted a month-long campaign during which he threatened to leave and take his talent to the highest bidder. The result, an improved contract amounting (according to some estimates) to Dh1.06 million a week, is not only enough to have bought the Nobby Stiles complete collection of mementos, but have enough left to have them cleaned and mounted, plus an armoured car or two to drive them around in.

While nobody would argue with Rooney's talent, the extent to which he and other top footballers now use the threat of departure as a bargaining chip by which to extract even more money from their cash-strapped employers has been the source of much criticism in the UK - particularly since Rooney's weekly wage is equivalent to the yearly salary of 7 National Health Service nurses.

Back in the day, the loyalty of such sporting legends as Stiles and Bobby Charlton was never up for grabs. But those days are now as distant as footballs with laces and goalies wearing roll-neck jerseys and flat caps.

Rooney may have made even more money out of his latest strategy, but he will have won few hearts on the Old Trafford terraces by his latest shenanigans. And as one football correspondent said to me this week: "Next time he kisses his club badge on his shirt when he scores a goal, how many watching will believe him?" Football fans can forgive almost anything except indifference.

That, at least, was one charge that could never be laid at the door of Nobby Stiles. Still, even if he no longer possesses his medal, he, along with the rest of us, still has his memories. In particular, who will ever forget the greatest moment of them all, when Geoff Hurst banged in the fourth goal to win the match, and in doing so spawned commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme's immortal phrase: "Some fans are on the pitch - they think it's all over. It is now!" For 68-year-old Stiles, these words must now be tinged with an altogether more poignant meaning.


Michael Simkins is an actor and author based in London