So my childhood dreams of being a professional footballer deserted me. Instead I’ve spent almost my entire career in the somewhat less glamorous surroundings of the print industry. My day to day regime of no thrills and in some cases little reward is a far cry from the champagne lifestyle of the Premiership or even the Conference League, but I have had the privilege of working beside some great characters.
One such chap is Steve Jackson, the son of former player Cliff Jackson. Cliff made 364 Football League appearances between 1958 and 1974. He played for Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle, Crystal Palace and Torquay United and is part of a unique band of footballers that have played in all four divisions of the Football League.
Despite the fact that Cliff didn’t play for one of the country’s ‘glamour clubs’, one would expect that he and the family led a pretty good lifestyle. But back in the 60s, footballers didn’t earn the fortunes of the stars of today. Sure he did OK, but like for many other journeyman players of the time, the game did not make him a fortune.
Cliff Jackson was born in Swindon, Wiltshire on the 3rd September 1941. As a teenager he played for Swindon Schools and was capped by England Schoolboys when they met their Scottish counterparts at Sheffield Wednesday in 1957.
Cliff signed a professional contract at Swindon Town in September 1958. Chelsea had wanted the talented youngster but his parents were not keen on him moving away to London at such a young age. Later that month he made his League debut for the Robins, scoring a goal during a 2-2 home draw with Bradford City. Although he made only one further appearance that season, the early 1960s saw him emerge as one of manager Bertie Head’s great discoveries. Jackson went on to make 91 Football League appearances at Swindon netting 28 goals, before moving to Second Division Plymouth Argyle in 1963.
In a three-year stint at Plymouth, Cliff made 69 appearances scoring a further 19 times. He developed a love for Devon that would see him return there later in his career. But while at Argyle, he became a firm favourite with the Home Park crowd.
Son Steve was born during 1963 and does not remember his father’s days at Plymouth; but the next move provided his earliest memories of life as the son of a professional footballer.
Bertie Head had worked wonders at Swindon Town and it hadn’t gone un-noticed. In South London, Crystal Palace were a club on the up. Head was appointed manager and immediately signed a number of his former Swindon fledglings including Don Rogers and Cliff Jackson.
Palace had become quite a fashionable club. They played entertaining football and were on the brink of promotion to the First Division.
Steve recalls, ‘Dad was Palace’s top goal scorer during the 68-69 promotion season’. The team played in front of big crowds and Steve was often at Cliff’s side, not only on a match day but also at club events. “We went to one or two posh functions rubbing shoulders with some of the country’s top footballers. I even got photographed with Dad in the London Soccer Annual!” he adds.
Steve also recalls a day at legendary Palace goalkeeper John Jackson’s house. “We were at John’s house for a barbeque or something, I can only have been about 3 or 4. I was probably messing about and managed to fall into his garden pond – a unique claim to fame you might say!”
Despite being very young, watching his dad in the First Division was a fantastic experience, although in truth, Steve felt that he didn’t really appreciate what he was witnessing until he was older. Cliff was playing against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and West Ham with players such as George Best and Bobby Moore. It was a golden era for football.
Cliff made 100 Football League appearances for Crystal Palace scoring 26 goals, 17 of which came during that Second Division promotion season. But with a regular first team spot becoming harder to nail down, Cliff decided to move on.
Being a First Division player, one would have expected Cliff to perhaps move down a division for regular football. Despite there being a few interested parties his heart was set on a move to Devon, not back to Plymouth, but rather surprisingly to Fourth Division Torquay United.
Undoubtedly, Cliff would have taken a big cut in wages making such a drop down the divisions. Today players would find other forms of income such as sponsorship, TV work or through the newspaper columns. The Jacksons made up the shortfall by investing in a number of caravans, which they let out to holidaymakers.
It was the Torquay years that Steve remembers most of all. “I think Dad found the drop in standard a bit frustrating.” He recalls a match at Plainmoor when Cliff received the ball on the halfway line. “Dad had nobody to pass to so he simply turned and gave it back to the Torquay keeper. The crowd howled their disapproval, one particular spectator becoming quite animated. Little did the fan realise he was sitting directly in front of my mum who gave him an ear bashing!”
Steve recalls another incident involving his mum. “During pre-season, the players were out on a road run. Mum was driving back from the town, and seeing a group of the lads, she pulled over to say hello. The players all jumped in the car and asked her to drop them further along the route, thus getting them out of a few miles of gruelling running. She had not noticed that Dad was not amongst that particular group. He was forced to complete the run. I don’t think he was too impressed that the other lads had skived training thanks to Mum’s help!”
Between 1969 and 1974 Cliff Jackson made 114 league appearances for Torquay, scoring 13 goals.
But all in all Torquay United was a good little club. Steve enjoyed going to Plainmoor but he insists, “I didn’t feel special having a dad who played League football – to me it was just the job he did.” However despite it being ‘just a job’ Steve admits that seeing his father score a goal gave him a tremendous buzz.
After Torquay, Cliff briefly joined non-league Cambridge City. On retirement from the game he worked in community sports projects and had a spell living in Spain. Today the family have settled in Essex. Despite recent ill health, Cliff tries to keep up with his former teams.
The game might not have offered Cliff Jackson and his family the riches of the modern day professionals, but ask any football fan up and down the country and they’ll tell you, playing League football, whether it be Torquay or Tottenham, is worth more than gold!