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PurpleCanary

Football slavery

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A while ago I posted some thoughts on postwar football in this country had changed, particularly because of economic circumstances. One of the clubs I used as an example of local economic decline prompting footballing decline was Burnley, who went from being First Division champions in 1960 to one game away from non-League football 27 years later.
 
Last week The Guardian, in the midst of massive coverage of some other story, managed to fit in a fascinating piece on unsung managers, including Harry Potts, who was in charge of Burnley during that golden period:

 

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2011/jul/08/joy-six-oft-forgotten-title-winning-managers


 
In doing so it mentioned one significant factor in the decline of clubs like Burnley that had slipped my mind, and that in turn reminded me of yet another factor. I think they are worth recounting, because to many younger fans (and indeed to current players) they must seem incomprehensible.
 
The first was the ending of the maximum wage, which in 1958 was £20 a week. That perhaps bears repeating. The top amount world stars such as Stanley Matthews or Tom Finnney could earn was £20. In 1960 that was abolished, and Fulham started paying Johnny Haynes the seemingly obscene sum of £100 a week.  But this particularly hit clubs where the local economy was already struggling, as was the case with the Lancashire mill towns. As The Guardian piece says:
 
"Wth the maximum wage abolished, a small-town team like Burnley were bound to struggle, though Potts ensured they held on manfully. Finances dictated McIlroy [one of their star players] was sold to Stoke."

 

At the same time, a court case ended something else that must now seem like a relic of the dark Ages - the retain-and-transfer system. This meant that even if a player''s contract had run out a club could refuse a transfer request because they could hold on to the player''s registration. In practice what this meant was that players signed a new contract even though they didn''t want to. It was effectively slavery. But it was also, reprehensible though it was, a way in which small clubs could keep talented players. 

 

To quote a University of Leicester report:

 

"Players in England had to put in a transfer request if they wanted to move clubs. If the club refused to allow a player to move he would be tied to the club as long as his wages were maintained at least at the level of his previous contract. This ''retain and transfer'' system meant clubs could pretty much control the employment lives of players. The idea of this system was to limit player mobility and wages and thus prevent all the top football players simply finishing up at the richest clubs. In the era of the maximum wage, this meant that the top players - England''s Tom Finney at Preston North End, for example - spent their whole careers at their ''home'' clubs that often experienced little success."

 

Then in 1960 a Newcastle player, George Eastham, went to court and got the system radically changed, although not abolished entirely.

 

So at the start of the sixties you had two changes that in general favoured the big clubs at the expense of the small and in particular hastened the fall of clubs where the local economy was going belly up, creating the vacuum which we and others filled.

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