Steve Heighway: The B.A. from Warwick

November 13, 1970
Steve Heighway graduated from the University of Warwick in the summer with a degree in economics and politics. Tomorrow the chants of the Kop will ring in his ears. He is almost certain to be centre forward for Liverpool in their home clash with Coventry City.

He might have been wearing a Sky Blue shirt instead of the bright red of the Merseyside club. Or he could easily have been on teaching practice in one of Coventry’s schools. Things have happened so fast for this quiet, pleasant young man that he still seems in a daze.

And who wouldn’t be? In a few months he has swopped the calm of life on a university campus for the pressure and tension of big-business football in the world’s premier league.

Until March he hadn’t given professional football a serious thought. It was a game he loved, a game that could have wrecked his chances of a degree – but to make it his career had rarely crossed his mind.

“Ever since I was about 16 I had been preparing myself to be a teacher,” says Steve. “I took my ‘A’ levels, went to university was planning a year’s Dip. Ed. Course and would probably have gone on to teach in Coventry somewhere.”

He was travelling twice a week on the inter-city express from Coventry to play for Skelmersdale, his amateur club in Lancashire.

Between matches he was also playing for his university and the English Universities XI. Then the Skelmersdale chairman told Steve that he had received a number of enquiries about him from professional clubs. A career in football was waiting for him if he wanted it.

It would be a precarious sort of life but a good one if he succeeded. And to be paid for playing football was too big a temptation to be resisted. Most young footballers would have received years of expert coaching and training by the age of 22. Steve knew he had a lot of ground to make up quickly. His decision was suitably swift.

It didn’t take three years of economics study to show him that the money he could earn in football would make a teacher’s salary look like a child’s pocket money.
“I’m not afraid to say that it was the money that convinced me,” says Steve. “My basic pay is £40 a week with up to £50 more when we win. As a teacher I’d pick up only about half of my basic.”

In April he signed amateur forms for Liverpool. Coventry had been watching him.
“I know they telephoned me twice, the second time on the day I signed for Liverpool; but I never had an official approach.”

He is glad he went to Liverpool, but still thinks about Coventry. “I’m not sorry I joined Liverpool. They are a great club. I couldn’t have done better.

“But I like Coventry. It’s a nice town and I miss it. It would certainly have been more convenient to sign for Coventry and my social life would have been better.”

Steve’s wife is still in the city; she is in her final year at the Coventry College of Education, Canley. Many of his friends, too, are at the university.

In July, Steve signed as a professional for Liverpool. In August he played his first match at Anfield. “I didn’t even know where the ground was. Somebody had to show me the way.”

That match he played for the reserves. But it was not long before he was promoted to the first team. Injuries to Alun Evans, Ian Callaghan and Bobby Graham left the club short of experienced forwards.

He was drafted into the first team in a League Cup encounter with Mansfield. He took it in his stride and has played most matches since. Already he has tasted football at International level. His second senior game was for Eire, and he has played in a European Cup competition too.

Top-class football is “not as tough as it looks on the telly,” he says. “Perhaps I’ve had none of the rough treatment because I’m not a name. Why should they be worried about me? Peter Thompson is the man who suffers.”

He hasn’t much noticed the crowd. “I’ve had no stick from them … yet. It’s difficult to know how I’d cope if I did. I hope it wouldn’t upset me. I’m pretty confident on the field.”

He has scored one goal so far and that delighted him. “I just pushed the ball into the net after a defensive slip. But it felt good. I’d played four times without scoring and that goal meant a lot.”

Steve’s achievement is doubly remarkable for the fact that he is not only inexperienced but playing out of position. He is a winger, used to making goals for other people. The striker role has been forced on him by all the injuries.

Yet it is the stark contrast between his life as a student and as a professional footballer that makes him so interesting.
“I think the other lads expected me to walk into the ground in a cap and gown,” he says, smiling.

“It’s funny really. Anyone without a degree is the odd man out among my friends. Now I’m the odd man out because I’ve got one.

“Not that it makes any difference to me. I am not an academic nor an intellectual. Sport has always meant more to me. I would probably have got a better degree if I hadn’t spent so much time at university playing football.

“But the lads take the mickey a lot. It’s difficult to know how they mean it because professional footballers are the world’s biggest mickey-takers. I think it’s all just good humoured. I hope so, anyway. I’m perhaps too self-conscious.”

He still visits the university sometimes. The student unrest there just amuses him.

“I’ve never been involved in the political squabbles. It might surprise people how few students are. I am sure those who are mixed up in it simply haven’t anything better to occupy their minds. Last year the football group used to sit in the corner and laugh at them.”

Since he graduated football has given him a lot. He married and without any previous job he was able to buy a house immediately.

“We are not having a struggle at all. The money I’m earning means that we can live well from the start. The trouble is I see my wife only at week-ends.”

But he hasn’t a car yet. “I must be about the only First Division footballer who has to catch a bus to the ground.”

The future doesn’t worry him. He should get his car and lots besides, but his playing days will be all to brief. What then?

“We’ve talked about it sometimes but we tend to put off any decisions. There seems so much time yet. And after all, there’s always teaching.”
(Source: Liverpool Echo: November 13, 1970; via © 2018 Findmypast Newspaper Archive Limited

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