Players warned strike will close clubs

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The Independent Online
Exeter City, one of the small clubs struggling for financial survival, have claimed that a players' strike in the Nationwide League called by the Professional Footballers' Association could mean the end of the road for a number of their kind.

Stuart Dawe, Exeter's football director, said yesterday: "It's all very well talking about the PFA getting more money to redistribute, but what if the poorer clubs are forced to the wall by a strike?

"If we folded, there would be no club to pay the players' wages. We had a big scare last year and nearly went out of business. This is the last thing we need just now, when it looks as though we are beginning to get back on our feet.

"There will always be greedy people, but what about the ones who aren't? The ones who are struggling to keep football alive in the outposts?

"If the clubs did have to fold, where would the PFA find clubs to employ their members?"

Dawe's claim came as players throughout the Football League's three divisions were being warned against strike action. The PFA has said it will ballot members on whether to strike in response to the Football League's decision to abandon paying the players' union a 10 per cent levy from television screening rights.

While the players are expected to back strike action, League assistant secretary Andy Williamson described any such vote as "an act of blind faith".

"If the PFA are allowed to ballot their members it would be naive of us to think that they will do anything other than support the union's call for strike action as an act of faith," Williamson said.

"But it would be an act of blind faith because the Football League clubs' financial situation is a precarious one and they are the people who pay the players' wages - not the PFA." League officials are confident, meanwhile, that they will secure a High Court injunction to prevent the players' ballot.

"You can only strike if it affects the terms of employment of individuals and, clearly, this dispute does not," Williamson said. "The dispute is about funding the union, which is a different thing.

"Our contribution from the TV money over the years has been for three specific purposes: benevolent grants for footballers who have fallen on hard times; towards education grants for the life after football; and for insurance arrangements when players have to give up football early due to injury.

"The PFA is not allowed to use the cash for anything else but, as at June 1995, they had accumulated pounds 8.2m. What we've said to them is, 'If you can show us that you need more money for those specified purposes, then our contribution would increase.' But there is no indication that they need more."

League and PFA officials are due to meet on 23 August, but Williamson is not optimistic. "The PFA seem intent on raising the temperature of this argument. We're likely to get attitudes hardening."