Tom Watt on The Sutton Arms

It goes without saying: times have changed. Not least for professional footballers. A couple of seasons now as a Premier League player, coupled with the right sort of financial advice, should mean you never really need to work again. There’s been a dizzying rush of money into the English game over the past 20 years and players have, legitimately, taken their share.

It’s them, after all, people pay to watch, in stadiums and front rooms around the country. The maximum wage wasn’t abolished until the early 1960s and, even ten years later, the lads who won Arsenal’s first-ever Double were very well aware that the decent living they earned while playing wouldn’t get them far once they retired. When Frank McLintock joined Arsenal he was on £50 a week. By the time he left, that had risen to £150. He joined QPR on £250, the most he ever earned during an illustrious playing career.

Frank knew that, sooner or later, he’d need to think about a second career. As with so many of his generation, that turned out be taking a pub. Frank can still remember an evening spent in an Islington pub with his pal Harry Hicks. It was Harry who noticed that Frank wasn’t able to buy a drink all night. Every time either of them headed for the bar, they’d find their drinks had already been discreetly paid for. Despite the former Arsenal skipper having moved to West London to play, Harry recognised that Islington would be forever Frank’s natural constituency. The pair took on the Sutton Arms, on the corner of Caledonian Road and Copenhagen Street, a mile from Kings Cross.

Not the most glamorous of addresses, perhaps; but Frank thought the world of Islington people and it soon became obvious that they thought the world of his pub. Instead of spending a few quid on some flock wallpaper, Frank invested a big chunk of his life savings on a complete re-fit. He booked a band, a singer and opened his doors to the classic showbiz mix of underworld legends and stars of stage and screen. In nine years as a publican he probably did as well for himself as he had in his previous 19 as a player.

With live music and celebrity customers on hand every night, the atmosphere at the Sutton Arms was fantastic and soon famous well beyond the borough. In 1977, after watching their team beat England 2-1 at Wembley, 300 very happy Scotsmen arrived on Frank’s doorstep, ready to drink him dry. They laid clumps of Wembley turf out alongthe bar. Frank made a discreet phone call to Caledonian Road police station and secured an extra hour’s opening. At midnight, the Tartan Army headed off into the night, singing ‘There’s Only One Frank McLintock!’ at the tops of their voices. Frank was just happy to have been left with his pub in one piece.

The Sutton Arms, in due course, ran its course as a going concern. Frank moved on and currently runs his own successful security company. The pub moved on too. And is currently going strong as a successful Ethiopian restaurant, The Merkato. As I say, times have definitely changed.

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