Football: Bosman action settled at pounds 312,000

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JEAN-MARC BOSMAN, the Belgian footballer whose landmark court action transformed the transfer system in Europe, finally reached a settlement yesterday in his own case. The Belgian Football Union agreed to pay Bosman pounds 312,000, ending years of litigation between the two parties.

Bosman went to the courts after his club, FC Liege, refused to allow him to move at the end of his contract to Dunkirk in France without a transfer fee, leaving the player without a club.

Although Bosman won his case at the European Court of Appeal in December 1995, by then it was too late to revive his career. He has spent the intervening three years caught up in appeals to Belgium's courts.

Despite his own problems, Bosman's case has benefited players across Europe. Players reaching the end of their contracts can now move freely between clubs within the Euro- pean Union without any transfer fees being paid, while restrictions on the number of EU players have also been lifted.

Bosman, 34, welcomed the out-of-court settlement with the BFU and said he was now hoping to find a job again after years in the doldrums. "We closed the book, we turned its last page and it ended well," he said.

The secretary general of the BFU, Jan Peeters, said that Bosman's claims totalled $2.10m (pounds 1.28m) in damages from Uefa, European football's governing body, and the BFU, but Bosman had already urged the Union to settle out of court. "I believe that both Jean-Marc Bosman and the Union were fed up with this case, we were tired," Peeters said. "Now it's all over."

Bosman said he was satisfied with the settlement even though it was not "extremely high" and he still had lawyers' fees to settle. "But the appeals court could also have awarded me a lot less," he admitted.

Asked whether the nine-year legal battle had all been worth it, he said: "I believe so, everything ended very well... it was worth it because players clearly benefited from it all."

The contrast between the fortunes of those who have taken advantage of the ruling and Bosman's own circumstances, however, could hardly be more stark. Having suffered financial ruin, Bosman's marriage collapsed and he was forced to take up residence in his parents' garage for nearly two years. He survived mainly on appearance money from television networks and support from players' unions.

Peeters added that Bosman had signed a written guarantee that he would drop any further claims. Bosman has recently expressed a wish to create a fund for the most disadvantaged players whose careers have been ended through injury, or who were abandoned by managers.

The profits from a benefit game staged in May, and a fund-raising appeal launched by a Belgian sports players' union, have been disappointing. The union had appealed to those who have enjoyed substantial salary increases - an estimated 40 per cent of European players - to donate their win bonuses from one game. But not one player has contributed so far.