Football: Vinnie Jones should count himself lucky but, foolishly, he is now threatening the system that made his overblown status possible

In the unlikely event that Vinnie Jones could be persuaded to look back beyond his last childish prank and explore the history of industrial relations in English football he would come across Jimmy Guthrie.

Guthrie, who led Portsmouth to a famous 4-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 1939 FA Cup final, achieved greater prominence as a troublemaker, leading a struggle for the pay and conditions enjoyed today in English football even by players of Jones's limited ability.

What I am coming to quickly is the consternation Jones has caused by threatening to challenge legally the transfer fee system that applies if players want to move between English clubs at the end of their contracts.

As it is a system supported by the Professional Footballers' Association, who shared concern expressed generally over the controversial Bosman ruling that allows players to move freely to other countries, you have to wonder if there are people other than Jones involved in the issue. In other words, who put him up to it?

In fact, total freedom of contract was exactly what Guthrie sought 42 years ago when addressing the Trades Union Congress. "I stand here," he said, "as the representative of the last bonded men in Britain - the professional footballers. We seek your help to smash a system under which, now in this year of 1955, human beings are being bought and sold like cattle. A system which, as in feudal times, binds a man to one master or, if he rebels, stops him getting another job. The conditions of the professional footballer's employment are akin to slavery ['Slaves in Chains' was the headline placed above reports of Guthrie's oration]."

Guthrie went on: "They smirch the name of British democracy. I have been accused by the football bosses and in the press of exaggeration in talking about 'slavery'. Let the bitter facts speak for themselves."

They were that a professional footballer's contract ended on 30 June each year when he was either retained for a further 12 months, placed on the open-to-transfer list or given a free transfer. A retained player who did not agree terms received no money and could not move elsewhere. Similarly, a player on the open-to-transfer list was no longer on the payroll and could not move until a fee was paid for his services.

Considering that it was six more years before things began to change we have come a long way in a relatively short time. In 1960, when on tour with the England Under-23 team, George Eastham told me that he was determined to get away from Newcastle United even it meant going on strike. There was no great cause in Eastham's mind but the stubbornness that brought about his transfer to Arsenal inspired a well-organised campaign, led brilliantly by Jimmy Hill, that put paid to the maximum wage and the retain and transfer system.

Nevertheless allowing clubs to put a price (subject to arbitration) on unsettled players who were out of contract made sense. It still does, protecting most obviously the smaller clubs and, therefore, the unique structure of English league football.

This week, in an interview he gave to the Sun, the PFA's chief executive, Gordon Taylor, expressed fears that would never have occurred to a man of Guthrie's militant nature. "The system is not out of date because it works," Taylor said. "Of course we will refine it because of Bosman. But don't tear up everything and start again. There is security for players in this country. They cannot be sacked. Contracts have to be honoured... We do not want freedom across the board because my members realise it would affect the clubs they came from and often go back to."

When I was a member of Taylor's union and a delegate to its annual conference I felt the need for radical change as much as anyone. Later on newspapers provided me with an opportunity to campaign for improvements in the working conditions of professional footballers.

Jones should count himself lucky. There was a time, I think, when he would have been advised to seek alternative employment. Stick to lugging cement, raising chickens. Foolishly, he is now threatening the very system that made his overblown status possible.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power