An evil side of professional football

Saturday, April 29 – 1899
One of the worst institutions in professional football is the bonus paid to players for winning matches. It commenced in quite a small way, and has grown for step with the progress of the mad ascent of wages.

It is nowadays a most serious item in a club’s expenditure. Players, no matter how munificently remunerated, come to regard this added gratuity as part of their ordinary salary.

Some have the impudence to make representations to their directors after a match that a bonus shall be paid where a draw has resulted away from home; and grumble loudly if they do not get what they ask.

The season which closes to-day has seen a great development of this pernicious system. Men have actually needed the temptation of this bribe to make them play well before their own supporters.

Formerly it was a case of a bonus for a win away from home – occasionally, and not as a regular thing. Now, however, it has become the custom to offer these added rewards for every League match played whether at home or on opponents’ grounds.

And the men, finding that they can get the money if they play badly when “bonuses are off,” shape their play so that bonuses shall be always “on.”

Cases could be cited where a team has gone away, and the man in charge, having no instructions as to bonus, has had to wire to the club headquarters to get an assurance upon the point before the men took the field.

It is a miserable condition of things when men will put forth their best energies simply to enable them to claim an extra pound or thirty shilling a week, and not from any sense of duty towards those who are already paying them handsomely.

There are men, of course – and they are to be found in every team, we are happy to say – who when they go on to the field must play football because they are sportsmen bred and born.

On the other hand, there are the mercenary louts who think nothing of the obligations they are under as the well-paid servants of a club which for its success depends upon the loyalty of the men playing for it.

It is difficult to establish the charge “non-trier,” but it is easy enough to find the men whom one has every reason to suspect as guilty of the disgrace.

Bonuses should never have been permitted in the first place. Having grown until they have become a disgrace to the game, a rank crying evil, and a danger which menaces, it is time that they were abolished.

It is not a new subject, but we call attention to the matter because there is a proposition afoot which proposes to extend the system.

If we read aright the intention of the Football Association it is that when a man quite one club and goes to another, and a transfer is paid for him, he shall receive a share of that money.

Now there could not be a more deadly blow aimed at the small clubs.

Already they are harassed almost beyond endurance by the fierce competition for players, and have the utmost difficulty in keeping together a side with any pretensions to skill.

The Southern and the rich League clubs are ever cause of fear when the end of a season is neared, because men settled in little towns are coveted by the already strong sides. To where there is most money the majority of players seek to go.

It is bad enough as the case now is. If, however, it be made possible for a player, on his leaving one League club to go to another, to participate in the transfer fees, why the difficulty of the smaller teams will be increased a thousandfold.

What should be the aim of football legislators is to keep teams together; by this suggestion they place a premium upon upset, disorder, and confusion.

The mere fact that he can get £15, £20, or £30 by moving to another club will set a man a-journeying. And the player holding such views as to the necessity of his extracting the uttermost farthing from the game will always be roving.

Such men as we could name would be changing their clubs two or three times a season. You could never count your team settled and secure.

We support professional football because we believe that only by having paid players can you get the best men.

Because we support the game as a whole, however, we do not appreciate the attitude of all the men in it.

The average professional footballer is a very decent, honest, reputable young fellow whom one is glad to meet. But in his class are men who are the reverse of this.

Football is like every other walk in life: it has its good men, its indifferent men, and its “dead wrong ‘uns.” Only experience can teach club managers which of the three classes a man will belong to.

If he be of the second, or, worse still, the third grade, what is going to hold him to his duty?

He knows that by systematically shirking, playing just so badly that he is of no service to the side, and yet preserving close attention to training he will be released to some other club.

Off he goes, and gets a bonus; repeats his move and gets a third change and a third fee. He makes two years’ wages in the one season, and then finishes up by joining a fourth club for the following year.

That is not a flattering description of the professional, but we write of the men we know, and of whose existence cognisance may be taken.

They are in a game and clubs are always foolish enough to engage them. Therefore, we protest that this suggested plan of removal inducement should not be tolerated.

The Association must know very little about what it undertakes, or we should have no such ridiculous suggestions.

Some of the men who burst out with these ultra-magnanimous suggestions know only half-a-dozen professional footballers – the men whom they meet at international matches; and, basing an opinion of  the whole class upon these few, the topmost cream, seek to legislate, as they might safely do, if all were, as apparently they, in their blissful yet dangerous simplicity, imagine it to be.

No, transfer fees to players are bad, rankly bad.

Let him have his wages – a good deal less than he is asking for this season, and he will be well paid.

Give him neither transfer fees nor bonuses for doing that which he is already more than adequately recompensed for performing; insist that he shall follow some employment, and so supplement his wages that he shall not miss what would be denied him if bonuses were abolished.

If a man were kept at a reasonable employment during his playing career, he would finish up well off.

As it is he is paid handsomely, has all his time at liberty, and schemes for no situation except that as landlord of a public-house, and endeavours to qualify for his ideal by doing as much sampling as he can on the customers’ side of the bar.
(Lancashire Evening Post, 29-04-1899)

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