by New Worker correspondent
Readers turning to the New Worker hoping to seek relief from football are going to be disappointed. This week we have a look at the 2,158 strong Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) which as its name implies is the trade union for football players in England and Wales. There is another similar, but separate PFA for Scotland.
Professional football was grudgingly officially approved of by the Football Association League in 1886, who thought it was for public school boys only. However many churches and chapels had already set up amateur clubs to improve attendance at sermons. Employers found that forming a works team and buying them a football earned them a reputation as a good employer.
The PFA was founded in 1907 making it the oldest union for sportsmen (and now with 84 women members). Starting life as the Association Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union, it was the successor to the short lived Association Footballers’ Union which lasted for only three years between 1898 and 1901.
Both unions were established hoping to overturn the maximum wage, at that time £4 a week, a sum which many working class people would envy in those days.
In the 1909-10 season the union threatened strike action, which resulted in the Football Association withdrawing recognition and banned members from the game. This resulted in membership falling as clubs recruited amateurs. Only at Manchester United did union members stand firm, but an Everton player was vocal in his support resulting in the union regaining recognition in exchange for allowing bonus payments to be made to players to supplement the maximum wage which then remained in place for decades.
Just before the First World War a badly handled court case over the restrictive transfer scheme almost destroyed the union. For decades the proceeds of transfer payments went exclusively to clubs, which were in fact businesses.
Membership fell to 300 in 1915 but doubled by 1920. Post-war unemployment saw attendance fall resulting in clubs in 1922 imposing a £1 cut to the maximum wage, (then £9 a week), a move defeated by the union in the courts.
1955 saw the union affiliate to the Trades Union Congress, however, its registering under the Tory’s 1971 Industrial Relations resulting in it departing in 1973, but it re-joined in 1995 where it remains.
While a player, the future TV commentator Jimmy Hill became secretary in 1956 and proved to be a new broom. In 1957 he launched a campaign to abolish the maximum wage (then £20), succeeding in 1961. The first £100 a week player resulted, paving the way for £100,000 a week players of today. We might deplore the commercialisation of sport, but unions exist for the benefit of their members.
In 1963 the PFA secured a legal victory when the “retain and transfer system” was deemed an “unreasonable restraint of trade”.
Football has always been a boys’ game. As recently as 1998 it hit the headlines when a players’ agent was turned away from the PFA’s annual dinner for the sin of being a woman, a blunder which cost the PFA dearly in terms of legal fees and reputation.
In the course of its 114 year history it has only had seven leaders. It appointed a new Chief Executive, as its General Secretary is now called, former Swiss footballer and sports lawyer, Maheta Molango, earlier this year.
He replace the former incumbent, Gordon Taylor OBE, whose reign began in 1981 and ended under a cloud earlier this year. Eyebrows had been raised about the fact that an arm of the PFA, its “charity” wing, had an income of £27 million, but spent only £2 million on “charitable activities”, a sum equal to the boss’s pay cheque. This has resulted in an ongoing enquiry by the Charity Commission. He was also criticised for being slow on the uptake on a number of issues such as supporting investigations into the large number of football players affected with dementia allegedly caused by heading the older heavier footballs.
Taylor’s leadership was challenged in 2018 when 200 players told him to go. This he agreed to do the next year after overseeing an independent review of the organisation. This he finally did at the age of 75. He was one of the few trade union leaders who can be truly said to live on the same salary as the workers he represented. But that is only because some of his members earn over £100,000 a week. His salary was not modest: £2,290,000 a year at one stage, which almost certainly made him the highest paid trade union official in the world. Molango will have to scrape by on a measly £500,000 to begin with.
Footballer players often have a bad image when they are photographed tumbling out of nightclubs at 4 am and driving off in £250,000 car, but that is a fairly recent development and needless to say not all are on £100,000 a week. Most are on a mere fraction of that. Only last week the union had to battle on behalf of its members at Swindon Town FC to simply secure 60 per cent of the wages due to them. This is a common enough experience in the lower leagues.
Comparatively minor injuries can mean the end of a career, which even at the best of times is a short one. Therefore the union has a responsibility for its members beyond their playing life. Apart from supporting a “Football Scholarship Programme” and the “Football in the Community Programme” for would-be players, it also funds several education programmes for present and former players. Since 1991 it has supported players on a Salford University physiotherapy course. It also helps them get degrees in “Professional Sports Writing and Broadcasting” from Staffordshire University. Additionally it has also helped the cause of women’s football so that we can look forward to more women being photographed tumbling out of nightclubs at 4 am and driving off in new £250,000 cars etc.,
For clapped out players it also funds a residential rehabilitation programme at Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehabilitation in Shropshire.
The new boss, Maheta Molango has delivered a manifesto, saying: “One principle will guide my leadership of our union, and it is this: the PFA belongs to the players. It should always be run on behalf of its members, for its members”. Some would argue this promises a revolutionary change from Taylor’s day, but all trade union bureaucrats say that.
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