December 5, 2013 by backofthenetjl
On 15th November, thanks to an arrangement made by my headteacher Mr McGee, I was presented with the wonderful opportunity to interview Bernard Halford; former club secretary and current life president of Manchester City. In the offices close to the Etihad Stadium, I discussed all things football with Mr Halford, as he reflected on a memorable career in the ‘beautiful ‘game. Having served as a club secretary for both Oldham Athletic and Manchester City, working under a plethora of managers, he had plenty of stories and tales to tell. An incredibly humble man of great integrity, it is no surprise that he is so highly thought of at Manchester City and in football in general..
In modern football, the role of life president is something of a limited position; one with few duties. Yet in Bernard Halford’s case, he still remains a key figure at the club, combining his ambassadorial duties with more important tasks within the club. “To a large degree the role of life president is ambassadorial role, but I have retained certain duties which a lot of people who become presidents do not. There are a number of things I still do because of the length of time I have been here, for example I still look after the team, travel with them home and away, do the tickets, do the team-sheet for the manager, complete the reports for the Premier League, as well as doing the same with Patrick Vieira and the Under 21’s when I am available. So my position is quite unusual because I am like a working life president, not just a figure-head.”
Growing up, Bernard’s boyhood hero was ‘the great’ Stanley Matthews; an astonishing footballer who excited crowds until he was fifty years-old. Having idolised Matthews as a youngster, Bernard as expected regards the moment where he was asked to collect the FA Cup at 2011, similar to how ‘The Wizard of the Dribble’ in 1953, as one of the greatest moments of his career in football. “Growing up, I was absolutely Stanley Matthews daft, and in fact I’ve still got a birthday present from 1947 which was a Stanley Matthews football annual. I remember him coming to Oldham and I queued for over an hour just to get his autograph. I had a pair of Stanley Matthews football boots as well which my Dad bought me. When they told me that day, (13th May 2011) I was going up for the FA Cup, I couldn’t believe it, and it was a good job I had virtually completed my jobs for the team travelling because it blew my mind a bit. That was absolutely unbelievable. I know it’s now a different Wembley, but I thought, fifty-eight years ago I sat with my Dad watching that FA Cup final and who’d have thought fifty-eight years later there I am going up the steps at Wembley to collect the FA Cup, which Stanley Matthews went up for. It was a momentous moment in my life, especially as I am the only non-player who has gone up and got the cup. That lasts in my mind forever.”
Aside from acting as a life president, Bernard previously fulfilled the role of club secretary at both Oldham Athletic and Manchester City; he is quite clear as to how the roles differ, with there being quite a decrease in the stress levels of the man known as ‘Mr Manchester City’. “Being a life president is an easier role, because I am no longer responsible for the paperwork, the rules and regulations and don’t have to attend the in-depth meetings secretarially that I did. I still receive the letters that people are unsure or don’t know about, but there are not a lot of them now. I deal with a lot less bureaucracy now as a life president.” Occupying the pivotal role of a club secretary is no easy task, with plenty of tasks and duties to complete, some of which Bernard talks about here: “The club secretarial role has changed somewhat since the mid 90’s when we had the innovation of chief executives, it used to be a football club running a business, but it’s now a business running a football club. My duties originally were to comply with the company act and so on; I was responsible for all the book-keeping, the banking, players’ contracts, links to the football league and premier league. I was the one who organised call conferences, players’ medicals as well. It’s a wide variation of things.”
It is evident to see that Bernard is incredibly well-regarded at City, after all the hard-work he has completed at Maine Rd, and more recently the Etihad Stadium. Yet even for someone who has shown such dedication and devotion to the club, it still remains a great honour for him to be the only non-footballer to be inducted into the Manchester City hall of fame, something which he makes clear here: “I am very fortunate, being a lad of the terraces, I just happened to take up the vacation that I took up. It is a great, great honour to know that my name’s up there with the Billy Meredith’s, Peter Doherty’s, Francis Lee’s, Mike Summerbee’s, Colin Bell’s and others. It really is a fantastic honour and one that is very, very valued.”
As aforementioned, Bernard has been involved with both Oldham Athletic and Manchester City during his tenure in football; although the two can both be regarded as ‘big clubs’, he admitted there were several notable differences between the job he had on his hands at Oldham, and the situation at City; with the budget being a prime dissimilarity. He recalls: “The biggest thing was the money. When I was at Oldham I had to be careful with every penny, at City I was advised not to get sucked into thinking I had to use the ideas I had at Oldham, because City were a bigger club. All the things that were run in the football club were the same principle, it was just that at City the figures were greater, and when you look now, the figures are even greater.”
During his time at City, from which he arrived at the club in 1972, Bernard Halford has worked with a host of managers, 30 to be exact; many of which had different personalities, beliefs and viewpoints. However, Bernard explained that he had productive relationships with almost all of the coaches he worked with, except one which he was careful not to reveal. “Of the thirty managers that I worked with, twenty-nine were fantastic. I worked with Jimmy Frizzell, Brian Horton, Stuart Pearce, Sven Goran-Eriksson, Mark Hughes, Kevin Keegan and quite a few more and they were fabulous guys. I can remember all the managers that I worked with since 1960, when I first started out at Oldham, and I had great relationships with almost all of them. Twenty-nine out of thirty were smashing.” As for the most recent manager at Manchester City; Manuel Pellegrini, Bernard has been particularly impressed with his approach and the way he conducts himself. “He’s a lovely man, very respectful; his staffs that he has brought with him are also very nice people. He respects players, he knows what he wants, and the players know how he wants them to work. He’s a good man; hopefully he is able to take us to where we want to be.”
Having worked for such a long, almost interminable period in football, Bernard has attended a plethora of matches, and so choosing his favourite City match that he attended was no easy task, but there were two which immediately sprung to his mind. “April 1968, we won 3-1 at United, and won the league. That was one where Colin Bell ran the game. They had their diamond in Best; Charlton and Law, and we had ours in Bell, Lee and Summerbee. I remember in the box, Malcolm Allison was sat with me while Sir Matt was stood up on the touchline, and Malcolm turned to me and said to me: “Matt can do what he wants tonight, but he isn’t going to change what’s going on out there.” But obviously the Queens Park Rangers game was something else as well. I have been fortunate to have witnessed so many memorable matches.” With Bernard responsible for acquiring a plethora of players during his time as a Secretary; a person who has signed countless players would normally struggle to decide on who was the best he ever signed – not for Bernard Halford, whose sharp response was: “Colin Bell.” Unsurprisingly, that was the same answer Bernard gave when asked of the one player from City’s history he would love to see in City’s current side.”If I was to pick one player, I’d have to pick Colin Bell, but then again Bert Trautmann would be great in today’s side, even if we have got Joe Hart, who is a fantastic goal-keeper. I’d probably have to pick Colin Bell, because he was a fantastic player.”
Thanks to Bernard for taking part in the interview. It was a pleasure to interview such a well-respected man with such a huge devotion towards football.
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