It is a long-held personal view that testimonial matches for the current generation of fabulously rich footballers are at best an anachronism, at worst disgracefully greedy. In some respects they are like the modern-day wedding list. Allow me to explain.
The wedding list, once upon a time, was a way of setting up a young couple who were embarking on life together. A couple like my parents, for example, married at 21 without a stick of furniture or a serviceable kitchen utensil to their name. The next generation has tended to get married in their thirties by which time – after years of cohabitation – they have egg whisks and saucepan sets aplenty.
Those modern-day couples who attach lengthy wedding lists to their invites do not actually need all that stuff. Not in the way that the previous generation needed it. The current generation already own all the ephemera of wedding lists. They just want to upgrade their stuff. Which brings us to the issue of testimonials.
Like wedding lists in the old days, the gate receipts from a testimonial were given to the player in question to launch him in his new life. The tradition was established to thank a player for long service to one club, 10 years usually being the agreed minimum. It was billed as a chance for the fans to give thanks for the loyalty but, before the days of the six-figure weekly pay cheque, it also had a crucial financial aspect.
For those footballers of the sepia age that sum was crucial. For those playing now in the lower divisions of English football it still is. It went towards ex-players establishing themselves in a new career as they hit their early thirties and contemplated retirement. It was justified because life as a footballer demanded, as it does now, that education be set aside as a teenager to focus on success as a player.
Life could be uncertain for those players spat out of football in their early thirties. Sir Alex Ferguson was a landlord of two Glasgow pubs before becoming a manager. Sir Bobby Charlton established a travel agency. When injury forced Dave Whelan to retire he bought a sports shop in Wigan and turned it into the JJB Sports empire. In those days, like those in the lower leagues now, footballers needed some help to get them started.
I only mention this because it has emerged that John Terry has had the right to a testimonial, worth around £2.5m, written into his new contract at Chelsea. Something tells me, that on his current deal of £160,000 a week, Terry will not have to worry about pulling pints or restringing tennis rackets when his football career ends. The only explanation is that he must intend to give the takings from his testimonial to charity. Any alternative would be obscene.
I have no objection to footballers earning big money. They are the stars of a very profitable industry. But to ask the fans to pay their hard-earned for a testimonial match to provide a tax-free nest egg for a modern footballer whose nest is already wallpapered with £50 notes is immoral.
When Niall Quinn finished his career with a testimonial at Sunderland in 2002, he donated all the money to charity. This was a wonderful gesture but it should be the norm. Gary Neville could have claimed a testimonial at Manchester United long ago but has said that he does not want one. This is because Neville has the intelligence to realise that a testimonial is utterly inappropriate in the age of the multimillionaire footballer.
Testimonials were always an easy way of getting the fans to pay for something the clubs did not want to fork out for themselves. A tax loophole meant that the players could set up a testimonial committee which would be paid the money and, in turn, present it as a gift to the player, thus avoiding the attention of the Inland Revenue.
When Dennis Bergkamp left Arsenal in 2006, his testimonial – the first match played at the Emirates – paid for T-shirts for all the fans, gifts for staff and donations to three charities. Good on him. Whether there was any left over for Bergkamp to pocket is not a matter of public record. Even so, the principle of testimonials for wealthy footballers is still a bit like throwing a party and then asking everyone else to pay for it.
If famous, well-paid players like Terry want to celebrate 10 years' service at their club, then by all means invite high-profile opposition over for a friendly. But they should do so at their own expense, not at the expense of the supporters who pay to watch them every week anyway. Then we will see how many of these players want their big farewell.
Let us leave the testimonial for the men lower down the football pyramid, those for whom life after football – and making a living – really is a concern. The notion that testimonials are a right for those who have been so richly rewarded by the modern game deserves to be put away for ever in a figurative dusty cupboard, along with all those redundant egg poachers and toasted sandwich makers of wedding-list lore.
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