The Rise and Fall of the ShowBiz XI
The club that featured Sean Connery, Tommy Steele and Des O’Connor in the same line-up
I went to the rowdiest, craziest football match I have ever seen yesterday afternoon. 12,000 spectators crammed the sports stadium at Hayes Middlesex – and there was a riot. People ran onto the pitch for autographs, even while play was going on. And as the final whistle went the losing side was mobbed. No wonder. For the losing team was the "ShowBiz XI radio and TV stars...
Henry Fielding, Daily Herald, Monday 13 January 1958
In my rather battered copy of Charles Buchan's Soccer Gift Book (circa 1964-65) there is a picture of five Tottenham Hotspur players including Jimmy Greaves and Terry Dyson dressed in the stage apparel of the Dave Clark Five, a pop group then purveying what was termed the Tottenham Sound. The players are happily 'playing' their instruments while sitting close by are Dave Clark and his group looking uncomfortable in Spurs' shirts and shorts. It always struck me as an uneasy juxtaposition.
In the two decades following the Second World War, professional footballers had almost no media presence beyond the pitch and certainly none of the broad appeal to the emerging teenagers that pop stars would rapidly garner. As commercial television entered the fray in the mid-fifties, the national game's governing authorities struggled to come to terms with the opportunities it offered, worried that already falling attendances would drop even further if people could watch football from the comfort of their armchairs.
In 1954 BBC's Sportsview was the first programme regularly to feature coverage from the Football League, its Saturday evening Sports Special showing 75 matches over the course of each season. Highlights had to be just five minutes in duration, however, and shown after 10pm. Match of the Day made its debut on BBC2 in August 1964 with highlights of Liverpool versus Arsenal followed by a short summary from Kenneth Wolstenholme and Wally Barnes, but just 20,000 people tuned in as BBC2 wasn’t at that point available nationwide. Where live matches were concerned, in 1960 ITV screened Blackpool versus Bolton Wanderers as an experiment. The match kicked off at 6.50pm so as to avoid a clash with other games; viewers saw the last 10 minutes of the first half and the entire second half and, sadly, it ended goalless. It would be the last such venture for almost 25 years.
Not surprisingly, only a handful of players could be considered household names by the late 1950s and none of them possessed what might be called 'youth appeal'. Sir Stanley Matthews had been born as long ago as 1915; Billy Wright, although married to one of the popular singing trio The Beverley Sisters, was in his 30s; and players who'd stepped into the world of entertainment such as Colin Grainger, the Singing Winger, appealed largely to middle-brow musical tastes. Local heroes they may have been, but off the pitch professional footballers were unregarded and distinctly uncool.
Which made Bobby Charlton's appearance on the TV game show Double Your Money in early 1959 something of a sensation. DYM was one of ITV's (specifically, Associated-Rediffusion, which held the weekday franchise for London) biggest prime-time shows and watched by millions, its star prize of £1000 being the largest on offer. The Munich tragedy had been the first major event to elevate footballers into the media mainstream and Charlton represented, perhaps more than any other player, the ‘reborn’ Manchester United rising literally from the ashes. He might object, but being young, good-looking and just that little bit enigmatic, he was an interesting character, especially where young women were concerned. In fact, much would be made of Charlton's apparent courting of DYM's pretty assistant Jean Clarke (nicknamed 'the Wiggle Girl' for obvious reasons) who was reported to have bought a new outfit for their Manchester date.
The fact that Charlton appeared on the show exactly a year to the day after the Munich crash can have been no coincidence, although nothing was initially made of it. The connection would come to the fore as he progressed, week by week, towards the big prize and began to exhibit clear signs of trauma: refusing to enter the sound-proofed box for the final £1000 set of questions, something that had never happened before and which the show’s rules specifically demanded. His diffidence – he claimed he would suffer from claustrophobia if he was locked in the box – must have resonated with viewers who would have linked his predicament to his experience as a crash survivor. Charlton, who understandably denied the connection, was allowed to continue outside the box and won the top-money prize.
His presence on the show would have appealed to younger viewers, however, for reasons unrelated to his football fame. Much to the bemusement of the popular press, his choice of questions had been 'pop' music, something considered unusual and even quirky for a footballer. Even his Manchester United teammates, Charlton confessed, had started to “pull his leg” about it at first but were soon buying music papers to help him “swot up”. He clearly enjoyed his couple of weeks in the public eye, answering questions about the Everly Brothers, the Kalin Twins and Connie Francis’s B-sides, and would rapidly disappear back into the football world once his stint was over. But the episode had an intriguing sub-plot.
Pip Wedge, Associated-Rediffusion’s Manager of Quiz Programmes and the man who had selected Charlton for the show as well as devised his questions, had already seen the potential of linking the national game and its participants with the emerging contemporary youth culture. Wedge was also a key member of a non-professional football team, the ShowBiz XI, whose popularity was by 1959 outstripping many established Football League teams. What's more, Charlton's date, Jean Clarke, was already a ShowBiz XI fan.
The team had its genesis in a BBC television show called 6.5 Special which had burst upon the scene in early 1957 bringing the new skiffle craze into the nation's living rooms. 6.5 Special was followed in 1958 by an even more exciting programme, ITV's Oh Boy!, and the two shows are now credited with having transformed the musical tastes of young people as well as having launched the careers of many of Britain's first rock and roll stars. Both programmes would supply the bulk of the personnel for the original ShowBiz XI, a collection of football amateurs whose impact on the presentation of the game would prove immense.
Pete Murray, BBC and Radio Luxembourg disc jockey and the first presenter of 6.5 Special, recalled that in early 1957 an informal Sunday morning kickabout in Regent’s Park between individuals working on the show drew a small crowd from whom someone had thought to collect spare change for charity. Murray then mentioned this on air and the following week scores of teenagers appeared surrounding the pitch. In keeping with the free-wheeling nature of the 6.5 show, TV cameras soon followed along with even more youngsters. It was then that Jimmy Henney, another prominent DJ (who would later front Oh Boy!), saw an opportunity both personal and professional to organise things properly.
Henney worked full-time as a manager for the Chappell Music Company and was renowned as the 'Doyen of Song Pluggers'. His after-hours parties were legendary and his circle of friends in the music business included Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Perry Como and Shirley Bassey, to name but a few. He also loved football and he swiftly established a squad of young, mainly music business friends who were prepared to play on a weekly basis, work demands permitting. The ostensible purpose was to raise money for good causes but it would also provide his football-mad friends with regular organised competition, not to mention useful publicity.
He persuaded the Queens Park Rangers manager Jack Taylor to let the squad practise twice a week at Rangers' Loftus Road ground, a short walk from the BBC Lime Grove Studios where 6.5 Special began. Taylor sometimes coached the players, perhaps to the detriment of his QPR team who were conspicuously unsuccessful during his years there. QPR trainer Alex Farmer organised regular fitness sessions while Bill Parry, ex-maintenance engineer and QPR's masseur, accompanied the ShowBiz team on its travels up and down the country, tending to the aching limbs of its illustrious members.
A brief run-down of the key ShowBiz team members illustrates the fact that they were some of the music industry's top performers and early teen idols. The inside-right Lonnie Donegan and right-half Chas McDevitt were the country's first skiffle stars, appearing on radio and TV almost weekly, and the first teen music idols to appear on 6.5. Special.
Skiffle originated from the Chicago jug bands of the 1920s which used any household implements they could find as instruments. It swept through the UK in the late 1950s, stripping away the mystique of playing on stage and overnight making it possible for (almost) anybody to be in a band. Donegan, the skiffle king, was Britain's first musical superstar notching up over 20 UK Top-30 hits. In 1956 he sold three million copies of the ‘Rock Island Line’, ‘Gamblin' Man’/ ‘Puttin' on the Style’ was number one in July 1957, while other hits included ‘Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour?’, ‘My Old Man's a Dustman’ and ‘Cumberland Gap’.
McDevitt, another skiffle standard-bearer, also had a number one hit in 1957 with ‘Freight Train’ and with his group and singers Nancy Whiskey and later Shirley Douglas he regularly topped the bill at dance halls and theatres up and down the country as well as running a popular coffee bar, the Freight Train, in London's Soho.
The outside-right Tommy Steele was Britain's first genuine teen idol and rock and roll star following swiftly on the heels of the skiffle craze. His version of ‘Singing the Blues’ reached number one in 1957 while The Tommy Steele Story was the first album by a UK act to reach number one in his native country. Steele was briefly as popular as Elvis Presley and though soon regarded as an all-round entertainer rather than a true rock and roller, he was the first English teenager to elicit excitement with his music from a mass public.
The left-winger Tony Newley's successful pop music career as a vocalist began in May 1959 with the song ‘I've Waited So Long’, quickly followed by two chart-toppers in early 1960: ‘Why’ and ‘Do You Mind?’. He was also the star and co-creator of the ground-breaking surrealist ATV series The Strange World of Gurney Slade.
The right-winger and teen-heart-throb Michael Cox (whose Joe Meek-produced ‘Angela Jones’ was a smash hit in 1960), the centre-forward crooner Ronnie Carroll, and the half-back Gary Miller (whose rendering of the theme tune for the TV series The Adventures of Robin Hood spent 28 weeks in the charts) were hit-parade habitués, Miller having his own radio show. The inside-left Toni Dalli was an Italian transatlantic singing star (in the charts with ‘Come Prima’), the inside-right Glen Mason was a Scottish singer/entertainer with a string of hits in the fifties and sixties (such as ‘Glendora’ and ‘What's Cookin’ Baby?’) as well as being resident on ATV's Jack Jackson Music Show while the opera cross-over star full-back David Hughes won an Ivor Novello Award for Most Outstanding Song of the Year in 1956 with ‘By the Fountains of Rome’. With his good looks and romantic delivery, Hughes was dubbed Mr. Heartthrob and had his own TV series Make Mine Music.
Other television regulars from 6.5 Special were: the outside-left Dave King, a popular singer-comedian with his own ITV weekly show and chart hits including ‘The Story of my Life’; the right-sided forward Stan Stennett, a comedian and musician; the outside-right Des O'Connor, then billed as a singer-comedian; and the full-back Geoffrey Taylor, a TV actor. There was also the band leader /singer and theatrical agent Peter Regan (at full-back or half-back); the TV pop show Dig This compere, DJ and actor Gary Marshal (at left-half) plus Ken Day, singer and double-bass player (goalkeeper or left-winger).
The cinema was represented by just two players: the former child actor and tearaway teenager Andrew Ray at centre-forward and, at left-half, the pre-James Bond Sean Connery. Connery, intriguingly, had links with 6.5 Special. In 1956, when the producer Jack Good was searching for a compere for the show there were three main contenders: the DJ David Jacobs, Pete Murray – and Connery himself. Murray recalled, “I’d have switched [with Sean]. I’d rather have been James Bond and he could have had bloody 6.5 Special!”
Team members working behind the scenes in television were equally prominent. Tommy Steele's appearance on the first-ever 6.5 Special was the inspiration of ShowBiz XI team-reserve and regular linesman Billy Cotton Jr, one of 6.5's first producers just then working his way up the corporate ladder which would eventually see him become Controller of BBC in 1997.
The goalkeeper Pip Wedge had earlier worked as a freelancer for the Musical Express and Jazz Journal, then became a full-time reporter and feature writer for New Musical Express, and followed this in 1957 by becoming musical advisor to Associated-Rediffusion.
The inside-left and left-half Siggy Jackson was A&R [recording manager] at Melodisc Records, one of the first UK independent record companies responsible for the licensing and production of the earliest imported and home-grown calypso, high-life, jazz, and cha-cha in Britain. Tasked with releasing and marketing a new style of music – a Jamaican interpretation of the US shuffle R&B music that was very popular on the island in the fifties – Jackson recalled, "It sounded like blues, but it had a catchy beat, so I called it Blue Beat" – and so the legendary label was born.
The full-back John Burgess was one of Britain's youngest record producers who in the 1950s worked for Capitol Records promoting artists including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Dean Martin. In 1959 he was given responsibility for producing the then-unknown Adam Faith's fourth single, ‘What Do You Want?’ and would go on to produce all of Faith's hits. He would subsequently produce Manfred Mann as well as the John Barry Seven, including their hit single ‘The James Bond Theme’ in 1962.
The left-half Franklyn Boyd was a singer and music publisher and, briefly, manager of Cliff Richard. Boyd passed Bobby Helms's 1958 hit ‘Schoolboy Crush’ to producer Norrie Paramor who turned it into Richard's first hit. He then negotiated Richard's first appearance on Oh Boy! But soon afterwards Richard collapsed with exhaustion and Boyd was relieved of his managerial duties by Richard's family. One of the charges levelled against him was that he was spending more time with the ShowBiz XI than looking after their son.
Along with Peter Thompson, a young TV commercials producer – his Dairy Box ads were just then winning industry prizes – at half-back, you have a cross section of television and pop music's brightest young talents. They would constitute the core of the ShowBiz squad for almost a decade.
ROCK 'N' ROLL STAR MOBBED AFTER MATCH
THE sight of Tommy Steele running down the right wing in a charity football match in Oaklands Park on Sunday, proved too much for many of his teenage devotees. In unprecedented scenes which rocked and rolled Chichester out of its usual Sunday calm, they besieged singing idol Tommy, and other members of the ShowBiz XI team, in their dressing room after the match.
Bognor Regis Observer, Friday 13 February 1959
By early 1958, the team were in action somewhere in the country almost every week thanks to the contacts and reach of Pip Wedge, team fixtures secretary. By 1960, it was claimed they had played some 150 matches, 60 in 1959 alone. So busy were they that on occasions they took out advertisements in the Stage outlining their forthcoming appearances. They turned out in aid of Dr Barnardo's, Leonard Cheshire Homes, Cancer Research and National Boys’ Clubs, various refugee funds, hospital friends, Christmas dinners for old folks charities, diabetic and mentally handicapped organisations etc. By 1960 it was estimated that they'd raised some £75,000 for charitable causes.
In doing so they played against teams of all kinds and abilities, ranging from factory and works teams, miner's welfare teams and a variety of different town's mayoral elevens. There were also celebrity XIs such as Fleet Street Sports Writers, Boxing and Jockey XIs, RAF teams and even film star XIs that included Graham Stark, John Gregson, Syd James, Gordon Jackson. Robert Shaw, Warren Mitchell, Stanley Baker, Donald Huston and Michael Craig. Along the way they encountered some of football's greatest stars: Tommy Lawton, Bert Williams, Joe Mercer, Freddie Cox, Jimmy Logie, Joe Bacuzzi, Bedford Jezzard, Raich Carter, Peter Doherty, Tim Ward and Len Shackleton to name but a few.
The tradition of celebrity football matches raising funds for good causes stretches back to before the First World War when comedy legends such as George Robey ran their own teams. The ShowBiz XI were different in a number of key areas, however. This was no celebrity jaunt. The squad were almost all in their mid-20s and as the captain Jimmy Henney told a reporter, ''We play practically every week and sometimes on a Sunday. It isn't always the same team but the boys are fit enough." To be selected by Henney (himself a fixture at right-back) one had to be not only fit and available to play, but also good enough to play. Unlike their soon-to-be show-business football competitors, Henney's team prided themselves on their playing prowess. And some of them had footballing pedigree.
Ken Day was said to have played for Bath City and been on Aston Villa’s books. Glen Mason had been a professional with Falkirk, Ronnie Carroll was an Irish youth international, Gary Miller had played for Blackpool as an amateur and Des O'Connor claimed to have briefly been a professional footballer with Northampton Town. Siggy Jackson had played for two seasons for Dunfermline following a stint with junior club St Anthony's; Chas McDevitt had played representative football as a schoolboy at the highest level and Pete Murray was already a member of a Sunday League side called the Scorchers. Tommy Steele, true to his all-round entertainer ambitions, had even apparently interested Alf Ramsey when he was manager of Ipswich. “He came and saw me in a ShowBiz match and he said afterwards, ‘You can have a game with our reserves any time…’”
And then there was Sean Connery. A keen midfielder with the junior Scottish club Bonnyrigg Rose, he was offered a trial with Scottish Second Division outfit, East Fife. Connery travelled out to Bonnyrigg twice a week for training and was paid five shillings a week and bus fare. While on tour with the musical South Pacific, whose performers had their own team, he was watched by the Manchester United manager Matt Busby and, according to Connery, offered a £25 a week deal. Connery admitted he was tempted to sign but, aged 23, realised that players usually retired in their 30s which would have given him only about seven years of football. "I really wanted to accept because I loved football," he recalled.
Henney was shrewd enough to include at least one fit and able ex-professional in the side and for the first couple of years this would be the responsibility of the 36-year-old Wally Barnes (ex-Arsenal and Wales captain) who qualified because of his BBC TV commentating role. In 1961 he would be joined by the newly retired Billy Wright (OBE, Ballon d'Or runner-up in 1957 and league title winner in 1959 with Wolves), also a regular on TV and later to hold an executive role at ITV. They would be augmented by the former Arsenal wing-half Alex Forbes plus Len 'the Duke' Duquemin, ex-Spurs centre-forward.
Games were initially kicked off by the 6.5 producer and presenter Jo Douglas, followed down the years by popular female singers such as Yana, Alma Cogan, Eve Boswell, Shirley Bassey and later Dusty Springfield and Millicent Martin. Occasionally a glamorous film star such as June Cunningham would do the honours.
From the very start, ShowBiz XI games drew large crowds as fans flocked to see their TV favourites: 14,000 at Portsmouth to see them play the Southern All Stars, 12,000 at Twickenham to watch a match with a Sportsman's XI, 9,000 at Villa Park to see them take on an International Club XI playing in Aston Villa's colours, 8,000 at Reading and 10,000 at Cardiff. In May 1959 the team played a Jockeys and Boxers XI at Stamford Bridge and drew a crowd of 22,000, in spite of there being a Football League match being played in London that night.
“The crowd included more young girls than usual for a Lower Mead match and police and officials had a hard time in keeping them off the pitch at half-time, and again when the final whistle went. There was no doubting where their sympathies lay, but the referees were equally determined to put up a good show and the football was fast and furious. Tackling was hard, almost fierce at times, and some of the moves would have done credit to the Stones themselves.”
Harrow Observer, Thursday 30 April 1959
With Pip Wedge handling the team's press relations from Television House in Kingsway, the ShowBiz XI was regularly in the news. In March 1959 one headline declared, “Tommy Steele Mobbed” after he and Donegan scored hat-tricks at the match in Reading. In April that year Chas McDevitt married his skiffle-group singer Shirley Douglas at a Soho church – but not before having played in a ShowBiz match that morning in Leatherhead. After a quick change in the dressing room there was a dash to the church followed by team members and hundreds of skiffle fans. In December Stan Stennett was reported to be making arrangements to be flown by private plane to a fixture at an RAF camp.
On occasions, the crowds got out of hand; in fact, small-scale riots regularly ensued when Steele, Donegan or Newley played: in November 1959 the Evening News reported that six youths had “kicked and punched police officers” while 3000 youngsters had besieged the changing rooms at Southsea's Clarence Ground after a ShowBiz XI match. Generally, however, the atmosphere was one of excitement and good humour with 'Lucky Programmes' on sale as souvenirs, autograph competitions and half-time entertainment and fun.
The squad was lionised in the press as the “Famous ShowBiz XI” and were even granted the supreme accolade of having a set of cut-outs (similar to cigarette cards) dedicated to the team in the teenage TV comic Express Weekly. Regular television appearances, however, were key to the team's national prominence.
The BBC featured them first on 6.5 Special (the first ShowBiz XI match programmes made the connection clear) but it wasn't long before ATV were sensing an opportunity. With men on the team who were prominent in the industry, along with song-pluggers, agents and aspiring performers in attendance, the idea of allowing TV cameras into the grounds was a natural move. As we have seen, live football on television was rare; football on a Sunday even rarer – in fact, there was an FA ban on affiliated teams turning out on a Sunday. The ShowBiz side was at this stage independent of football's governing bodies and could act accordingly.
So it was that the match screened on Sunday, 30 November 1958 at 1.30pm on ABC (following in the schedules Morning Worship from the Oxford Place Methodist Chapel, Leeds) featuring the ShowBiz XI versus the Southern All Stars from Privett Park, Gosport, in Hampshire was the first live football ever screened in the UK on a Sunday. The Arsenal manager George Swindon led out the Stars, Frankie Vaughan commentated and the Lord’s Day Observance Society lodged a protest. Regular Sunday morning television slots followed.
Inevitably, the team's success spawned rivals, the TV All Stars being the most prominent. The All Stars were created by the comedy brothers Mike and Bernie Winters as a response to what the former claimed was a snub to his sibling. Having travelled to a game expecting to be selected, Bernie was allegedly asked to step aside for “a bigger name” although the truth was rather different. Chas McDevitt recalled that the brothers were seldom picked, “because they brought the game into disrepute, especially when ex-pros were playing.” For instance, during one match in 1958, a testimonial for George Petchey against a Queens Park Rangers team, the Hammersmith and Shepherd’s Bush Gazette reported, “it took nearly 20 minutes for 12th man Bernie Winters to touch the ball but in the meantime he had rushed on the field in trainer's suit to wipe down his brother Mike while the play proceeded. He also sat on a chair in the middle of the field and took it with him when the ball came his way. He played kick-ball with a crash helmet with a second ball on a piece of string…”
The brothers took umbrage at being snubbed, however, and decided to form their own side because, as Mike explained, “that way we would always be sure of a game” (and possibly television exposure, which at that point they desperately needed.) They designed a logo for the new side, with a television camera at its centre and a Latin motto 'adjuvo totus homo'. Their headquarters would be Highbury, their football mentor Tommy Docherty, but, as McDevitt intimated, their approach to the game was almost the complete antithesis of Henney's team.
The All Stars aimed unashamedly to entertain the crowds with slapstick. TV comedy actors such as Bernard Bresslaw, Ronnie Corbett, Alfie Bass and Roy Castle appeared regularly and football prowess was deemed irrelevant. Running gags, spoof injuries and crazy substitutions would be the norm at an All Stars game. The aim was ostensibly to raise cash for good causes, but football's authorities had begun to take notice and they were not amused.
Trouble began in April 1959 with the banning of Stanley Matthews, Billy Wright and Danny Blanchflower from playing for a ShowBiz team against a Fleet Street Sportswriters XI (the latter including Brian Glanville, Bernard Joy, Tony Pawson and Peter Lorenzo). The reason given was that no player registered with the FA was allowed to play for a non-affiliated club nor play on Sunday. Matthews would be reprimanded a year later by the FA when he ignored a request not to play for a Tennis Stars XI including his tennis professional son. The great winger had to write a letter of apology to the governing body and undertake never to break the rule again.
The affiliation question was then cited when permission was refused for a team of former but still registered Derby County players (including five of the FA Cup winning team of 1946) to play a match against the ShowBiz XI at Derby in April 1959 in aid of the Derby and District Diabetics Club.
The Welsh FA then joined in, first by refusing to allow Ninian Park to be used by the team and then by advising the Newport referee Bob Smith not to take charge of the rearranged game involving a Celebrities XI despite the fact that Football League grounds around the country had already been used along with some top-line referees.
A worrying trend was starting to appear and things were not made any easier when in October 1960 Newcastle United player George Eastham, then in dispute with his club and officially suspended, played for a TV All Stars team in front of 8,000 at Brentford's Griffin Park with the Professional Footballers Association’ (PFA) chairman Jimmy Hill refereeing.
In December 1960 Henney was wise enough to publicly turn down the chance to play a fund-raiser for the PFA during their struggle with the Football League over contracts. He stated, “We have sympathy for the players but we don't want to get involved with the FA.”
But with refusals mounting with regard to the use of larger venues, it seemed wise to seek official sanction. In August 1961, therefore, it was announced that the FA had granted the ShowBiz XI and the TV All Stars affiliation, thus allowing them to use League grounds. There was a considerable sting in the tail, however.
In February 1962 the FA banned the TV All Stars from appearing on television in a match against a Speedway Riders XI. The reason given was unequivocal: “Our TV committee have considered this application and it decided the televising of this match would not be a good advertisement for football. Their standard of play is just not good enough for TV.” Graham Doggart, the FA chairman, added, “You might think this is all rather ridiculous but the matter of football on TV has to be treated as a whole.” The FA, he emphasised, had taken into consideration “the interests of clubs”.
Bernie Winters protested, “We think we have done a lot of good for the game and have probably encouraged lots of youngsters to play it.” Whether that could be said of his particular team's performances is a moot point, but the ShowBiz XI had certainly made a difference.
Ever since their inception, Henney's team had attracted crowds that were radically different to those turning up at League grounds. In a 1962 Football League survey it was stated that, “Women themselves do not display much interest in football.” Had those responsible for the report looked more closely at the thousands turning up at ShowBiz XI matches, they might have noticed that a large proportion of them were female, many of whom had probably entered a football ground for the first time.
True, they were there to see their music heroes whom they had seen on television but their enthusiasm and numbers proved to sharper observers that the pro-game itself was in dire need of rejuvenation and that entertainment was important. One such was Jimmy Hill, who had played against, and later for, the ShowBiz XI and had run the line for them on various occasions. His eagle eye had spotted how the team had created excitement and anticipation and how fans of all ages and sexes had responded.
In November 1961, after retiring as a player, Hill became manager of Coventry City. His time at Coventry was marked by what became known as the Sky Blue Revolution. He changed the home kit's colours to sky blue, helped pen a club song sung to the tune of the ‘Eton Boating Song’, produced the first fully fledged match programme in English football and organised pre-match entertainment to encourage fans to arrive early. His inspiration had clearly been Jimmy Henney's pioneers.
Others influenced by the ShowBiz XI included the multi-millionaire John Bloom who joined the Queens Park Rangers board in 1961 determined that the club should adopt more “attractive elements”. He explained, “I have followed the ShowBiz football team for a couple of seasons and watched their matches as often as I could… the whole thing started from that.”
In the mid-1960’s the Winters brothers together with Tommy Steele and Anthony Newley even made a financial offer to take over newly-relegated Aston Villa. Bernie Winters explained, “A bit of show-business get-up-and-go could help to restore Aston Villa to its former glory. We would consider all sorts of gimmicks but of course good players are the most important thing.” They had seen what Jimmy Hill had managed at Coventry, “and we were very impressed by what we saw there.”
Over time, the original ShowBiz XI members moved on in their careers, grew older or fell out of the limelight, but the concept continued, augmented by the comedian Jimmy Tarbuck, the actor Harry Fowler and the TV personality David Frost. It still exists today, raising money for good causes. However, although the Kinks brothers Ray and Dave Davies played for the side into the late sixties, rock stars of Steele and Donegan's stature showed little interest in turning out on a weekly basis to tussle with local clubs on muddy factory pitches.
By the late sixties, professional footballers were emerging as personalities in their own right, their earnings increasing substantially and their image, burnished by England's 1966 World Cup success, far less staid than that of their 1950's forbears. A portent of things to come perhaps was a match between the ShowBiz team and a George Best XI in September 1969 at Heywood, Lancashire in support of Youth Aid. ''The kick-off,” the Heywood Advertiser reported, “should have been at 3.30 but Georgie [Best] did not arrive until five minutes later. The play was held up further when he did arrive because the pitch became submerged beneath a mass of youngsters milling around their hero.”