Interview with William John Harrop (Chairman Liverpool Football Club)

October 6, 1951
What’s wrong with soccer?

Mr. William John Harrop is a vice-president of the Football League, a member of the FA Council, a director and former chairman of Liverpool F.C., and a Liverpool City Councillor. He has had a wide experience of football administration, having been on the Liverpool board for 25 years. In business he is an accountant.

William John Harrop.

If we are to believe all we sometimes read, present-day football is in a bad state. Fortunately, that isn’t true. A tremendous amount of sheer nonsense – one cannot call it anything else – is written about the game and its government,

I suspect that much of it is said with the writer’s tongue in his cheek, but it goes down well with some people, which, one imagines, justifies the harangues in the eyes of those who are responsible for them.

If one believed all that is written, obviously most of the members of the Football League Management Committee and the Football Association are nothing but a lot of old washerwomen, not fit to govern a patrol of Wolf Cubs, never mind the greatest game in the country, aye, even in the whole world, for that is what football is.

According to our detractors, pretty nearly everything which could be wrong is wrong. Transfer fees, we read, are “a blot on the game” … players are sold “like cattle,” and they haven’t a soul to call their own … clubs are battening on their weakness and keeping wages down to a figure well below that which ought to be paid … and so it goes on ad nauseum.

All that is largely bunkum. I’m not going to say that everything in football is as it might be. Human nature being what it is, that is impossible, but broadly speaking, there is precious little wrong with the game, and that little, given goodwill all round, will eventually be put right.

Let us take the one thing at a time. First of all, alleged “under the counter” payments. The men who govern the game have their ears to the ground and know most of what goes on. We are not as blind as some folk make out.

Illegal payments have been a source of anxiety for the past few years. Whenever concrete evidence has been forthcoming the League has endeavoured to make an example of those responsible which would deter others. The great difficulty is to get proof.

These sort of things, when they are done, are done secretly. Nobody is going to blazon them from the housetops. And in the absence of indisputable proof the hands of the League are tied.

The vexed question of the transfer fee system is another fruitful source of criticism. Speaking for myself, I see no reason to interfere with it. The size of fees, and their frequency, is governed solely by supply and demand. Eventually they will find their own level.

Exorbitant figures are a postwar symptom. Already there has been a decided tendency for fees to decrease, and that, I think, will continue.

Suggestions have been made that there should be a limit on transfer fees. Some suggest £5,000. That sounds all right in theory. It would not work in practice. You would have several clubs all bidding at the maximum figure for the same player.

The sequel is obvious. Those who paid £5,000 officially and something additional “under the table,” would get their man, and the others would be well down the course. That sticks out a mile. The League Management Committee will do nothing which will open up additional avenues for illegal practices.

Players’ Contracts.
Here is another source of criticism. Yet it must be perfectly obvious to those who consider the question in all its aspects that clubs must have some hold over their players. Without it, there would be chaos at the end of every season. Clubs take young players, train and coach them, look after them well, and do all they can to turn them into stars.

Naturally, that is for the club’s own benefit, but it is also to the benefit of the player.

Clubs would not do all this if players were free to depart whenever they wished at the end of any season. It would result in an impossible position.

Suggestions have been made that a contract spread over three, four or five years would obviate this. That sounds good, yet it has a lot of snags.

There are a small proportion of players who are not particularly ambitious, and would be content to jog along happily with a good club, content in the knowledge that they were “right” for three or more years.

They would lack the incentive to pull out that little extra which si often makes the difference between a firs-class player and an ordinary one.

For a long time it has been contended in certain quarters that the League rules should be altered to make benefits compulsory.

The League cannot do this. They do not know the financial circumstances of every club. In any case, circumstances change.

But it is a fact that most clubs to-day, even those in the Third Division, pay benefits, though not all can afford the top scale.

I am all in favour of clubs being authorised to make increased payments to players who give them loyal service. But not by increased benefits. I would prefer to see wages increased proportionate to each players’ length of service with one club.

It would put a premium on loyalty, and that is what the game requires.

Some day I think benefits will be swept away entirely, and we shall see players paid on a sliding scale governed by their years of service.

This, to my mind, would be a change for the better. It would also do away with requests for a transfer due to a player’s desire to cash in on his accrued share of benefit.

Unlimited wages.
There are many who advocate that there should be no maximum wage, but that clubs should make their own terms and pay their best players according to their ability and box-office attraction. The idea has been tried in Scotland and proved unsatisfactory.

First of all, it would tend to gather most of the stars with a few clubs, who could pay high wages. This would be a bad thing for the competition. It is the comparative equality between all clubs in each division which has made football so popular over the years.

Almost every season it is impossible until near the end of the campaign to say which clubs will be in the top places and which will be at the bottom.

The later Mr. William Cuff, former president of the League, used truly to say that the Football League is a combination of clubs banded together to help one another. Without this spirit, and with a system which enabled the rich clubs to corner most of the talent, the whole competition would soon fall into ruins.

Quite apart from that, however, unlimited wages would create dissatisfaction among players, have an adverse effect on team spirit, and would even effect the player receiving more than his colleagues, for he would have a mill-stone round his neck which would do him no good psychologically.

Standard of play.
There is a tendency for people who are getting on a bit in years, as I am, to regard the past as better than the present. Some plea for the restoration of the old offside rule. They say it would make the game more skilful. I doubt it.

I well recall how dull and dreary many games were when certain clubs exploited offside tactics under the old rule. The change pepped-up play. Let us keep things as they are. The standard is good on the whole.

Under the present system of extensive and intensive coaching I fear there is a tendency to rob a good ball-player of at least a proportion of his originality and personality. I am all for coaching, but sometimes I feel it is overdone.

Certain players should be allowed to follow their own bent. There is too much leaning towards sticking to a tactical system laid down before the match commences.

Of all the foolish methods of showing disapproval, I think the slow-hand clapping one sometimes heard is the silliest.

No foreman ever improved a bad workman by abusing him at the bench, and a football crowd which is not satisfied with the display of a team or a player is only making things worse by ironical clapping.

They also ere in their “instructions” to players, so often heard, to “get rid of it.” Players should be left alone to play their natural game. Criticism should be withheld until the final whistle has gone.

The Football League Management Committee is definitely against television, and will continue so until clubs can be amply compensated for any loss incurred when matches are televised. I am in entire agreement with that view.

While live broadcasts do a certain amount of harm to gates, reduced attendances are not such as to make this a vital matter when only Football League games are broadcast. Broadcasts of Cup-ties and international matches are in a different category.

These do have a big effect on League gates and I am opposed to such broadcasts while League matches are being played.

After all, football clubs are required to balance their accounts and to keep their heads financially above water the same as other businesses, and they cannot contemplate with equanimity anything which reduces their receipts to such an appreciable extent.

In my opinion, the standard of refereeing is quite satisfactory. Referees are human and, like all of us, make occasional mistakes, but on the whole they do a difficult job exceedingly well.

While on this topic I would like to clear up a popular misconception. Neither Football League clubs nor directors have any influence in nominating referees.

They all come up the hard way, via the smaller competitions, and the list of Football League referees is chosen from officials recommended by these minor organisations, such as the Central League, Midland League, North-Eastern League, London Combination, and so on.

The men thus brought to the league’s notice are all experienced officials, who have had several years of service. In years gone by it was the custom for league clubs to recommend referees for whose ability they could vouch. Such advocacy carried a considerable amount of weight. But that is altered now.

There is not the slightest suggestion of favoritism shown in any direction. So far as possible we pick the very best men for the job.

One job only.
I am definitely against any player holding another job as well as football, and particularly against the practice of clubs holding out the “bait” of another position in order to get a man to sign for them.

That leads to all sort of pseudo jobs. Taking into account their wages, bonuses, benefits and superannuation, players are sufficiently well paid to make football their only occupation.

Those who wish to fit themselves for another position when their playing days are over have ample opportunity. The Football League is ready to pay all expenses for any course of vocational training which any player wishes to take up.

A large number are already taking steps to this end.
(Source: Liverpool Echo: October 6, 1951)

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