As promised, and in anticipation of the release of former Newcastle United striker Paul Cannell’s autobiography today, we are bringing you the second part of our epic, hilarious interview with the man himself. Read on as we take in his super-stardom years in America…
So in 1978, it was off across the Atlantic to join the soccer revolution with the Washington Diplomats. Exciting times as George Best, Johann Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Gert Muller and various other world class players arrived Stateside…
It was like rock and roll! They’d had a league called the ASL (American Soccer League) in the early 70s, and then they became the North American Soccer League in 1975 or 76, but it was the New York Cosmos that was the thing that really built it up. But it was potty- the way they ran it. Like all of a sudden they put a team in Hawaii!So you were talking about a twelve hour time difference- it was crackers. But their biggest problem was that they employed too many English people- the likes of Charlie Cook- manager of Memphis…
Your second club?
Aye, I went to Washington Diplomats, then I went to the Memphis Rogues, then they were sold lock stock and barrel up to Calgary, so we ended up there, and I ended up becoming friends with Wayne Gretzky, one of the best ice hockey players in the world. But I hated Calgary, it was freezing! Minus 40 degrees in the morning, you know. They sold the team up there and they put us up in this place called the Palisser Hotel and I used to hear this thing saying “And there’s a 30 second warning today… There’s a 40 second warning today” And after about a month I asked this Canadian “listen, what’s this 30 second warning thing?” And they said, “It’s a frost bite warning- if you leave your skin exposed for more than 30 seconds it’ll fall off!” And I said “Ah, fucking nice of someone to tell us that, wasn’t it!”
When you signed for Washington, who else was playing there at the time?
Guus Hiddink, József Horváth, who played for Ujpest Dozsa against Newcastle in the Fairs Cup- I think he was actually captain in the final- and he says “I never forget the fans at Newcastle! I was scared! That is one hell of a crowd”. He looks like him out of Coronation Street, who’s son’s in the army- a bit like Mickey Horswill.
Did you win anything in America?
No, we got to the Play-offs, but the Cosmos beat us. I mean they had Pele, Beckenbauer, Rivelino- I spent two games trying to kick Beckenbauer, I couldn’t get fucking near him!
So you played against Pele and Beckenbauer?
Well, when I went there in 1976 we were playing the Cosmos and we beat them 3-2. I scored 2. And I’ve got it on 8mm Cine. I scored two, I put the goalkeeper in hospital- Bob Wrigley- and then me and Pele were wrestling on the ground. Pele scored a 40 yard volley. Honestly, it was unbelievable. And then we were wrestling. Both got booked. Cos Pele got stuck in, took it seriously.
What was a typical weekend in America in 1978? Did you have a Saturday game?
It varied from a Saturday to a Sunday, depending on whether you were playing at home or away. If we were playing at home in Washington- it was usually a Sunday in the RFA Stadium- you’d go out on the Friday night and get fucking lashed…
All the players together, or was there a certain clique?
They used to book apartments for them. But I’d been there for quite a while, so I’d bought two condos, which was a great investment. One was in the Watergate Complex. So I lived there, and rented the other one out to one of the other players. But then when Jimmy Hill’s team went bust, the player who was renting the other one couldn’t afford to pay for it.
Was Jimmy Hill a manager?
No he owned. What happened was the Detroit Express was owned by Jimmy Hill and his son Duncan Hill and I was playing for Calgary. The original Washington team was owned by the Maddison Square Garden Corporation, and they decided that it wasnt worth it and they just closed it down. Jimmy Hill saw an opportunity to move the Detroit Express team into Washington which had a good fanbase of about 30,000, but that wasn’t enough for Maddison Square Garden- what they wanted was to sell soccer on cable, that was their vision- they were ahead of their time. But let’s be honest, your best soccer is edited down highlights. You could watch 90 minutes of crap!
So all of a sudden, when I was at Calgary, Detroit Express came in and wanted to buy me- Ken Furphy was the manager, Eddie Culhoun was playing for them. And I thought it was a bit strange that they were trying to sign me for Detroit, but I thought, well ok, anything other than Calgary. So I went down to Motor City, cos I thought music- great, you know! But it was off-season, so we just played in-door soccer. So I signed for them, and I was supposed to be getting an $80,000 signing on fee, and then all of a sudden I found out the Detroit Express were relocating to Washington DC. What they did was, they knew I was a big name in Washington. So they thought they’d buy me, have me in place when they moved the team- so I went back right in a full circle to Washington. And when I got back it was like “Great, the heroes back, the ambassador of ill-will!” And when I got back PM Magazine over there followed me round for 24 hours, it was a National thing, to see what was me lifestyle for 24 hours. And Nike made a special pair of Disco dancing shoes for me- fluorescent bottoms and all sorts.
Disco dancing shoes?!
Aye. Tramp Disco was like the Studio 54 of Washington, and it was owned by Michael O’Hara, who I’m still friends with on facebook. That’s why I want to go over there again, to try and pick up bits of the trail. So anyway, we were in Tramp Disco, with the film crew, and they were all mortal, cos I’d been dragging them round the bars all afternoon. And Jimmy Hill was there, with his son Duncan giving it- it was all John Travolta stuff. There was a big disco scene- I mean everywhere they were opening little disco dancing schools, but I mean, I couldn’t dance. And they were opening Disco places, in like run-down warehouses. You had to know, to get there. And I can always say I got into Studio 54 regularly, and there wasn’t many people who could go up to the front of the queue and say “do you know who I am?!” Because I became friends with Pele and Ahmed Ertegun who was the head of Atlantic Records and who owned the Cosmos, so when we used to play them I used to go out with them and the likes of Wayne Gretzky.
Sometimes I think “God!” I mean I was just a lad from Newcastle who was just having a good time. One time, I was tapping this bird up in Tramps, and I thought who are these fucking geeks with her with their sunglasses on? And someone says that’s Susan Ford, the president’s daughter! So I asked her out on a date, and we went out the following night- so I took President Ford’s daughter out to a steakhouse. But I just couldn’t get the hang of these blokes in the glasses standing around. But I mean, it wasn’t going to be a lasting relationship!
What were the wages like over there, compared to home?
Aye they were great. I think it was £36,500 a year over there, and £200 a week over here. But as I say I invested it all into property, and when Jimmy Hill went bust I had two properties I was paying mortgages on, and it was the same year they moved interest rates up to 26%.
So Jimmy Hill went bust moving Detroit Express to Washington?
What he did was he went into Washington, took all the season ticket money, never paid the players all the time he was there. Paid nowt! And he went bust, so I was stuck with two apartments. And there were five or six other foreigners, who had nowt- because when Jimmy Hill brought them over, you were supposed to lodge their air fare with the NASL, so there was at least enough money for them to get home if the team went bust. But he never even did that. So I had to look after them too, with my credit card. You know, they had nowt to live on- I got them jobs.
Did you meet any other film stars or celebrities when you were out there?
Oh why aye, I went to the Kennedy’s- Eunace Kennedy- and they asked me if I’d go and be the soccer ambassador because they had this charity event where they’d invite under-privileged kids into their huge luxury farm in Virginia. So I got there, and I was introduced as the ambassador of football Paul Cannell. I went to the kitchen, as one does at a party, and there was Dan Blocker, Hoss Cartwright off Bonanza. So I was stuck there with him.
And I was in Memphis, I was their big signing, and the PR girl took me out that night around Memphis, and we ended up going to this place called Cowboys. And she said “Paul I’d like to introduce you to someone. You might have heard of him!” It was Jerry Lee Lewis. So I ended up sitting round this table with Jerry Lee Lewis and his entourage. Jerry says to me “Hey, where you from Paul?” So I said Newcastle Upon Tyne. And he says “Newcastle Upon Tyne?! Dave, we’re playing there in three months arent we?” And this Dave says “yeah, we’re playing in this place called The Mayfair”. So anyway I’m sitting there having a drink with Jerry Lee Lewis, and she says “come on, we are going to have to go to this other place, and we’ll come back later.” So we came back later, and he’d been arrested- he’d slapped this fucking waitress.
So you came back to the UK, and played briefly for North Shields…
Aye I’ve read that, but I can’t remember it! So, we went bust in America, the only assets that Jimmy Hill’s team had was the players, so the liquidators were trying to sell the players. But I was different from the rest, as I had a guaranteed contract- if you didn’t have one they could just say, we’ve sold you to such and such. I got to agree with wherever I went to, but I got sick of it over there, waiting, cos I had my houses up for sale and money going out left right and centre. It was the same year that DeLorean went bust, because he couldnt sell any cars because the interest rate was 26%. What I should have said was, Im not paying my mortgage. Just keep me savings, and take the houses back.
So I said, Im going back to England, let me know what’s happening and I went to the Corner House, usual haunt, and after about two weeks I was having a pint in there and who walks in but Geoff Allen and Stuart Bone- manager of Mansfield. And stupid me, I said, “Eeee, what are you doing here?” And they said “We’ve just popped in for a pint, what are you doing Paul? Do you not fancy coming down to Mansfield for a few weeks?” And I said, arr aye. Fucking dopey! Honestly, for an intelligent person I could have kicked myself. So they said just come down, keep fit, til you find out what’s happening.
I was there for about a month, and ended up signing a contract. They got sacked, Ian Grieves took over and we were playing against Crewe Alexandra, losing 1-0 at half-time and I put a vest on and I thought “What am I doing here?” And at the end of the game I said “I’m not coming back tomorrow” and that was it. I just walked out.
And then you went to Scotland, to play for Berwick.
Aye. I played a few games for Berwick. Whey, that was a fucking disaster. I was in the Corner House again, on the Friday- they had a game on the Saturday- and a film crew came in. They had this new karaoke machine, brand new. Noone knew what karaoke was. And they brought it in the Corner House. And I recognised some of the lads from Tyne Tees, so we ended up getting mortal and they said “Haway Paul, get up and let’s have a song!” So I get up, and it ended up on the telly on the Friday night. And on the Saturday, when I went up to Berwick they’d all been watching- “Were you drinking yesterday?” “Nar, nar” “Well, we saw you on the fucking telly!” I was off me tree. So I quit Berwick.
And then that was it, wasn’t it?
Aye, gave up. Started playing for the Lonsdale. Sunday League. And the American thing, I just gave up. We got new information from the liquidators, and I was owed 80-odd thousand dollars from Jimmy Hill and I saw nowt. And I had the residual of my contract, I was supposed to have the $80,000 signing on fee and the rest of my contract. But I shagged Duncan Hill’s wife. But it wasnt worth $80,000 I can tell you.
Since then you’ve done all sorts.
Aye, mostly in the pub game. And publishing. My first job was working as a free trade rep for Vaux breweries. The idea was to get an ex-Newcastle player to sell Sunderland beer over here. But I said, hey I can sell it for you, but I cant fucking drink it for you! Cos I could get it in, but neeone would drink it. We had the best five a side team of any brewery. There was me, Colin Todd, John Connelly, Tony Clark, the boss- great five a side team, but we couldn’t sell the beer to save our fucking lives. Then I took over Zoots with Dave Christie, ran that for a bit, then I started publishing a newspaper called Cheers, a free newspaper they have in all the pubs, in 1984 for about 4 years. It had the same logo as the Cheers bar. I did it through Newcastle Breweries to start with, and then I started publishing Hotel Magazine, and then I did the quiz books. I was doing everything myself.
Andy Carroll- do you think he’ll be a top player?
No. He frustrates me. He’s a bit like Darren Peacock- 6’8 but he doesn’t jump his height. I’d rather have a player like me or John Tudor, tiny, but who could jump! I think, unfortunately, he’s going to be a disappointment.
Which players do you enjoy watching these days?
I love Gutierrez and Enrique. The two of them together. They just work down that left hand side tremendous. I think Enrique is the best left-back in the country, he works his bollocks off. And I have to say I like Joey Barton. And Nolan too.
Paul Cannell’s exceptional autobiography – Fuckin’ Hell It’s Paul Cannell – is available to buy from today, from The Back Page in Newcastle. Get it before some bugger bans it.