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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Ralph Coates was traded across the Harry Fenton Line

It's the time of year football clubs shuffle their playing staffs, moving young stars on to bigger clubs, despatching yesterday's stars to Hull.

These days they'll tend to arrive all looking the same, stepping out of blacked-out SUVs in skinny jeans and expensively distressed tee shirts, accompanied by disreputable-looking agents, everyone nervously fondling their mobiles.

If they sign they will swiftly move into the local millionaires' enclave. Once installed behind the security gates with their wife, family and dependent relatives, they need only to establish the route to the training ground, golf club and beauty parlour to be able to pick up life precisely as it was at their previous club a few hundred miles away.

 It's an interesting time to be re-reading The Glory Game, Hunter Davies's definitive inside story of the 1971-72 season at Tottenham Hotspur. It begins with the arrival of Ralph Coates from Burnley for £190,000, at that time a cash record for a British player. When Ralph was first told of the deal he said "no player's worth that", which gives you some idea of his modesty.

He and his wife don't have a house and so the club put them in a first floor flat on Green Lanes in Palmers Green. There's no phone or TV. I've lived near Green Lanes for the last forty years and there's never been a time when you could have imagined it as a suitable place to put a top footballer.  Even though it was widely accepted back then that top footballers were wealthy men, earning in some cases more than £200 a week, the Coateses worry about being able to afford the £15,000 needed to buy a house in the South.

When they get changed for their first pre-season training session, the rest of the squad, who were predominantly Southerners, stare at Coates's pointed shoes and narrow trousers, still the mark of the Northerner who hadn't gone South. They congratulate him on his shirt. He says thanks, not realising they're joking.

1971 was the year the flared trouser began to arrive on every High Street via chains like Take Six and Harry Fenton. After that we were all just as in fashion or out of fashion as each other. Maybe Ralph was the last man to move from the old world to the new.