Football has changed immeasurably since Alex Stepney began his illustrious playing career at Tooting and Mitcham United. The aspiring goalkeeper had to finish school before thinking about a professional playing career. Even then, there was plenty to be done prior to making a Football League breakthrough.
Stepney combined his career in amateur football with a paint-spraying job, before dermatitis cut short that particular career avenue. Next up was a stint with Philips Electrical in Croydon. It was the harsh winter of 1963 though that gave the Mitcham-born stopper his big break.
"There was no under-soil heating back in those days. During that very bad winter there was an enormous backlog of fixtures, professional clubs were looking for more players because they couldn't fill a team.
"I ended up playing several games for Millwall Reserves. The Manager saw me and that's how I got my break. Ironically, it was the same year Manchester United beat Leicester City to win the FA Cup. The club gave me a ticket for the game at Wembley to watch it, three years later I was playing for United!"
Stepney's remarkable rise from non-league football to European Cup winner now serves him well on the after-dinner circuit and in the Old Trafford hospitality lounges. It's an incredible story and one highly unlikely to be repeated in the modern age.
"The game has changed so much, in my day you couldn't sign for a professional club until you left school. I was always reserve for London Schoolboys because I lived on the edge of Surrey. It was because of that I never really got a look in."
After over 100 appearances at The Den Stepney certainly did get his chance, albeit via the briefest of spells at Chelsea.
"I signed for Chelsea on the understanding that Peter Bonetti was going to West Ham United a few days later. Sadly, the Chelsea Chairman Joe Mears died of a heart-attack shortly afterwards and his replacement wanted to keep Bonetti."
That restricted Stepney to just one appearance under Blues boss Tommy Docherty, but a place in the Stamford Bridge history books.
"I only played one game for Chelsea, so the joke is I am the only keeper to have never conceded a goal for them!"
After the briefest of careers in West London a move to Old Trafford beckoned, in what was then a world-record fee for a goalkeeper. 35 games later, Stepney was the proud owner of a Football League Championship winners' medal. 12 months after that a place in Manchester United folklore was assured. A week after earning his only England cap against Sweden at Wembley, Stepney returned to the Twin Towers as United beat Benfica 4-1 in the European Cup Final.
"It was such an emotional occasion. It was an unbelievable feat that Matt Busby had managed to do that after losing so many players. The Busby Babes could have won the European Cup two or three times."
Stepney went on to lift the FA Cup in 1977, and was even United's top scorer for a brief spell in United's 1973/74 season.
"That was just a one-off. I took one in a pre-season friendly and Tommy Docherty decided that I should be the penalty-taker. Sadly that was the season we went down but I still scored two!"
Stepney continued playing in the North American Soccer League after calling time on his United career in 1978. Two spells at Dallas Tornado were interspersed with a stint at non-league Altrincham. During that time the Cheshire outfit lived up to their 'giant-killers' billing by reaching the third-round of the FA Cup.
Time was finally called on Stepney's career in 1980, to use his own words he did 'this and that'.'This and that' included running a pub in Stockport and becoming a Transport Manager. It was a chance conversation with Alan Ball in the early nineties that saw Stepney return to the game where he now remains.
"Alan asked me to become a Scout at Exeter City. When he moved on I became North West Chief Scout for Southampton. Eventually he got the job at Manchester City and asked me to take over as Goalkeeping Coach. I had six years at Maine Road before finishing my coaching career with Stan Ternent at Burnley."
Nowadays Alex Stepney is once again an Old Trafford regular, but can be found instead in the hospitality lounges.
"I have been doing that for ten years along with my after-dinner speaking. I get the chance to go away with the team in Europe because of the sponsors. It's great to meet them and still be involved."
Stepney still displays a great love for the game he served so well, but is glad his star shone at the time it did.
"I'd hate to take away what I achieved in the game. Plus the fact I'm only 6-foot tall, you only get in a team nowadays if you are 6-foot 4 or 5-inches tall!"
Alex talks candidly about his career in his new autobiography, 'Tooting Common to the Stretford End'.