“Can you imagine Chick Musson wearing a leotard?”

Too many “Fancy Dans” playing in football these days? ANTON RIPPON took a call this week from one former England player who was keen to tackle the issue

Funny how, as soon as you meet them, some people want to tell you their life story. Impressive, how much they can pack into a 15-minute bus journey.

Bert Mozley: little time for Fancy Dans
Bert Mozley: little time for Fancy Dans

He’d boarded in the city centre, on his way to hospital, called back to discuss an eye test that had followed a diagnosis for diabetes. Before we’d reached the first set of traffic lights, I knew his name, his age (same as me, it turned out), where he lived, and that he’d been a coal miner all his working life.

By the time we’d gone another couple of hundred yards, I was fully aware that he didn’t think much of Arthur Scargill. And that his late father had suffered a serious injury in a Derbyshire pit accident (for which he never received any compensation) and yet, until the day he died, dad still spent long hours on his allotment to put food on the family table.

My new friend couldn’t understand why he’d got diabetes. He’d never smoked and he’d always kept himself fit. He was particularly keen for me to know that he’d been a good footballer. But his liking for the ale (that might have been a clue) had ensured that his career had never taken off. He could, he said, sympathise with George Best and Paul Gascoigne.

That’s another funny thing: football skill relates inversely to age. According to the rheumy eye of memory, the older a man gets, the better player he was when he was young. The former miner was certainly happy to bracket himself with a couple of the game’s finest, although the only similarity seemed to be that they all liked a drink.

Between there and the hospital, he contented himself with addressing the state of the game, especially how it was being ruined by Fancy Dan foreign footballers who get paid far too much. Then, with a firm handshake and an “All the best, squire,” he was gone. And I was left wishing that the journey had lasted a bit longer, because his machine-gun delivery of a well-rehearsed party piece had left no daylight for debate. Not that I would have disputed his argument over today’s footballers.

I’d have just said that when, in The Good Companions, JB Priestley described the importance of a football club to a community – “To say that these men paid their shilling to watch 22 hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that Hamlet is so much paper and ink” – he was talking about the cloth cap and muffler brigade of a different age.

Funnily enough, that very evening my phone rang and on the other end was a former England footballer who did indeed epitomise those days. And he, too, wanted to talk about Fancy Dan foreign players.

Bert Mozley left Derby for Canada more than 50 years ago, although he’s never bothered to acquire an accent and still sounds as if he’s never strayed far from the inner-city of his childhood. “I can’t believe it,” spluttered Bert. “I’ve just watched Arsenal and Galatasaray on the telly. It’s August, yet one of the players is wearing gloves – and a leotard. Can you imagine Chick Musson wearing a leotard?”

Musson won an FA Cup winners’ medal with Derby County in 1946. He was one of the fiercest tacklers in post-war football.

Opponents would knock gingerly on the Rams’ dressing-room door and enquire: “Is Chick playing today?”

Of course I couldn’t imagine one of the game’s toughest ever players dressing up like a ballerina. Nor apparently spend several hundred quid on having his hair permed, which was something else that distressed Bert about that Fancy Dan foreign footballer who’d stirred his dander as he sat in front of his television in British Colombia.

Of course, Bert’s contemporaries included many players who came from the local area itself. Like almost all players of that era, they travelled to matches on the same corporation buses as the fans. Shopped at the Co-op, like everyone else. Some of them had even worked down the pits before being lucky enough to become full-time pros.

Actually, Bert was also ringing with his annual reminder that we are approaching the anniversary of what he still sees as one of football’s greatest injustices. Well, it gets a bit more personal than that. It was September 21, 1949 and Bert was looking forward to his 26th birthday two days hence. First, though, he had to attend to a more pressing matter. He was making his England debut, against the Republic of Ireland at Goodison Park.

On the half-hour, Middlesbrough’s Peter Desmond swept into the England penalty area. Bert went in with a sliding tackle and won the ball. But he also sent Desmond tumbling (the game is shown in the video below).

Scottish referee John Mowat pointed to the spot. Derby County’s latest England debutant was aghast. He ran over to Mowat and began to tell the official that he had won the ball, fair and square, well before Desmond had gone sprawling over an outstretched leg.

Mowat didn’t have time to respond. England captain Billy Wright raced up, took the Rams full-back gently by the arm and led him away with the words: “Never argue with the ref, Bert. The FA committee don’t like it.”

For the record, Aston Villa’s centre-half, Con Martin, scored the penalty, Everton’s Peter Farrell added a second with five minutes remaining. And Bert Mozley’s international debut had been memorable mainly for the fact that it marked England’s first home defeat against “foreign” opposition.

"Company man"? Billy Wright
“Company man”? Billy Wright

Fortunately, the England committee either hadn’t noticed – or had chosen to overlook – Bert’s attempt at arguing with the referee. The Derby man won two more caps, against Wales and Northern Ireland, and was also chosen against Italy but was injured the week before the game. Thereafter, it was Alf Ramsey, of more fashionable Spurs, who got the nod.

Sixty-four years later, Bert still can’t forget the injustice. Nor can he put to rest Billy Wright’s intervention that afternoon. Indeed, I got the feeling that Bert has always regarded Wright as “a company man”.

Then again, as I reminded Bert, even squeaky-clean Billy Wright once had his reputation called into question when he elected to marry one of the Beverley Sisters (biggest hit: I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus). The problem was that the lady in question, Joy Beverley, was a divorcee.

We’re hardly talking a John Terry-Vanessa Perroncel sex scandal here, but it was still enough to send the frowning blazer wearers in the FA committee room into a state of near apoplexy.

“Is this the sort of man we want captaining England?” they asked each other. Eventually, probably because Wright’s playing career was nearing its end, they decided to forget about it.

Which is more than Bert Mozley did about that penalty. I might mention it to the ex-miner on the bus, if I see him again. I bet him and Bert would get on famously.


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