The transfer system: Should it be abolished?


November 18, 1899
Breakers ahead! There are all the potential elements of a storm in the new situation created bu the report to the Council of the Football Association on the transfer question.

Mr. John Charles Clegg, Mr. Charles Crump, and Mr. Charles William Alcock, a committee appointed to consider the matter, have recommended what almost amounts to an abolition of the system. They condemn it as unsportsmanlike, objectionable, as interfering with the rights of players, and contrary to the rules of the Association.

Their recommendations have already appeared, but they are so vital, and at the same time so concise, that they had better be repeated.

Look at them: “(1) That the present rules be amended so as to provide that arrangements already made in respect of players be recognised in future transfers, provided that no larger transfer fees shall be demanded than the amounts paid by clubs on acquiring players.

“It was represented to your committee that clubs had to incur expenses in obtaining players – just as players have to incur expenses in changing clubs. To meet these legitimate expenses we recommend the following further amendment of the rules: – (2) “That (expect in cases within recommendation No.1) in future no transfer fee exceeding £10 shall be paid.”

The Council received the report last Monday and Mr. Bentley, the President of the League, did a natural thing in proposing an adjournment to the December meeting, the Council readily agreeing.

Whether the Council will approve the proposals is a point upon which an opinion cannot easily be given. Attention will be largely directed towards the League Management Committee, who before the next Council meeting are bound to carefully consider what attitude they shall take up.

It is plain on the surface that they cannot support the recommendations as they stand; to my mind the result of such radical alterations would be distinctly detrimental to the League as a whole.

The official scheme of the Players’ Union put forward last season recognised the difficulties in the way of the complete abolition of the transfer system, and only proposed to do away with the fee altogether where a player was offered no terms by his present club, adding that an offer of less than £1 a week – £52 a year – should not be considered bona fide.

Beyond this they – the Players’ Union – proposed that “if a club offers a player a sum exceeding £52 a year, then, if he refuse, half the difference between £52 and the sum offered shall be the maximum fee chargeable for his transfer.”

There were a lot of other provisions in the scheme, in the construction of which Mr. Saer was supposed to be the leading spirit. This did not seem to commend itself to the Management Committee as a whole, and it appears impossible that they can do other than strenuously oppose the recommendation of Mr. Clegg and his colleagues.

Under the present system, players are regarded as assets, and recommendation No. 1 is designed to meet the position. So, there is no need to pursue that particular point.

Now, what are some of the evils of the system which it is suggested should be stamped out; on the other hand, would abolition bring in its train any serious disadvantages? “Interferences with the rights of players,” says the report to the Council.

No doubt, too – in the past more than recently – unfair advantage has been taken of the transfer practice to hamper players by prohibition fees when, perhaps, they were drawing in wages nothing, or it might have been a salary altogether incommensurate with their worth.

But the League, spurred somewhat, I think, by the Players’ Union, has for a considerable time been more alive to its responsibilities and duties.

A player not receiving an offer from his club can secure a free transfer on appeal to the Management Committee, while the fees asked have been reduced again and again. “All players whom clubs refuse to reengage shall be played on the ‘open to transfer list’” is one of the rules of the League. And this as a beating on that paragraph of the report which says: –

“During our inquiries it was stated that some clubs derived considerable pecuniary advantages from training your players, and then selling them to the more prominent clubs. We think the practice in such cases, when applied to human beings, altogether discreditable to any system bearing the name of sport.”

Is the position such a shocking one? If a club brings out a young player what wickedness is there in that club requiring a transfer fee in case he goes to some other organisation, always remembering that if he is offered no terms by his club he can get a free pass when some candidate for his services comes alo9ng, and that the League can, even if terms are offered regulate the transfer fee.

Look at the following: – Nottingham Forest brought out Jim Iremonger and Spencer; would it have been quite fair if as soon as they had reached first-class form they had said, “We are going over the way to Notts County?”

Remember that these two players may have been the only first rate men out of twenty or thirty tried, and many of them paid for several season. Now, a club which trains up a player has first call; if the transfer system was abolished it would be a case of going to the highest bidder.

And this is where the great objection to the new proposals come in. It is putting a larger premium than over on money bags. I was going to say that the triumvirate’s idea would do away with the stability which is due to the operation of transfer fees, and would be the introducer of wholesale changes – an undesirable thing – at the end of every season.

Of course there would be much of this, but with players absolutely unfettered we should witness a general drifting of the leading men into the folds of the richer organisations.

Half a dozen clubs, or perhaps two or three more, would almost have a monopoly, and some of our clubs would have no part in the “corner,” because of not possessing the same amount of wealth.

Even now many of the members of the League have a hard struggle to keep up to the standard of efficiency required in the company of Aston Villa, Everton, Liverpool, Sunderland, Newcastle United, &c., all wealthy clubs, but to take away the transfer system would be to aggravate the situation, unless, as has been advocated in this paper before, the abolition were accompanied by “pooling.”

The rich clubs don’t want the latter. The two things would go well together, but the abolition of transfer fees without the other reform would be making increasingly difficult the course of the poorer members of the League; it would also in the long run be harmful to the opulent, because one-sided games would not be conducive to big “gates.”

And unless we can have a double-barreled measure it would not be in the interest of the League as a whole that the transfer system should be cleared away; nor would it be for the good of the players, who, though having more freedom, and probably for a time rather more money, would find the congregation of talent in a few centres so inimical to the best interests of the game that the attendances would drop off very appreciably.

And “gates” pay the players. Who then is going to profit if the proposed changes are made?
(Lancashire Evening Post: November 18, 1899)

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