Sir Brian Mawhinney, the chairman of the Football League, has announced that the League will withdraw from the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee if its clubs are not given permission to trade without restriction outside the transfer windows introduced by Fifa two years ago.
It was overreaction by the world governing body to introduce transfer windows across Europe when it took over negotiations on the transfer system with the European Commission from Uefa its European equivalent, although the effects on countries which already operated windows were not so severe. It was thought that the football economy would be stabilised. The Premier League raised no objections.
The trouble as far as the Football League is concerned is the effect of the windows on their clubs' ability to sell a player to a Premier League club at any time. Mawhinney claims the domestic transfer market decreased by 47 per cent in the first year of operation, and in evidence last month to the all-party football group of MPs who are conducting an inquiry into finance he told how it was one of the factors worsening the gulf between the First Division and the Premier League. After a meeting in London last week of European football bodies to discuss the impact of the windows on domestic leagues, Mawhinney said the position was similar throughout the continent.
Whereas Football League clubs are allowed to trade with each other outside the windows under a special dispensation already granted, they cannot sell to the Premier League, and Mawhinney's main grievance is that no one is listening to him. The Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, has agreed to see him in the new year, and the League chairman will find that everyone is listening to him if he fulfils his threat to pull out of the PFNCC.
It would be ironic if, after nearly 30 years, the League were to be instrumental in wrecking what the writer Simon Inglis termed "one of the most influential and beneficial bodies professional football has ever known". When it was established in 1975, on the recommendation of the Commission on Industrial Relations, chaired by John Wood, a Huddersfield Town season ticket-holder, who became the chairman of the new committee, it comprised just two bodies: the League and the Professional Footballers' Association.
The League had been running scared of even meeting the PFA since the Chester Report recommended for freedom of movement for players at the end of their contracts in 1968. Wood was an emeritus professor of law at Sheffield University with a penchant for asking pointed questions as his method of achieving conciliation and it took some time to persuade the League vice-president Sam Bolton, a formidable martinet from Leeds, to grant him a hearing before the management committee when he was pursuing his investigations, as Bolton was convinced he was a left-wing subversive.
The negotiating committee had a real baptism in attempting to introduce a new system of movement for players at the end of their contracts, but after years of debate the tribunal committee was set up in 1978 to assess the fee after hearing the case put by both clubs involved. Since then the committee has largely gone unnoticed, surprisingly so, since its remit covers everything to do with players' terms of employment. Harmony has only been threatened when disputes have broken out over the share of television money due to the players. The Premier League was assimilated on to the committee without undue heartache.
Even the Football Association eventually joined, although it was a long time before the fears of its chairman Sir Bert Millichip, a lawyer with right-wing views, could be assuaged. In the early days Millichip had been a thorn in the side of the freedom of contract negotiators as the chairman of West Bromwich Albion. Just as they were on the verge of a breakthrough the rebel West Midlands clubs, Wolves, Coventry and West Bromwich Albion, would pop up with yet another objection and it was back to the negotiating table.
The Premier League now counters Mawhinney's argument by pointing out that the transfer market has dropped because of a deteriorating financial situation in the game generally, while the PFA, though sympathetic, believes the League may be jeopardising many collective agreements.
A few years ago, when Uefa misguidedly tried to force the Premier League to slim down to 18 clubs by withdrawing the Uefa Cup place from the League Cup-winners, then then League chairman, David Sheepshanks, successfully forced them to listen. He threatened to complain to Brussels. Obviously, Mawhinney has to try a different route.Reuse content