England's professional footballers were issued with strike notices last night, bringing the national game to the brink of industrial action for the first time in its history. The news came as Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, announced that talks between his union and the game's authorities over the distribution of television income had broken down.
"We feel we have been left with no alternative," Taylor said. "It is time to draw a mark in the sand. We need to protect the future of the PFA, indeed the meaningful existence of the PFA. The strike will affect all League games commencing 1 December that have cameras for live or recorded broadcast."
Given that every match in the Premiership and the Nationwide Leagues is covered by one television station or another, the strike will wipe out professional football from 1 December onwards. The PFA has said its members would play if cameras were not present but the likelihood of broadcasters staying away while the product they have paid billions for goes on unrecorded is unlikely.
The implications for football are stark. If a strike goes ahead, players could be pitted against their clubs in lengthy and bitter rows. There would also likely be a rapid meltdown in the relationships between the game and its paymasters. The broadcasters will not carry on paying for a product they do not have. The television deals would have be renegotiated steeply downwards, if not cancelled. The knock-on effect for the clubs who use that income to pay wages could be catastrophic.
There are still ways that a strike could be avoided. The authorities could increase their offer to the PFA. The union wants five per cent of the game's annual combined television income or some £36m a year to help towards its work for needy players. Those include players from the days before the boom in wages who are poor or suffering with their health, and youngsters who did not make the grade and need help to find a new career.
Under the old television deals, the union received £8.8m last year from the governing bodies combined. The authorities' latest offer is around £16.6m a year, equating to 2.31 per cent of annual television income. If the authorities paid five per cent, a strike would be avoided.
There could also be a successful legal action by the Premier League, which intends to take out a court injunction against the strike on behalf of all the authorities, arguing it is not lawful. The League claims the players are not in dispute with their employers (ie: the clubs), but with the authorities. The union will argue that the clubs, collectively, are the League.
"This is a last resort. Nobody wants to go on strike but the members said they would if they needed to," Taylor said. More than 99 per cent of players voted in favour of industrial action in a PFA ballot earlier this month.
The Premier League's chief executive, Richard Scudamore, who spent yesterday in talks with the PFA, said: "We are extremely disappointed that while continuing negotiations in good faith in the hope of finding a settlement the PFA decided to issue strike notices without our knowledge."Reuse content