The Premier League and the Football League issued legal proceedings against the Professional Footballers' Association last night, seeking a court injunction against the planned players' strike.
An initial High Court hearing may go ahead as early as this morning, when the judge is likely to set a date for a full-day hearing, likely to be early next week. The legal teams from each side will then put their cases and the judge will decide whether a strike is lawful.
If the leagues win, the PFA will effectively have been neutered and may find it difficult to extract any large amount of money from the authorities. If the PFA wins, the leagues will have little choice but to give the union whatever it wants or face a shutdown of the national game.
As the PFA dismissed claims yesterday that support for a strike was waning, David James became the first footballer in the country to admit he had voted against industrial action. "There is no need for a strike. I just hope it doesn't go ahead," said the West Ham and England goalkeeper, one of only 22 players who voted against the PFA in the strike ballot. "The problem from day one was that the players had not had a full outline of the facts. I think it could have been dealt with a lot better."
James added that the Premier League was at fault for misunderstandings over the issues among players. "The PFA came in and gave their view and the Premier League haven't done so until now," James said. On Wednesday the Premier League confirmed it had offered the PFA £50m over three years. "If the players had been given both sides of the story it might have been different," James added.
The PFA has been seeking five per cent of the game's television income, or £36m per year, but will settle for £27m. The union says it needs the money to secure the future of its work helping young, retired or struggling players.
Gordon Taylor, the PFA's chief executive, rejected claims that players are reconsidering strike action. A number of Premiership players are reported to have said that they now favour a second ballot.
"It's all propaganda," Taylor said. "We have the backing of our members and we cannot hold a new ballot every time the Premier League come back with another £100,000 or so. This could drag on or it could be sorted out in five minutes. All they have to do is come back to us with a fair offer."
Taylor received public support from numerous players. Typical was the resigned view of Gary Neville, the Manchester United and England defender who is also his club's PFA rep. "No professional footballer wants to strike, but you have to stand up for what you think is right," he said.Reuse content