(With apologies for typos and grammatical inconsistencies...)
Alan Sanders: Since a few people knew that I was going to be doing this I've been inundated with congratulatory texts. I just want to read a couple to you that I've received. One comes from Mr Gus Poyet, who said: 'Hi Dick' – this is true – 'unfortunately I cannot be there so I want to wish you all the best for the launch today. I'm sure it will be a fantastic opportunity to reveal your thoughts about those years at Brighton. Big thanks for everything you did for me while I was at Brighton. Regards from Sunderland, Gus Poyet.'
One from local MP Caroline Lucas: 'It came as absolutely no surprise to those who have the privilege of knowing him that Dick's autobiography has already gone to the top of the book charts before even reaching the book shelves. His story will be every bit as compelling and amazing as the man himself.'
One from John Byrne: 'Looking forward to a behind-the-scenes read of how you helped save the Albion. Ps Still waiting for my cheque for all my help with those French players' contracts.'
Ok, so just a few words from me really. It's a great privilege for me to be asked here. It's a sort of double-handed compliment, really, to kick off compering the series, except I will be subbed after the first one because he's getting Paul Samrah to do the other five. But I've known Dick for many years and in fact when I was working in this building at BHASVIC I got to know him with the work he was doing at Brighton and Hove Albion with local colleges and schools.
I got to know him much better over the last few years when he was Chairman of Albion in the Community and also when he and I used to go to away games. Kerry, Dick's wife, used to say to me 'one of you is going to have to drive and Dick gets tired after long journeys, so if you wouldn't mind.' I said 'alright, ok', so it was pretty much my turn every time. But the one thing I would say, and this is no word of a lie, is that every game that I went to without fail, every director's room that I went in, whichever ground it was, people had their hands out to shake Dick's hand and congratulate him for doing the job he did at Brighton, and that's throughout the country.
That in itself is a great accolade to the man he is. Anyway, Dick, tell us about your feelings on Mr Archer.
Dick Knight: Well, I might as well start at the beginning, I guess. As a lot of you know, it took me about 18 months to finally overthrow Bill Archer. But if I can take you back to just after the consortium – my consortium – was announced, which was in May 1996. The consortium actually wasn't a huge consortium. It was just myself, Liam Brady, who unfortunately can't be here tonight and as you know was a legendary player who did a great job in helping involve...he realised, because of what the club was going through after he left, he approached me, and that's a chapter in the book – the phonecall that changed my life, from Liam.
The first person I turned to after that was Bob Pinnock, who's sitting in the second row. Bob was my financial director in my ad agency. I used to come back from New York on Friday night, overnight, and talk to Bob on the terraces at the Goldstone about the big deals that I'd just done in New York while shouting 'in the hole, Sully' or 'get forward, Mark Lawrenson'. So we used to have these strange conversations about the deals that I'd been doing. So Bob became one of my first consortium members – there was me, Liam and Martin Perry joined as our stadium adviser, he worked for Robert McAlpine for quite a long time until I invited him to the club. The first job was really to get to grips with Archer, go head-to-head with him. And I'll read you an extract here.
I came from the advertising business and in building my advertising agency I'd locked horns with tough, sharp New York lawyers – Mary Wells, who's a famous figure in American advertising, lined up seven lawyers when I sold part of my company to her. I dealt with these henchmen pretty well. I'd also sold advertising campaigns with bosses of big companies on numerous occasions. In short, I knew how to deal with people in these kinds of situations. But in all my experience in business I'd never met anyone quite like Bill Archer.
Archer wasn't that clever, because his motives were obvious. He knew what he was up to and he was streetsmart and cocksure. I soon realised I was dealing with someone who had a very clear idea as to how far he could go, and I think he was certain that he could see me off. I was battle-hardened in knowing how to handle tough businesspeople. But I was about to encounter a level of armour plating that I had never had to deal with before. From the start, Archer used every trick he could to avoid meeting with me and the consortium. My target wasn't going to play ball that easily. Archer started as he meant to go on, he would always be a very tricky customer to deal with.
He was, of course, aware of the hardman public profile that his Brighton activities had actually generated for him in the national media. And I think he thrived on it, he relished his growing notoriety and thought it would do his business reputation no harm at all. Certainly, in my dealings with him, however much I and thousands of Albion fans might pray in this situation, he was never going to give up the football club immediately, admit that he'd got it wrong and walk away. He was never going to do that. His ego would never allow it. So throughout the acrimonious, frustrating and endless negotiations that would be needed to prise Archer's hands off the club, he would never let every sticky finger be completely removed all at once. Instead, he embarked on a double-handed game.
First, to mollify the supporters, many of whom are here and remember this, he acknowledged the existence of the consortium and told the world he would meet us – provided we were able to meet certain financial and stadium criteria beforehand. It was a good way of stalling the talks. Second, he intended to get valuable information that way from the consortium, while he privately continued to pursue his only holy grail of a retail development at Toad's Hole Valley with Hove Council. It was a huge retail development with a small football stadium in it. The frustrations mounted. He told supporters that he'd meet the consortium but that we hadn't yet satisfied his conditions. One of these was for us to answer the impossibly vague question, 'how we would deliver the future?' That was it – he wanted to know how we were going to 'deliver the future'.
When we supplied him with relevant information – Bob was working overtime providing this relevant information – he kept changing the goalposts. In fact he changed the goalposts enough to have qualified for the job of groundsman at the Albion, assuming of course that we had a ground, which we didn't at that time. But still we were no closer to examining the books. Finally, after mounting media and fan pressure, and I believe his own curiosity to go head-to-head with these 'upstarts' and 'troublemakers' – myself and the consortium – Archer finally agreed to meet us.
By this time the consortium was reduced by one because Liam had gone to Arsenal. He was offered a wonderful job as head of youth development, we all know that Arsenal was Liam's club, I couldn't stand in his way. So it was just really myself and Bob and Martin Perry as our stadium advisor. We came face-to-face with Archer for the first time on Thursday, August the 22nd 1996 on neutral territory, which was the city offices of lawyers. Martin Perry was there as well. Archer, interestingly, was on his own, and was already waiting for us when we arrived. He obviously felt that he needed no assistance from his friend Greg Stanley, or indeed his chief executive, David Bellotti, to deal with the likes of us.
He obviously knew something about Bellotti we already knew ourselves and had learnt: he didn't need Bellotti there to ruin the situation as far as he was concerned. He'd already described the consortium as 'this half-baked consortium'. Ray Bloom was in attendance at that meeting with Archer, presumably because he was still a director of the club at that time. He took no part in the proceedings.
The meeting took place in a very austere, minimalist city office. It was a cold place. The setting seemed entirely appropriate. The mood was distinctly icy. Archer was every inch the northern Englishman: working class man made good, fairly short, respectable, overweight and supremely confident. It was as if he wanted to show those soft southerners how tough he was. Obviously I knew what he was capable of, but meeting him was different. I saw him as someone who had absolutely no business being involved in Brighton and Hove Albion, and I sensed straight away that I had to be very careful with him. There were basic handshakes, few pleasantries and no small-talking in this meeting. I think both of us were out to impose ourselves on the other. It was very personal. He kept asking me, 'you're not one of those chancers, are you?' He thought I was an opportunist with no money. It was his way of trying to intimidate me.
Perhaps that sort of talk played well in Crewe, where he came from – where he was getting Focus DIY underway, coincidentally – but it didn't cut any ice with me. I replied, 'I wouldn't have come this far if I didn't have the funds to back up my position.’ I'm not in the business of wasting my own and other people's time, or giving the fans false hope. I reminded him that the consortium had already demonstrated its ability to meet his takeover criteria. Now honour your side of the bargain. It certainly wasn't the most friendly meeting I'd ever had. There was no search for compromise – Archer seemed to want to beat me down. There was an underlying tension, but it didn't quite degenerate into a slanging match. And even though Archer had no intention of selling, because he still believed he could force his retail plans through, he still had to ask me one important question: what kind of funds did we have at our disposal to put in the club? He was always trying to find out more information, he wanted to see the colour of our money.
My response was to ask again to see the club's books. As with the purchase and takeover of any business, we couldn't make an offer without having full knowledge of the club's accounts and financial health, or otherwise. After a moment's hesitation Archer agreed to my request. So it did look as if we had, in fact, made some progress in that first meeting with him. Getting Archer's permission for us to at last begin the process of due dilligence. But as Bob said to me a few minutes after leaving that meeting, 'we've got to be careful here, Dick; I don't trust this guy one bit', and it was no coincidence that I was feeling exactly the same myself.
Sure enough, two days after that meeting, Archer – having got a better press, because he'd actually agreed to meet us – that all changed. He announced that we 'hadn't demonstrated to his liking that we had sufficient funds', nor had we 'shown any signs of being able to deliver the future'. No wonder he called it off – it had quickly become a personal duel for him with me. He thought he could see me off by making it difficult for me to proceed. That's why at first he said 'yes you can see the books', and then he stopped.
By putting up all these barriers he thought I would eventually just go away. And he did that all the way down the line. It was really just a case of digging in and having a great deal of determination for the long haul. He was bloody-minded – we had to be bloody-minded right back at him.
That's the end of that sequence, thank you.
AS: Just to change the tack a bit, Dick, about the playing side, because I know you're a great lover of the game anyway: what was it like, for example, dealing with loan players when their commitment might not be as much as those signed. Was there a difference in that at all?
DK: Dealing with loan players was quite strange because you know they're not going to be with the club for any real length of time so you have to deal with them in a slightly different way. One person in particular...if you're bringing in a top player you have to treat him in a different way. One such person who you will all remember was Robbie Savage. This was in October 2008, and we had just beaten Manchester City in the League Cup – an amazing game which was the biggest crowd ever at the Withdean. That chapter is called – and those of you who are really smart will understand why I've written this – is called Kompany and Co Ltd, with a 'K'. And Vincent Kompany played in that game, captain of Man City.
But in that season we beat Man City, the richest club in the world, in the League Cup, and meanwhile we were slipping down the league. Micky Adams said we needed some fresh club. So we found out that Robbie Savage was available on loan, which was fantastic. We needed an injection of vitality. We learnt that Robbie – who Micky knew – might be available on loan from Derby County. He was, of course, a hard-tackling Welsh international midfield player with a reputation for getting up peoples' noses, annoying opponents and their fans, and probably even his own fans. But he was known in football to actually be a great guy to have in your team. Robbie was interested in coming to Brighton and he said he would come down to meet us. So when he told my old friend from Hull, Adam Pearson, who was then the Chairman of Derby County...Robbie said 'I'm thinking of going down to Brighton.' So Adam replied, he said, 'oh God, that means I'm going to have to deal with that Dick Knight. He'll screw me into the ground.' Which I had done with Adam over getting Nicky Forster for £75,000 when they wanted a quarter of a million.
Anyway, he was right because Robbie – who was quite open about this – told me he was on £24,000 a week. I said 'well, I'm not going to pay you anywhere near as much as that.' Anyway, I did this deal with Adam Pearson for less than a tenth of it. They carried on paying him the rest. So Robbie agrees to come, he's very happy, he likes the sound of it. So the deal was done financially, he was coming for a month, but Robbie didn't want us to book his accommodation for him, he had his own PA – that's Robbie for you, quite a character. He didn't want us to sort the accommodation out for him down in Brighton. He said he'd do that himself, so we arranged to meet him in Brighton, and he asked us to meet him, not at our paltry offices or the ground, which we only went to to play at, but at his hotel. So I gathered up Micky Adams and Derek Allan, our secretary who deals with the contracts, and said 'look at the address of this hotel'. And I took one look at the address of this hotel and I recognised it as a boutique hotel which was part of Brighton's gay quarter, which Robbie's PA had inadvertently booked him into. A very attractive, boutique hotel.
We went to meet Robbie at this gay hotel and soon spotted Robbie's white Lamborghini parked outside, not exactly not drawing attention to himself. So we go into the small hotel to find, standing in the bar, Robbie, with his blond locks flowing down, backlit with this stained glass frieze of Marilyn Monroe in that famous pose, her dress billowing out. The barman was eyeing up Robbie with a great deal of interest. So anyway, I thought that I'd better get Robbie out of that situation and get down to business. I'd spoken to him on the phone, introduced myself and introduced him to Micky and Derek, who had the papers. I said 'are you settling in ok here?' He said 'yeah, it's great Dick, it's great.'
Before we had a chance to talk about the contract he said, 'you've got to see my room, it's fantastic.' I said 'ok.' He said 'come on, let's see my room.' So we thought we'd go up to a penthouse suite. It was one of those small hotels in Kemp Town. He opened this door leading downstairs. We followed him. There, as the door opened, I was transformed to Saturday Night Fever. You know those coloured glass panels on the floor? The stairway down to Robbie's suite was coloured glass panels. There was a glitterball as well – it was completely over-the-top. The only thing missing was Robbie in a white suit doing John Travolta-type moves. So he leads us down there and says, 'it's great, isn't it?' So he shows us the jacuzzi, he's got about four rooms, he's loving this place. So I thought I'd better let him into a secret, I said, 'Robbie, I have to tell you, this is a really nice hotel, but it is one of the top gay hotels in Brighton.' He said, 'really? I don't care – it's great, I think it's great.
At this point Derek Allan, who's this dour Lancastrian, said 'bloody hell', as the door opened and we went down into this glitterball scenario lacking only Robbie doing this dance. Robbie was loving it. He said, 'I'll have a jacuzzi later when I'm finished with you guys, I'll go back down to the bar for some drinks.' I said, 'Robbie, watch yourself.' His wife hadn't come down at the time. I said, 'you know Brighton's reputation as the gay capital of the country?' He said, 'yes'. I said, 'well, you're right in the middle of it.' We went back to the bar and started talking about the contract.
I very quickly concluded discussions with him because the regulars were gathering in the bar, all of them eyeing up Robbie. It was an amazing thing. But he stayed there the whole month that he was on loan to us. I tell you, Robbie Savage is a great guy. He's got a great sense of humour and he is a really good guy to have around a football club. He's a very inspiring character. So that's the sort of thing you have to deal with when you're dealing with loan players.
AS: I remember Charlie Oatway telling me when he played under you there was a war council drawn up between Paul Rogers, Richard Carpenter and Paul Watson. They decided that their win bonuses weren't enough and they'd take Dick down for lunch and have a chat with him about it. The result was that not only did they not get their win bonuses but they had to pay for Dick's lunch as well.
Changing the subject slightly, onto the planning inquiry, getting those over the line.
DK: There was one occasion which I think a lot of you will remember. We'd eventually got through two-and-a-half planning inquiries. And on the 28th of October 2005 we thought we had final approval. I received a letter from John Prescott which was giving us approval having been through the two public inquiries. The inspector, who was a different inspector from the first one, completely rejected the recommendations of the first one. Don't ever hear anything bad about John Prescott as far as Albion are concerned – it's only because of him, he reopened the inquiry, otherwise we would not have the Amex. He went against his inspector, which is very unusual for a minister, and it was the fans' campaign that began to make him realise, 'I've got to have this public inquiry open again', which he did.
We went through the second inquiry and then he wrote to me saying that it's approved. It was subject to a 42-day review period, and I, having been through so many problems...we never took anything for granted, Martin and I, with this project, we never took anything for granted. Nevertheless, The Argus immediately put the headline across the front, YES(ISH). So there were pictures of myself, Martin, Norman Cook, Des Lynam and so on, outside Donatello's sipping champagne. And The Argus headline under the photo the next day was Falmer Fizz. And I held a press conference in the restaurant's upstairs suite outside Donatello's, although even then I was cautious, because I'd come to learn that I could never take anything for granted at this planning inquiry.
I knew about the 42-day period. The letter from Prescott was actually 16 pages long and that night I got home, started reading it again. All of a sudden, halfway through, I realised there was a mistake in this letter. It was actually a technical mistake, it wasn't a typo. It was technical mistake, and therefore it was a pretty basic mistake. It said that the entire Falmer site was actually within the Brighton and Hove built-up area of Falmer. A few months prior to that there had been a boundary change and part of the Falmer site had been allocated to Lewes District Council, and nobody from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – Prescott's department – had noticed this. So this error said the whole area was in Brighton and Hove, which it wasn't. I knew – I mean, Martin, and our lawyer, also spotted this error, and therefore we knew that Lewes would as well, they would have lawyers all over this letter.
It wasn't Prescott's fault – he signed the letter given to him by his advisors. And it wasn't a determining factor in his decision in any way. He made his recommendation based on an evaluation of the facts. The fact that the boundary was slightly moved was irrelevant to his decision-making process. But in the meantime we had to put on the most joyous face for our fans, who thought that we were home and dry. As far as they were concerned it was the best possible news, we'd actually got through the planning inquiry. And it was, we'd got over that hurdle – I knew that we wouldn't have any more planning inquiries, that's for sure.
The next day, on the Saturday, we were playing Ipswich Town at home, and I said to the board that we had to do something special to celebrate the end of the public inquiries. I said, 'we've got to do something that no-one has ever done before.' And because of this 'Falmer Fizz', I recommended that we should serve everybody at the game – everybody, not just the people in the boardroom – champagne. All the fans that came to the game would be served champagne, except the children, who would be served a suitable non-alcoholic drink. Bob being Bob – an accountant – said, 'what's it gonna cost?' I said, 'really it doesn't matter what it's gonna cost, it's worth doing it.' I think it actually cost us about £5,000, but it was absolutely worth doing. So we set up these trestle tables outside Withdean at the entrance to the South Stand. We had to have plastic beakers.
Everybody got a glass of champagne – unknown, at a football ground, in history, anywhere in the world, has the whole crowd been served champagne. That's what we do at Brighton, isn't it? Anyway, David Sheepshanks, the Chairman of Ipswich, who I knew very well, who's now the Chair of the FA's St George's Park training ground, he came into the boardroom with one of the other directors. He said to me, 'Dick Knight, what a club you've got, what style.' And he didn't say 'serving champagne', he just said, 'what a club you've got, what style.' There were a lot of laughs in my time as Chairman of the Albion, it wasn't all doom and gloom. That was one of them. Only Brighton and Hove Albion would serve champagne to all of its fans. That was life at Withdean.
AS: Your life before football – can you tell us a bit about that?
DK: Advertising – I think some of you know I've worked in advertising, which is really why the book is called MadMan, because anyone who went...I actually worked in New York in advertising in the 60s, which is the scenario for this well-known TV series called Mad Men, and that was kind of the life I led in the 60s, when I was very young. Why MadMan? Well, anyone who gives up a life of travelling to New York, LA, Milan, Paris, Hong Kong, which is what I did in my job – to swap that to go to places like Accrington and Darlington and Rochdale and Scunthorpe has got to be mad, especially to take over a club that was going out of the league, didn't have a ground...it's obvious why the book's called MadMan, isn't it?
In my work in advertising I actually set up my own agency. I'd worked in New York at a big agency, but my agency, we kind of did quite original work. We didn't treat the viewers as morons. We did some interesting stuff for big companies. Some of you may remember we handled an account for Grolsch beer and we hired the special effects expert from the film Poltergeist to reproduce the complete destruction of this house which we shot because this spirit from the film Poltergeist when he went to the fridge in this house at night, opened the fridge door and tried to open a bottle of Grolsch. He couldn't because of the flip-top – that was 'you can't top a Grolsch'. And that was a very famous ad that we did.
We also did the launch of a new business airline that had a brand new fleet of aircraft from a very famous plane manufacturer. We took huge posters which – it was a business airline, in major cities – it showed the side of a plane and said 'it's all business class on this Fokker'. And 'it's a Fokker to get to Paris'. We also worked with some small brands, helping them to get off the ground with some groundbreaking stuff: a cinema commercial which some of you may remember showing some old sepia shots of old couples' photographs, really old, captioned: 'Mr and Mrs Hitler – parents of Adolf'; and another, 'Mr and Mrs Stalin – parents of Joseph'; there were several of those, and the punchline was, 'if only they'd used Jiffy condoms'.
So we did what was shocking and outrageous, and I loved that. But I think the best-known campaign, and the one that was most often mentioned when I wanted to take over the Albion, was the Wonderbra campaign. What happened, we got this account given to us, it was a very small budget. Over 60% of the staff in our agency were women, so the first thing we did was we got all the ladies to wear the Wonderbra and tell us what they thought about it. And they all felt really confident wearing this Wonderbra. So we looked at all the other advertising of bras by all the traditional brands and it was awful – it was either based on the construction of it or it was patronisingly sexist, showing some lady lying in the hay looking like Jane Russell. It was awful, it was terrible.
So we decided to do a campaign with wit, to make a woman the dominant figure in the advertising. The person was controlling the situation. She would be delivering witty lines to the audience, she was in control of the situation 100%. So we were gonna have this lady saying some interesting things, always with wit. Someone came up with 'say goodbye to your feet' – think about that one – but the one we went for initially was 'hello boys'. Simply, straight-on, 'hello boys'. And we needed someone very special, a model, a lady who'd never been in ads before. We were gonna put these ads on these big posters in one or two cities in the UK. Very few posters, we had to make a very big impact. We wanted to make what I call 'fender benders' – trapping people, making them bump into the car in front of them because they were intrigued by the poster.
We concentrated our search on central and Eastern Europe, where my company had some offices. And so in Munich, Budapest, Prague and Warsaw they had these sort of photographic talent contests for unknown ladies. And in the end we brought half a dozen of them to our offices in London, overlooking the Regent's Park Canal. We had this open plan style office, lots of glass everywhere. Most of our meetings were always at the quiet offices, up and down the country, overseas, wherever. The meetings were always at the clients' offices. All of a sudden, in the week that we were having these photo tests with the ladies from Eastern Europe, all the clients wanted to have the meetings at our office, which they did, of course, while the Wonderbra tests were going on.
Eva Herzigova, from Prague, was the obvious choice. The camera loved her and she looked fantastic, but it wasn't a glam shoot. It was about real women, their personalities coming through. Eva is a bright character and has a devilish smile – she was completely in charge of the situation. She had a looked that said 'I'm in charge' as she whispered 'hello boys'. It was English advertising at its best. As soon as the campaign launched we had a huge number of protests from the moral majority in America, thinking that it was sexist. But then the lady that ran the account went all around the world on daytime television demonstrating that it wasn't sexist at all.
We got this huge amount of worldwide publicity for this campaign for a few posters that ran in London, Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham. So it was quite an interesting campaign. But that was the one that I'm afraid was my most outstanding one.
AS: As far as famous people in football are concerned, can you give us a couple of examples of anyone you met in the football industry?
DK: Yes, I did meet some very interesting people in the course of my time in football, but this one that I'm going to tell you about actually was before I became Chairman of the Albion. Because I used to go to the Goldstone with Bob and we used to talk about the game...and around the time in the late 60s, early 70s, long before I became involved in the Albion as a Chairman, I began to become very aware of hooliganism rearing its ugly head in football. I was actually at a game at West Ham, when the first ever public hooliganism took place. The boy that ran on the pitch and attacked the referee was all over the front pages the next day. He was an Everton fan annoyed about a penalty decision. So I began thinking that football needed to engage with people rather than actually allow this to happen.
Because I had some contacts in the media, I came up with this idea of Men of the Match – people would be engaged in the game, because everyone at the game talks about the players, don't they? So the idea would be that five people had to choose the best five players of the game in the correct order against a panel of judges. I managed to arrange a meeting with Alan Hardaker, who was the number one man in British football at the time, he was the Chairman of the Football League and the Premier League.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, that thing happened with all the clubs in the country – I launched this competition from...I was still working in an ad agency, and all the clubs supported it. I had letters from people like Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, all the top players, managers, clubs supported it. I was working my way up in advertising and didn't wanna really have a career in football competitions. So I let this thing just drift a way for a while, but in 1972 was one of the first times there was a television game live. Those of you old enough know that there was no live television in the early 1970s, just the occasional game. It was the 1972 Euros, and there was going to be a game against Germany at the old Wembley. I thought this was a perfect time to revive my competition. I had to take ads in the national press, I called in a few favours in Fleet Street and put my ads in the press, and I also had a big prize. In the league competition it was £1,000 a week, which is about £25,000 in today's money. But this special match, on television, I had a £5,000 first prize, which was a lot of money. And I felt I had to get some really big-name judges to be the people who judged the games. So people felt they were making their judgements against the very best.
So I thought about the people who'd been helpful to my league scheme and I called Alan Hardaker – Joe Mercer, who was the manager of Manchester City when they'd just won the league, and Bill Shankly, the legendary Bill Shankly. They'd both been very supportive of this competition when it had been running earlier. So I called up Hardacre, asking if he could give me their numbers and asking him to phone them, which he did, asking them if they were prepared to be the judges, which they were. So I got Shankly's number and I got Joe Mercer's number. I called up Bill Shankly on his private number and his wife Nessie answered the phone – he never, ever answered the phone. She said, 'oh yes, Bill's expecting your call.' So I get put through to the great Bill Shankly. He said, in that sharp Scottish voice, 'hello there, Dick, we're playing in London on Saturday (Liverpool). So come and see me on Friday evening at the Russell Square Hotel at 7pm. The lounge will be full of reporters, so go to the concierge and ask for Mr Scott, and they'll direct you up to my room.'
Liverpool were always a big story when they were in town and so he was absolutely right about the reporters – there were about 20 of them in the hotel reception, most of whom I recognised from my bylines. I said, 'Dick Knight, to see Mr Scott'. He said, 'yes sir, go to the sixth floor, room 615.' So I went up there, knocked on the door of Shankly's suite. 'Hang on, hang on.' The door opened, there's Bill Shankly standing there, right? 'Come in, young man, come in.' So I go in and he's got this suite. And he said, 'what would you like to drink?' So I thought he was offering me a gin and tonic and something, but it was only orange juice or lemonade, that was it – he wasn't offering me anything else.
So he knew about the general idea of this competition. He wanted me to talk him through it. He had to pick the best players in order. He was very enthusiastic. 'It's a great idea,' he said, 'I'm honoured for you to ask me, a Scot, to make a judgement on England players.' So I told him he was so supportive of the competition when it was running in the league a few years ago. He said, 'it's alright, you'll get a huge response.' I said, 'well don't forget, there's Joe Mercer as well, who's also a judge.' 'Ah yes, Joe, a good man,' he said. 'Played for Everton, never mind, never mind.' So we talked about football and I mentioned that I liked West Ham, which I talk about in my book. And I liked Trevor Brooking. West Ham were Liverpool's opponents the following day. He said, 'why do you like Trevor Brooking?' I explained that I liked their way of playing and I liked his style of passing. He said, 'yes, but Brooking, he's not tough enough,' so that was his view.
We talked football for about an hour, and eventually I needed to go to the toilet. He said, 'it's off in the other room, you go through the bedroom and it's there.' So I went into the bedroom and then I couldn't believe what I saw. Laid out on the bed were Bill Shankly's pyjamas, and they were rather special pyjamas because they were in red silk, just like the playing strip at Liverpool, with the club crest. And obviously I'm just looking at this and thinking, 'I don't believe this, I'm the only person who knows from this apart from Nessie.' Obviously I was...'you ok in there?' he said. 'You ok?' I said 'I'm just looking at your pyjamas.' He said, 'Great.' He lifted them up and there on the back was number 4, which was his playing number when he played. In those days the name never went on the back. He said, 'don't you ever tell anybody.' I said, 'Bill, I swear I'll never tell anyone as long as you live.' Which I never did, this is the first time this story's ever come out.
But Bill Shankly, what a great guy. And I kept that secret for a long time. He won't mind me bringing it out now in my book, but what happened...Germany won that game, there were about 25,000 entries and Bill Shankly had a very interesting selection, so there was only one winner in the end. Shankly and Joe Mercer were great, legendary football guys, both of them wonderful people.
Question (from the audience): What would you regard as your most bizarre incidents of the 'war years'?
DK: The mediation process was fascinating because David Davies, of the FA, instigated that. In those days I used to chain-smoke. We were there one night – these mediations went on into the early hours – and we were there one rainy, wintry night, pouring with rain. And I opened the window of this smoke-filled room to let some air in. I heard this rustling in the trees. All of a sudden there was more rustling, and then this thump as someone hit the ground. And it turned out to be poor old Andy Naylor. The talks were completely confidential, so poor Andy was trying to do his job and find something that he could report. He had his ear pressed to the window and I opened it, and he fell. That was Andy, my old sparring partner.
There were many bizarre things we went through. It was a lesson that we taught a lot of other people very quickly, that fans could fight back. I remember going to Wrexham once, when they were having problems with their Chairman, and the wit that comes out from football fans is brilliant. These things are natural, that people will have this humour in football. I mean Skint, for example, is a wonderful example of that. When I persuaded them to not only sponsor the shirt but also to take the word 'Records' off, so that we were exactly what we said on the shirt. And then of course we played Barnet once, who were sponsored by Loaded. Before the games start the teams line up next to each other and they're all growling, trying to give themselves a bit of confidence and intimidate the other team. When we started wearing Skint on our shirt the other players would start laughing.
It was brilliant because we put a smile on faces. One of my first objectives was to do that, to give people their mojo back about the Albion. They needed to feel good about the Albion, not this huge depressive pit that we were in. So those were the sort of things that we did. They were all part of the battle to put the club back on the right track.
Q: Who was the most consistent player that you've seen at the Albion?
DK: When I was Chairman?
Q: Throughout your watching career.
DK: I think Mark Lawrenson was the best. He was consistently excellent and he's a pretty obvious choice, to be honest. He went on to great things, but I remember – going right back to when he first came to the Albion – he played for Preston North End in the year before we signed him at the Goldstone. We were near the top of the league and Preston came and defended brilliantly. There was this young guy playing at centre-half whose name was Mark Lawrenson. And I said to my son, 'he's brilliant, this guy, we need to sign him – he's so much better than anyone else.' Alan Mullery signed him at the end of that season with Gary Williams at left-back, who was also at Preston.
We'd got Lawrenson, and he used to rampage forward with the ball. I used to tell my advertising friends in London that we'd got a player down at Brighton who was as good as Franz Beckenbauer in the fact that he can take the ball, win the ball, read it, go forward. Brian Horton told me, years later – Brian was a fair goalscoring midfielder, as you know – but when Lawrenson went forward he used to shout out to Horton, 'cover for me, skip, go back and cover for me, 'cos I'm going forward.' That's what was happening on the field of play. But he was absolutely outstanding, Mark Lawrenson. He would have walked into the England team if he hadn't chosen to play for Ireland before, because his grandparents were Irish.
But in more recent years, I think Liam Bridcutt is a wonderful player who is an example of a young player at a top Premier League club today who's never gonna get a chance at that Premier League club. And he has proved himself, he is definitely good enough to play in the Premier League, and he will do, I'm certain of it.
My great-nephew, Michael Standing, was an example of a player who went to a top Premier League club, Aston Villa, but because of the position he played in, midfield playmaker, found it very hard to break through. His best mate, Gareth Barry, went to Aston Villa and has recently passed 500 games in the Premier League, as well as playing 60 or 70 times. And there's a chapter in that book about how I managed to get £1 million for Gareth Barry when he'd never played in our reserve team, let alone our first team. That was one of the best deals I ever did, but not the best.
Q: What was the best deal then, Dick?
DK: Read the book.
Q: With all due respect to Adam Virgo and the legend that he is, how did you manage to fleece Celtic for £1 million?
DK: We were on holiday in Cyprus and I kept getting taken away by these phonecalls coming in from Celtic. I was spending all my time on the phone. Their chief executive came on the phone. I thought I'd ended it because I thought Adam was worth £200,000, max, really.
But we were in a unique position because Gordon Strachan, who'd taken a sabbatical from football, kept coming to Withdean that season. Adam was our best player, he'd got nine goals, he kept us in the Championship. And I knew that Gordon liked Adam. And I was able to take advantage of the fact that he'd gone to Celtic as manager and Adam was going to be his first signing. So Celtic didn't wanna upset their new manager So I just kept holding out – I said, 'I'm not selling him, I'm not selling him, I'm going back on the beach.' And their chief executive got up to £600,000 or £850,000 and I said no, it's not enough. So he said, 'you know, Dick, we're deadly serious about this. Dermot Desmond is going to get involved.' He's the owner of Celtic and a very serious businessman. I said, 'well, fine, but I'm not gonna sell him.' That's how I got it up to £1.5 million, because Dermot came on the phone saying 'Dick, I hear you're having a good holiday.' I said, 'Dermot, don't waste my time and yours. Cut to the quick.' And in the end...you'll read it in the book, because it's there in the book.
We finished up as friends, which takes some doing when you've taken £1.5 million. And it was all cash, and it was all upfront with no conditions. I said, 'this is not conditional on you winning the European Champions League and Adam scoring a hat-trick. I want one-and-a-half million, and I want it in cash, and the only concession I'm going to give you is that you give us a million now and a half-million at Christmas.' This was in July. And that's what we got.