The Professional Footballers' Association has been affronted by a Premier League audit of its books of account in the latest episode of an ongoing battle that has troubled football ever since television started covering the game regularly. Gordon Taylor, the PFA's chief executive, is again being forced to justify his union's total cut of TV fees of over £1bn. The Football League and Football Association are behind the Premier League.
Like many union general secretaries or chief officers, Taylor is often portrayed in the press as the leader and the current PFA chairman, Barry Horne, is the least likely of all the bosses Taylor has served to resent the publicity he has often commanded since succeeding the more reticent Cliff Lloyd in 1981.
Many's the time in the intervening 20 years that I had cause to rue Taylor's opportunism, thinking he should have been a striker rather than a winger, as he held the scribes in his thrall like hungry seagulls on Blackpool promenade.
They knew full well he would serve up some tasty morsels, while I would be struggling to rustle up something from the dry leftovers of a 92-man banquet. Taylor had learned his football negotiating trade well, for, when he came to the national negotiating table to face the football chiefs for the first time in the 1970s, he found himself sitting alongside the flamboyant Irishman, Derek Dougan, and Terry Venables. Any shrinking violet would very quickly have disappeared.
Not only did those negotiators have to resurrect a constitution that had fallen into disuse, but they also had somehow to reach an agreement on the so-called freedom of contract issue to replace the feudal system that still tied a player to his club after the conclusion of his contract. All this against the vestiges of a culture in which industrial relations specialists with years of solid experience were dismissed by the dinosaurs who clung to club power as ''T'bloody Government''.
Since then, of course, the football landscape has taken on an entirely different hue. The Premier League was formed, and, for a time, it seemed as if the negotiating chamber in Manchester had developed a severe case of subsidence, such were the chips on the shoulders of the Football League representatives, who were disinclined to agree or fund anything for a while. The Premier League sent new negotiators who were mustard keen to show off their hot-shot business skills. And the Football Association, who throughout history had never seemed entirely sure whether it was employer or not, was new to the party.
Little wonder that Taylor was frequently chided by the independent chairman for conducting a meeting within the meeting. "I'm just explaining," he would plead.
We have to go back to the days of the early floodlit friendly matches televised in the 1950s on BBC's Sportsview to find the origins of the present dispute. The matches, such as Wolves against the top Hungarian side, Honved, were presumably lucrative, and the manager of Arsenal, Tom Whittaker, wrote in 1958: ''Every time a TV match is staged, the players' union step in to demand bigger fees. I am all for them getting a fair crack over extra matches, but some of the union demands are out of all proportion to the revenue to be expected from such games.'' This from a former player who himself had struggled to secure decent compensation, after being compelled to retire with an injury suffered on FA service.
When television became a regular feature, the Football League agreed to pay the PFA a percentage, provided the money was used for benevolent, insurance or educational purposes. Taylor and his cohorts have spent the money on schemes to benefit players in need, particularly young, old and infirm, on community and anti-racism programmes and, moreover, on firefighting to keep crisis-hit clubs afloat by paying wages.
The percentage was reduced as the PFA was prevailed upon to help keep the clubs together. Once, Taylor was summoned to a League management committee meeting in Plymouth and drove from his home in Lancashire to arrive shortly before midnight. The resulting deal gave the Football League its final four years in pre-Premier mode.
Even though the percentage went down, the money to the PFA in real terms continued to increase, and Gordon, for once, has a presentation problem. With top players' money widely perceived as obscene, the chairmen who commit most of their turnover to players' wages profess themselves offended at the PFA's purchase of the Lowry painting ''Going to the Match'' for £2m.
It looks as if Gordon might still have a bit of explaining to do, but the club chairmen do not have a long track record for employee care and would do well to remember that he is no matchstalk man.Reuse content