Players' union reduces demand to £27m

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The Independent Football

The Professional Footballers' Association will accept £27m per year of the game's television income to withdraw its strike threat, but the dispute with the game's authorities still seems destined for a bitter court battle.

Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the Premier League, yesterday confirmed publicly for the first time that the League, the Football League and the Football Association have made a final offer to the PFA of £16.7m a year for three years towards its work. "Fifty million pounds is a staggering sum of money in anyone's language," David Burns, the chief executive of the Football League, said.

Gordon Taylor, the PFA's chief executive, who has been seeking five per cent of the game's annual television income, or £36m a year, begged to differ. "The total money the football bodies are getting is £2,160m over three years," he said.

"The money they've offered us is just that little bit at the end and the gap to be bridged now in relative terms is minor. It's loose change to them, but to us it's a big item. It's a big principle." Taylor has admitted that the PFA will lower its demands to accept £27m a year, but no less.

"What we need to do is negotiate a settlement," Scudamore said. "A strike is not going to get us there. We are prepared to stay with negotiations because we must get a settlement to this matter."

Taylor suggested there was nothing left to discuss. "I've lost track of the thousands of hours over 17 months that we've had a chance to discuss this," he said. "It's their fault, and their fault alone we're in this position. We've not been difficult to deal with. You look at our agreements, we honour them. It's them not honouring theirs."

More than 99 per cent of the country's players who voted favoured strike action. On Tuesday evening the PFA, after saying that talks had broken down, issued strike notices. A strike can only be avoided now by a settlement or a High Court injunction.

If it goes ahead, the strike will start on 1 December with Manchester United's midday game against Chelsea, schedule to be live on Sky. Football could face a total shutdown thereafter. Although Taylor has said matches will go ahead if there are no cameras present, the football authorities said yesterday that cameras would still be present at all matches.

"The mood of chairmen now is that enough is enough. We have been ridiculed, insulted and slagged off by Gordon Taylor," Ken Bates, Chelsea's chairman, said last night, adding that the League was preparing for an injunction. "Gordon Taylor just smears, alleges and blackens people's character. That talk of five per cent is a load of rubbish. He keeps saying 'we've got a contractual obligation' and we say 'show us the contract' and he hasn't got it. It's all verbiage."

Scudamore added that the League is willing to offer a long-term deal of six to 10 years to show its goodwill. Taylor, whose full "wish list" of PFA spending, detailed inside today's newspaper, would cost £57m a year to fund, is unlikely to be impressed.

With no resolution in sight, it seems only a matter of time before Scudamore tries to gain an injunction against the strike. He stopped short of announcing imminent legal action yesterday, no doubt aware that a legal battle could have devastating consequences for the game.