Greed a blight on the future

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The Independent Online
AFTER a lifetime in the dream-world of children's games, I have been hit in the eye by a truth and don't know how to face up to it.

The truth is that it is the exception these days to come across a major story about sport that does not demonstrate in striking fashion the evils of coddling hired hands. Clearly, they are getting more than they are worth out there.

It is anybody's guess how long this has been going on and when the paymasters will come to their senses, but not much hope can be held out for the future of sport unless it seriously addresses the issue of greed.

Take, for example, the case of Neil Ruddock, whose pounds 2.5m transfer from Tottenham Hotspur to Liverpool faltered over the payment of a loyalty bonus. Allegiance is not what you associate with a transfer request, and yet Ruddock argued that he was entitled to pounds 50,000 for each of the three years of his contract, even though he had only served one year.

The Tottenham chairman, Alan Sugar, obviously found this difficult to comprehend the other night when appearing on television. Being healthy, wealthy and commercially wise does not necessarily prepare a man for the complexities of modern sport. 'There appears to be a hitch,' he said when asked if the deal had gone through. 'I'm not absolutely sure what the problem is.'

The Tottenham manager, Osvaldo Ardiles, understood all too well. 'Ruddock asked for pounds 150,000 - pounds 50,000 for now, pounds 50,000 for next season and pounds 50,000 for the following season. He asked for a transfer, then wants to be paid for the three years] That's unbelievable.'

In attempting to work up a little creative thought about this, I am obliged to recall a time, not that long ago, when the great majority of sports performers, especially if they were employed in the Football League, were criminally underpaid. Then it was fashionable and just to campaign vigorously against such anomalies as the League's iniquitous pounds 20 per week maximum wage.

Nobody imagined an era of grasping agents, sport symbolised by the outstretched palm. Reporters relying more on cheque-books than notebooks. Management figures flouting a principle of the European PGA Tour to squeeze out appearance money for millionaire golfers.

Recently I came across the case of a handsomely rewarded footballer who pronounced himself unfit to represent his country in a friendly fixture. Taking his responsibility seriously, the manager sent him home. 'Do I get a match fee?' he asked before leaving. It would be unnecessarily crude to repeat the manager's response.

These days there are numerous stories like that in sport. Not how well but how much? Turning up late for lunch, a manager in the Premier League excused himself by saying that he had been in deep discussion with two players whose contracts were due for renewal. 'They've both got a pounds 50,000-a-year rise,' he said. They are reasonable players but not remotely in the highest class. 'I suppose that puts them on about pounds 300,000 a year,' I ventured. 'And more,' came the reply.

In view of the revenue now pouring into sport from television, this would be no bad thing if the sense of values were not so screwed up. And we are entitled to ask how it got this way.

It cannot be imagined that Ruddock and his advisers are inclined to take history into account, but it used to be a very different sporting world.

In 1938 my father's brother, Bryn Jones, was transferred from Wolverhampton Wanderers to Arsenal for pounds 14,000, a world record fee. Under League rules he was entitled to a pounds 10 signing-on fee, the maximum wage of pounds 12 per week, bonuses of pounds 2 for a win, pounds 1 a draw and an accrued share of a pounds 750 five-year benefit.

An intensely shy man, he nevertheless ventured to ask if there was any inducement to sign. Upon hearing this, Arsenal's manager, the autocratic George Allison, summoned a witness in whose presence he threatened to put Bryn out of the game. As Bryn meekly applied a signature to the contract, Allison noticed nicotine stains on his fingers. 'And another thing,' he growled. 'You can give up smoking.'

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