'Social media...we didn’t have that to contend with. I think I’d probably have got sacked!' - former Burnley midfielder Paul Weller
In the second part of Paul Weller’s look back at his career with Burnley, he speaks about whether the game has changed for better or worse for young players coming through.
Weller isn’t one who has many regrets, indeed, in his book ‘Not A Bad Life – Burnley, Gazza, Wrighty, Waddle and Me’, he says: “I was never feted or mobbed on red carpets and never earned huge sums like today’s lads. Not that I begrudge them; few, if any, of us oldies are resentful. we did OK, made a living and enjoyed the life while it lasted.”
However, he does believe the old apprentice scheme prepared players for the game better than the current development system: “The game has changed so much, there’s no basics – Jimmy Mullen taught us that from day one, we had to sweep the stands, and it wasn’t part of our contracts, so we said we weren’t doing it.
“We didn’t get our £3 bonus, and he said, ‘fine, if you’re not going to do it, you can stay until 5 p.m. in the home dressing rooms for a week’.
“Eventually, the third day, we were sat there bored and said we’d sweep up.
“We ended up doing all the jobs, and we had to do them, for some reason it gave you some form of respect, to go out and make sure you were a footballer, rather than being a cleaner or painter, not that there is anything wrong with that.
“But it brought us together as players, having a laugh with the lads, doing our jobs, and mine was around the medical room, with Jimmy Holland, so I saw the senior professionals a lot more.
“It was brilliant, back then, I was on their wavelength because you’d have the likes of (Mick) Conroy, (Mark) Yates, on hundreds of pounds, not thousands, Roger Eli selling tracksuits out of his boot because they had to earn money.
“There were no primadonnas, people on their headphones not talking to anyone...it’s a shame football’s changed that much.
“That gap from the youth team to the first team wasn’t that big, you were playing with senior players in the reserves, learning your trade.
“Nowadays, if you’re in the Under 23s, you’re not really developing, playing against players the same age.
“I remember Chris Scott telling me he was playing right back in the reserves one day, with Peter Swan and Jamie Hoyland. They were basically teaching him how to play football.
“You’re learning from senior players – I don’t know where it’s all gone wrong.
“I speak to Jamie, he’s frustrated by it, you have players at Chelsea in the Under 23s on £10/20,000 a week, who haven’t played a league game. Wow! It’s unreal.
“You should have played 100 games by the time you’re 23.
“You used to go to Maine Road in the reserves, pulling up and seeing their team sheet and thinking ‘flipping hell, this is good!’
“I was lucky, I was the same age as the Class of 92, and played A team against Beckham and that lot. You had to step up at that level – I remember Jamie Redknapp playing for Liverpool after signing from Bournemouth, and the standard was unbelievable.
“I think Sir Alex Ferguson said he wishes the A and B Leagues were still going.
“I suppose, from my time, the further down the leagues you are, you’re going to get more of a chance, that’s what people said to me – I was coming through when Burnley were in the Fourth/Third Division, and now they’re looking for Premier League players.
“But you keep seeing the Under 23s winning and winning, and it’s not about that, it’s about developing individuals.”
One thing Weller is glad he didn’t live through, is being a footballer in the social media age: “Things have changed now, it was a cruel world coming through a youth system, dressing rooms were harsh...if the team lost and you didn’t get that win bonus, players were on hundreds of pounds a week, with mortgages to pay, they wanted to win!
“Now it’s different, social media...we didn’t have that to contend with. I think I’d probably have got sacked!
“Stan was constantly telling me and (Andy) Cooky off for going out drinking in Accrington on a Sunday night. We’d have been in a right load of trouble with social media...
“Glen (Little) would have been in the bookies every day and been divorced even sooner, same with Robbie (Blake)!
“It would have taught you to behave a bit better I suppose. It would have been frustrating though, because those Sundays down Accy were brilliant!
“The stuff we used to do, you wouldn’t get away with it now. The drinking was quite strong, even a couple of drinks on a Friday night with Stan, just to help you sleep – I imagine they’d go bananas now!
“That’s the only thing I reckon we should have done back in the day, eat a little better, be a little more professional.
“People like Robbie and Glen would have played a lot more in the Premier League.
“If they were fitter and stronger, they had the ability to go and kick on.
“You look at the training pitches now, the facilities they have, not washing your own kit, all the food is served on a plate for you.
“Fitness was a big part of my game, but caught up with me in the end.
“We had to wash our own kit, feed ourselves, after games we’d get fish and chips – not the best for you!
“We loved it, but if you could have had a different diet, a lot of players would have played differently.
“But that’s where the game’s changed. I can remember the fat test being introduced, calipers on you, and Robbie hid.
“Stan said ‘why have you hidden away?’, and Robbie turned and pinged the ball in the top corner and said ‘it doesn’t matter how fat I am, no one can do that like me!’
“And he was right. Now there’s more time in the gym, more about fitness, less time on the training pitch.
“But fitness levels are a completely different level now.”
Not Such a Bad Life, by Paul Weller with Dave Thomas; published by Pitch Publishing, April 2021, RRP £19.99 – available at Burnley FC Clubshop and all good bookshops.