New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Putting the boot in

by New Worker correspondent

ONE OF Britain’s oldest and most effective trade unions recently secured an important legal victory that could pave the way for workers they represent to secure huge pay rises. The ruling overturns an attempt by the bosses to impose caps on workers’ earnings.

The issue in question was what led to the creation of the union in 1907. The union is the 4,000-strong, TUC-affiliated Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA).

Originally founded as the Association Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union (AFPTU) in Manchester’s Imperial Hotel, it succeeded the short-lived Association Footballers’ Union (AFU) formed in 1898 and dissolved in 1901. The AFU had tried and failed to relax restrictions on players moving from one club to another and to prevent bosses introducing a maximum wage of £4 per week for players in the Football League.

Two years after its foundation, bosses, in the shape of the Football Association (FA), withdrew recognition of the Union. A threat of strike action in response was met by the FA banning altogether players belonging to the union.

stood firm

Membership fell as players put their jobs before their union card, but Manchester United players stood firm, forcing the cancellation of a 1909 match. A prominent player, Tim Coleman of Everton, gave his support, shaming the FA, which encouraged members to return to the union and forced the FA to allow bonus payments. A later botched court case on the transfer question nearly broke the union, however.

During the slump in 1922, clubs arbitrarily cut the maximum wage from £9 to £8, a move successfully opposed by the union. But major successes had to wait until the 1950s.

When Jimmy Hill, footballer and later commentator, became secretary of the Players’ Union in 1956, it became the PFA. In 1957, the League’s maximum wage of £20 was scrapped and the first £100-per-week player came in 1961. The age of footballer players making the front pages for their drunken antics in sunny climes and tumbling out of nightclubs at 4am finally dawned.

In 1963 the PFA won a High Court case which declared that the “retain and transfer” system was an unreasonable restraint of trade. The commercialisation of sport clearly has its downsides, but unions are primarily there to get good deals for their members.

Never very militant, the union registered under the Industrial Relations Act 1971, causing its departure from the TUC, but it returned in 1995. In the late 1990s it found itself in court for banning a woman football agent from its annual dinner. The case eventually cost £200,000. To compensate, it now actively promotes women footballers so that they can in future misbehave in posh hotels just like the men.

In the same spirit of promoting inclusion, last month the PFA pointed out that although Asian and Asian British people make up almost 7.5 per cent of the British population, in the 2019/2020 season just eight players made first-team appearances across the Premier. To remedy this, it launched its Asian Inclusion Mentoring Scheme (AIMS).

In November 2018, the PFA had a revolt from its members over its management practices, which is presently unresolved with the much complained-about CEO still in post.


On the matter of the present dispute, PFA’s CEO, Gordon Taylor OBE, said: “We were disappointed that the EFL [English Football League] decided to introduce salary cap proposals, which were voted through without the proper consideration or consultation with the PFNCC [Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee]. As a result, in August 2020, the PFA served a Notice of Arbitration on the EFL stating the introduction of the new rules were in breach of obligations under the constitution of the PFNCC. We are pleased the panel upheld the PFA’s claim.”


Not all players are in the multi-millionaire category. Comparatively minor injury can end a playing career, which can come to an end decades before the pension age. To help non-playing players it funds several education programmes for ex and current players. One is a physiotherapy degree course at Salford University. Media-savvy footballers can even be taught to be sports journalists.

In line with ancient trade union practice it provides medical care, including paying for injured players to attend the Lilleshall Sports Injury Rehabilitation centre in Shropshire for physiotherapy and sports injury.

The PFA is also a campaigning union. Recently it took up the problem of racist abuse directed at black players. Writing to the CEOs of Facebook and Twitter, it pointed out that: “The language used is debasing, often threatening and illegal. It causes distress to the recipients and the vast majority of people who abhor racism, sexism and discrimination of any kind. We have had many meetings with your executives over the years but the reality is your platforms remain havens for abuse.”

The PFA demands that the social media giants block racist or discriminatory material with an approved verification process for users and they urge co-operating properly with the police in such matters.

It is also demanding more research into neurodegenerative disorders because they affect footballers, an issue recently highlighted by the fact that many prominent footballers from the 1960s and ‘70s have been diagnosed with dementia, perhaps caused by frequent heading of footballs that were much heavier than now. The PFA is now funding such research