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Ron 'Chopper' Harris: 'I was paid £295 a week at Chelsea. You’ve got fellas today not even playing regular football earning fortunes'
Ron Harris made 795 appearances for Chelsea and captained the side for four major finals between 1967 and 1972 CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH
17 SEPTEMBER 2017 • 7:09AM
Ron “Chopper” Harris, 73, is a former footballer, famous for tough tackling, who found fame in the Sixties and Seventies.
He made 795 appearances for Chelsea (still a record), captained the side for four major finals between 1967 and 1972, and won the FA Cup in 1970 and the Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup in 1971. Today he lives in Mudeford, Dorset, with his wife, Lee.
How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
I come from an ordinary working class family. My dad used to be a van driver for a company for many years and my mum used to put the frames on leather purses. When I wanted a new pair of Puma or Arthur Rowe boots she used to work through the night to earn the money.
What was your first paid job?
When I went on the ground staff at Chelsea at 15 and got £7 a week. My mum used to take £3 a week out of that towards the housekeeping.
We used to get a rail pass from Manor House to where we trained, down at Hendon. They supplied us with a 3s 6d luncheon voucher.
I was offered a spot on the ground staff at Middlesex but I declined because Chelsea paid more than the £4 a week at Lord’s.
Ron Harris at Stamford Bridge CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH
How did your parents prepare you for a football career?
We lived in a prefab down at Stamford Hill, north London. Whereas everybody had a nice garden, our back garden was like a football pitch and me and my brother Allan spent hours out there, playing football and cricket.
Dad used to take us to Highbury every week to watch the first team game, the reserve game, the junior side, and that’s all I wanted to do. I passed the 11-plus and could have gone to a grammar school, but they only played rugby so I went to a secondary modern school.
When did you know that sport would be your future?
At primary school. I was eight when I got picked for the district under-11s at Hackney, and when you get a bit older one or two scouts look in.
Nearer to leaving school I went with my brother to West Ham during the holidays and sampled it, then to the Spurs. What swayed me towards Chelsea was Allan signing for the team.
Ron “Chopper” Harris was famous for tough tackling. He captained Chelsea during the 1970 FA Cup and won CREDIT: BOB THOMAS/GETTY
Are you a saver or a spender?
My philosophy is that I came into the world with nothing and if I go out with a pound in my pocket I’ve been successful. I live for today because tomorrow may never come.
When I came out of football we bought a golf club down at Swindon after selling a nice house in Epsom. We’d had it for about six years when [former BBC football commentator] Kenneth Wolstenholme phoned to ask if I was interested in selling the golf club. He offered me £1.5m, which in 1985 was a lot.
A couple of friends who owned a golf course said it was far too cheap and that they’d give me £1.8m and we took the deal.
What were your best and worst financial decisions?
Listening to a solicitor I trusted when we sold the golf club was the worst. I got in a pickle with capital gains. I’m not stupid but I trusted this fella and found out that he was putting the property in his name, not mine.
When he died years ago someone asked if I was going to the funeral. I said: “You’ve gotta be joking.”
My best was selling the golf club.
Do you use cash, debit cards or credit cards?
My account is with the Halifax. I usually have some cash but if I need to do things I use a credit card.
Do you have Isas?
No. A friend of mine, Sandro Forte, has invested money for us. He has about eight or nine different things he moves around for the best possible interest. I’ve known him for a long time so I trust him.
Have you invested in property?
When I first got married we bought my mum and dad a bungalow for £6,700. When my dad passed away we sold it for £110,000. I’ve done exactly the same thing for my mother-in-law and father-in-law.
What is the oddest thing that ever happened to you regarding money?
I’ve just come back from speaking on a cruise. I got paid a fee and all I had to do was pay for my drinks on board. I was there for more than 10 days and when I came back to make sure the money was there they’d deducted £1,500 out of my account as though I was a passenger. It’s been put back now.
Before, we didn’t check our accounts too much but we do now. It was Thomson Holidays. To be fair to them the money was back within three days.
Ron Harris CREDIT: GEOFF PUGH
Have people chased you with moneymaking schemes?
Once bitten twice shy. Do you remember the lad that used to play for Spurs called Alfie Stokes in the Bobby Smith era? People were always chasing him for money and he used to say that when he goes he’ll go owing £10,000 rather than leaving £10,000. The people I help are my grandchildren.
Wages were lower in your day. Do you still have to work for a living?
Well, I’m still employed at Chelsea, which I enjoy, and I do all the speaking.
My wife would tell you I’m useless about the house, trying to mend things, redecorating, all that. She would tell you I don’t even know how to turn a laptop on or put the dishwasher on.
She says that carrier pigeons are quicker than teaching granddads to do things. I’ve been married for 45 years so I must be doing something right.
The highest wage I got at Chelsea by the time I left in 1980 was £295 a week. That was a lot of money. You’ve got fellas today not even playing regular football earning fortunes.
Did you imagine that Stamford Bridge would one day have a Ron Harris Suite?
Not really. I fell foul of the previous chairman and I stayed away for a few years until Roman Abramovich took over and I was asked to go to the Chelsea boardroom, where he introduced himself.
He asked me no end of questions and at the end of the evening he said: “I’d like to welcome you back to the Chelsea Football Club.” I’ve been there ever since.
Every time I see him he’ll always come over and speak to me. He doesn’t say a lot but he’ll always go out of his way.
What are the best and worst things about a football career?
The best thing would be when you pick up your wages every week. I think the worst thing that has come into football is all the cheating and diving. People years ago only went down if they were hurt. Now they roll around as if they’re poleaxed and there’s nothing wrong with them.
What did you do after retiring as a player?
When I was at Chelsea we used to race greyhounds. When we came out of football for a year we trained the dogs ourselves. We had one dog between 1988-91 called Dempsey Duke that earned us £52,000 in prize money during his career.
Chelsea captain Ron "Chopper" Harris celebrates with the FA Cup trophy in 1970 CREDIT: BOB THOMAS/GETTY
What’s the funniest TV work you’ve done?
When we made that record Blue is the Colour, Chelsea players and a couple of ringers, proper singers. We went to a place to sing this song, and they gave us a few drinks so we’d be a bit more cheerful and sing a bit better. We got to number three in the charts and we appeared on Top of the Pops.
Does money make you happy?
Not really. When I go from this world it’s probably better that I owe money than leave money because everybody fights over it, don’t they?
I’ve got three grown-up kids and I’m sure they’ll be looked after when me or the missus pass our sell-by date.
Ron ‘Chopper’ Harris does the after-dinner speaking circuit. For enquiries contact firstname.lastname@example.org