I'd have quit Blues for the right deal

MICKY Stockwell played more than 600 times for Ipswich Town during 15 years of unfaltering dedication.

Josh Warwick

MICKY Stockwell played more than 600 times for Ipswich Town during 15 years of unfaltering dedication.

His loyalty to the cause - he played in every position bar goalkeeper - won him the hearts of the Portman Road faithful.

But the 43-year-old is the first to admit that had a money-spinning offer from another club presented itself, he may well have cut his ties with Suffolk.

“I was happy at Town - it's a great club, but I'm not a martyr,” said Stockwell, candidly.

“I don't have any regrets about my career at Ipswich. I had a fantastic time, but I know I would have been financially better off if I had moved.

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“Back then, if a club came in and Ipswich accepted the offer, they would come to you to tell you about it, but that never happened for me.

“There was only one offer that came in but the club did not want to do anything, so that was that.

“But if the price was right and the money was right I would've had to look after myself because it's a short career.”

Loyalty in football is currently a big issue in the light of Harry Redknapp's sudden switch to Tottenham from Portsmouth last week. Redknapp, who established Pompey as a Premier League club and led them to victory in last season's FA Cup final, received a mixed reception when he returned to the south coast to be honoured with the Freedom of Portsmouth just days after departing the club.

Stockwell's fidelity was a rarity, a freakish occurrence in a modern game awash with Bosman transfers, multi-millionaires and deal-hungry agents.

Today, testimonials, football's traditional golden handshake, are rarer than a Premier League star with a doctorate.

Players swap clubs more frequently than Tiger Woods - and it's a steadily increasing trend.

The connection between supporters and those employed to wear the shirt grows more remote with each passing season.

Football clubs were once community-based, where the players and those who paid to watch them came from the same areas and social backgrounds.

Even a world-class player such as Tom Finney played his entire career for his local club, Preston North End.

It is inconceivable now for fans to identify with those on the pitch or in the boardroom, such is the frequency with which footballers move on.

But are the players really to blame?

Roy Keane, who left Manchester United in acrimonious circumstances in 2005, doesn't think so.

“When a club is finished with you, they get rid,” he said.

“My advice is look after yourself. If you get a chance for bigger and better things, then go for it. I've experienced that myself.

“People question players' loyalty. I question clubs' loyalty. It's a business to them.

“If you're not needed then you can be out of the door in ten minutes, and I'm speaking from experience.

“Clubs buy and sell players. Clubs sell players sometimes like a piece of meat.”

Of course, football isn't like any other business - there are thousands of people who genuinely care what happens to clubs, investing not only money but also joy, despair and hope.

But don't forget that the beautiful game's protagonists have ambitions and aspirations of their own.

Would Sol Campbell have won the Premier League had he not crossed the great North London divide?

What about Alan Smith? Could League One Leeds United have offered Smudger the same opportunities he enjoyed at Old Trafford?

Stockwell said: “If as a player you get the chance to move, you have to weigh it up.

“You have to look after yourself - and anyway, loyalty has to be two ways.

“If you have done well for a club for a period of time, the club should show some loyalty to you as well.

“I don't think it's right that some fans jump on the players who leave because they have been given a better deal if they have done well for the club.”

What about Redknapp, the man who reassured Portsmouth fans after Newcastle United came calling that “I'm happy where I am - I've had opportunities before and didn't take them”.

Stockwell said: “Harry Redknapp has done a fantastic job for Portsmouth. If you look at it from his point of view, he could have gone to Newcastle, but he chose not to. Tottenham is his last chance to manage one of the bigger clubs and with the financial situation at Portsmouth, he maybe felt he had taken the club as far as he could.

“I can understand the disappointment of the supporters but the club can turn very quickly if the team is not getting the right results. I don't think Harry owes the club too much and I certainly don't think he should be vilified.”

It is all a million miles from the professional game half a century ago and before.

In Gary Imlach's moving book My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes, the author describes how his father, Stewart, a professional footballer who began his career in the 50s, was treated like a prisoner by his employers, refused a transfer unless the club required the fee.

Until 1963, players in England had to put in a transfer request if they wanted to move clubs. If the club refused to allow a player to move he would be tied to the club as long as his wages were maintained at least at the level of his previous contract.

This “retain and transfer” system meant clubs could effectively control the employment lives of players.

Imlach's book is a stark reminder of the radical changes football has undergone, the power being wrestled by the players from the clubs.

It was a different era. In 1955, the average footballer's wages were £8 - £3 less than the pay a factory worker would have expected.

Between teams and seasons, Imlach's dad took on work as a joiner, or installed double glazing.

After Imlach senior's death in 2001, his son reveals how he uncovers a copy of The Forest Cup Story, a souvenir programme celebrating Nottingham Forest's 1959 Wembley triumph, of which the Scottish winger was a part.

There is a section in the souvenir in which players are asked about their future career plans, which reads: “Bob McKinlay, centre-half: training to be a motor mechanic. Stewart Imlach, outside-left: a return to the joinery business.”

It is difficult to imagine Ashley Cole and his pampered colleagues taking up a similar career path once his days as a professional draw to a close.