50 Years Ago: Footballers’ Strike

To many of the schoolboys who scuff out the toes of their shoes kicking an old tennis ball around a council school playground, the life of a professional footballer is a glamorous dream.

In fact, there is of course room at the top for only a very few, very good, footballers. These men can make a sumptuous living at the game. The rest have a hard time of it, on unremarkable pay and often under conditions of employment which an industrial trade union would not tolerate. Most footballers are looking for another job in their thirties, with little prospect of doing much better than a salesman or a shopkeeper. No professional player may publish a statement about the game without first having it vetted by his club—his employer.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has asked to have the “slave” transfer system changed to abolish the ceiling on wages and to secure a share of a transfer fee for the player involved in the deal. To enforce these demands, the P.F.A. have threatened to call a strike. The bigger clubs can more easily afford to grant the players’ demands, and foresee that to do so would help to defend their high position at the expense of the dingier clubs, many of which are already in deficit. It is, therefore, in the lower divisions that resistance to the P.F.A. is strongest.

Indignant fans, outraged players, angry club officials, have all had their say. Nobody, so far, has regretted that capitalist society makes a business of football and that the game is played, not for amusement and entertainment, but for investment. Like all the other superficially plausible criticisms of capitalism, the grumblings about the footballers’ lot are as wide of the mark as a fourth division centre forward.

(From News in Review, Socialist Standard, January 1961).

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