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Football and footballers – the £ s. d. of the game


July 16, 1898
An International’s views
He is an international, and prominent in office in the Football Players’ Union, and our conversation turned on the future of that organisation.

“I am not quite sure that we shall succeed in attaining all the objects with which we set out; it is not a certainty that we shall carry any, he said.

“Why, what is going to happen? What have you in your mind? I queried.
“The break-up of the Everton team, as we knew it last season, may have a good deal in influencing the future of the Union. With Cameron, Jack Bell, Robertson, Holt, Stewart, Storrier, Peter Meehan, of Everton, as well as Hartley and Bradshaw of Liverpool, gone, our centre has lost strength.
“Liverpool was our headquarters, you know, and our registered offices are there. But the secretary – Cameron – has gone to London, and Bell, the chairman, will not, so far as we know now, be playing for anybody. Cameron says the offices will be transferred to London, but that cannot be done until next December, and I don’t fancy that even after then it will come off.”

“Still these players are yet members of the Union, and, if it is necessary to have your secretary in the north you can easily appoint a successor to Cameron,” I suggested.
“Yes, but that’s not the whole of it. Our position as to members is not what it ought to be. At first the players all over the country seized on the idea of a Union with the eagerness of a child for a new toy, but now there no longer comes any additions to our membership, and those who do remain members seems to have entirely lost interest in the concern. We shall know at the end of this year whether the things is to live or not, because if players will not continue their membership – and it is not certain that they will – well then there remains nothing but the name of the National Association Football Players’ Union.”

“But, supposing they do rejoin, and the union continues to live?
“I don’t think I have misjudged the signs. But if I have, and the Union does go on, I am convinced of one thing, and that is that we shall never succeed to maintaining wages at the present level.”
“Ah!”
“We shall never do it, and, what is more, I have come to the conclusion that we should not seek to do so.”

“I agree; but am not sure whether I take the same ground as yourself.”
“Well, the Union has objects that are not all selfish, as some imagine. We don’t form ourselves into an incorporated society simply that we may screw out of football every penny we can. I think that some such notion as that has been entertained by players here and there, and I say that if they have expected that of the Union then the latter will fail then. The past two months have taught us all a lesson.”
“And what is that?”
“Simply this – that football finances is killing football play. What I mean by that is, that many of our big clubs are becoming so involved in debt that there threatens to be a series of collapses. The balance sheets published during the past two months have made very doleful reading. At almost every football meeting held there has been the lament that players’ wages are so exorbitantly high that the club can scarcely bear the strain.
“Look at some of the teams that lost money on the season – Bolton Wanderers, Bury, Burnley, Preston North End, Stoke, Luton, Southampton, Millwall, Leicester Fosse, Loughborough, Burton Swifts, Manchester City, Grimsby Town, Woolwich Arsenal, Blackpool, and Gainsborough Trinity.
“Against these you have the following who made a profit: – Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, Newcastle United, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Notts County, Aston Villa, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, West Bromwich, and Newton Heath. The Rovers, however, had test matches to give them their profit – a source of income which will not be available again; and Derby County and the Forest had Cup ties to thank for their balances.
“Altogether the list of losses incurred, both as to length and amount, far outweighs the profits. There is no getting away from the fact, twist the thing as you will, that the expense of football is outrunning the resources of the clubs. Football Clubs, just like any other businesses, cannot live on their losses, so they must even give up, and that’s all about it.

“Well, you player will have the money.”
“I think the time has come when we should go in for a rational wage – get that, and, so that football may live, be content with it.”

“But it is an argument used by your brethren that what profit there is in football should go to the men who make the game popular by playing it so well.”
“I, as a player, think that that should be so. But it is no use our speculating beforehand upon problematical profits, and insisting upon such wages as will render it possible that there should be – not a profit, but a big loss.
“I don’t hold a brief for the clubs, but as a professional player, I speak what I believe is for the true interests of professional football. If we look beyond our noses, we are bound to recognise that football cannot live at the present rate.
“If wages continue at the present level, the next few years will see League football a dead letter except in places like London, Nottingham, Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle, and perhaps Blackburn.
“The clubs we know today in Burnley, Blackburn, Bolton, Blackpool, Preston, Stoke, West Bromwich, Small Heath, Luton. Darwen, Lincoln, Gainsborough, Walsall, Burslem, Burton, Leicester, and similar places will be dead to the League.
“The result will be that the fields open to professionals will be greatly restricted in area, for the reason that fewer men can be paid and only the few big centres where high-priced football is possible will be able to employ them. Do you see it?

“Certainly. And it seems to me that the general public will not be willing to be continually coming to the aid of clubs that are embarrassed. They pay for what they see, and it is not unnatural that they should consider their liability ended, just as they do on going to a theatre, music hall, or an agricultural show.”
“Yes, we have to consider the public, for, after all, there could not be professional football if it were not for the general public. Oh, yes, there will have to be some big alterations in football. Things cannot go on as they are doing at present.”
“If a man receives £3 a week all the year round he is well paid, for he has four months’ holiday. All his travelling and hotel expenses are paid when he is playing or training. If £3 a week were top price clubs could carry on the sport easily enough. A man should save £30 a year out of that amount, and giving him seven years of football he has close upon £600 to retire on. He could make it considerably more if he could manage to combine his work with his football.
“Some players work all the year round, and put their football money untouched or practically so. If players could contrive to follow their occupation and train three times a week, they would be in far better condition for playing than if they had all the week on their hands to get into mischief as sometimes they may do. They would save money by it, too, inasmuch as they would be clear of hangers-on, who spend their money for them. If you think of the players in the country who work regularly you will know that those are the men who are always fittest, and last best.”

“Do you think that men would be willing to accept £3 a week?”
“Well, I suppose it is but natural that the men who draw such tremendous figures should kick. But if much a sum were agreed upon they would have to submit, or cease to play. Those men who have any regard for the future of the game – and I believe you will find a majority of them in every team – would see the wisdom of the suggestion. Of course, if you establish a maximum wage, you would also have to fix a minimum.”

“How do you suggest that this change should be brought about?”
“There should be a conference between players and club managers, and an agreement entered into. There was a League debate on the subject some three or four years ago, but it did not come to anything. I am astounded that the English and Scottish Leagues have not taken some decided action this summer, after the disastrous season so many clubs have had.”

“How would the players’ Union stand in regard to such a conference as you mention?”
“I don’t know that they would take any part. If they did, I hardly fancy that they would oppose. If the Union should die, well, then the task of the club managers in fixing maximum wage should be the easier.”
(Lancashire Evening Post: July 16, 1898)

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