Chapter Seventeen – Comes The Revolution
Footballers live in a high-pressure world in which the climate blows hot and cold in turn. It is a world of trains and planes, of high living and booing and cheering, of success and failure, of hero-worship and fools to be suffered, sometimes gladly. On the field the game bubbles with glamour and excitement. Every match has that tense preliminary when the line of eleven men strings along the tunnel following the man with the ball. That brings for the players a flexing of the muscles and a summoning of the sinews and a fight against the flutters that flash along the nervous system. Outside the tunnel, above and around them, there is the crowd, expectant, knowing that the players will appear at any moment and the familiar spectacle will begin yet again as the coloured shirts spill out across the green of the field. The nervousness is shared by the crowd. There is the roar of the crowd, the challenge of the other team, the squabbling with the referee, the ‘offside’ and the ‘not offside’. There is the flavour of the battle, the security of a man’s skill in the game, the uncertainty of his form, the dependence on the rest of the team, the unpredictable actions of the opposition and the frightening freak of luck in the game. This is the true flavour of football, the glamour of the whole thing. And to me this is the basic reason why we play the game, why we become professionals, why we dedicate half of our lifetime to playing it and accept that tragedy in the shape of retirement in the thirties is an inevitable part of it. We are all in the game for the glamour, and not for the money.
This is what Danny Blanchflower tries to put into words and sometimes succeeds. Few players can do it. But they all feel it. And those who do not are simply not footballers. And oddly enough, all this sparked off the revolution of 1961 which will produce far-reaching changes in our national game and the full effect of which we have not yet seen. The real basic cause of the revolution – the abandonment of the policy of a ‘maximum wage’ which had persisted through seventy years of the history of the Football League – in my opinion was that the legislators had long since ceased to realise this fact. They sought to treat the footballers as employees and make the problem one of simple industrial relations. The history of relations between clubs and players since the war had been industrial in its pattern, as though footballers could be assessed like fitters or machine minders, with rates of work and pay and output related to machines and time and motion studies. The pattern was one of specific wage increases grudgingly given. But the basic problem was that the players knew instinctively that the glamour of the game was their bait, that their skills varied tremendously from one man to the other, and that the key to the whole business was how they improvised on these skills from match to match. For them football had always been an unpredictable game. The legislators, in the main old men, had grown remote from this if they were ever aware of it.
In this background to the ‘revolution’ there were other factors. As in all revolutions they built up slowly a pressure which at last becomes irresistible. Other people more closely involved in the change of policy which ‘liberated’ the players, or rather gave them the right to make personal contracts negotiated with their clubs have written in detail about it, notably Jimmy Hill, the manager of Coventry City who was chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association in the spring of 1961. The long story of negotiations between that organisation and the League, of the subsequent industrial dispute and the intervention of the Minister of Labour, John Hare, of questions in the House of Commons – all this has been recorded and there is no need for me to repeat it. Yet the whole problem was never as straightforward as it appeared to the public. It is important to realise that football clubs in our country are not clubs at all, but football companies, limited companies with shareholders, boards of directors, managers, and even in some cases, cash in the bank. You might therefore call football an industry but it is an industry which can never hope to attract any fresh capital. By football law, the dividends which clubs may pay are fixed firmly at five per cent tax free or at seven and a half per cent subject to tax. The number of clubs which actually pay dividends each year could be counted on the studs of a pair of football boots. Over the years some clubs have built up assets of more than £250,000 in property and cash yet still have issued capital of only a few thousand pounds so that dividends amount to a very few hundreds. This does not include the transfer market value of the playing staff which is never shown on the balance sheet although it may be the club’s greatest asset.
It's All In The Game was published by Arthur Baker Limited.
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