Why we are prepared to go on strike

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The Independent Online
Today the Management Committee of the Professional Footballers' Association will decide to ballot our First, Second and Third Division members on industrial action. Following the recent decision by the Football League to renege on the agreement that 10 per cent of all TV money received should be paid to the PFA, we are left with no alternative. We feel this money is legally and morally ours.

In 1956 the players voted against taking part in televised games unless they were paid. Understandable, in that most performers appearing on TV are usually paid some sort of fee. By 1967 it was agreed that a figure of 10 per cent should be paid to the PFA. This was to be used strictly for benevolent, insurance and educational purposes and not to fill the union's own coffers. This seemed and still seems to me to be a sensible, sensitive and socially acceptable use of the money and anything but greed.

How often have you heard people bemoaning the fact that average players these days seem to earn very good money, while the stars of 30, 40 or even 50 years ago, made very little, with some of them now struggling to make ends meet? Well, many of those old players, who gave years of their lives and often their long-term physical well-being to the sport, are being helped out from the PFA's Benevolent Fund. I wonder which other footballing organisation would help these men (some of whom are household names still) and their dependents?

The PFA ploughed pounds 500,000 from its Accident Fund last year back into the clubs through insurance premiums. The same fund provided nearly pounds 170,000 for medical equipment for clubs. More than pounds 80,000 was also given out in medical fees and grants. There are countless good examples here. I have a friend who was one of England's finest goalkeepers but who suffered from a life-threatening heart condition. Treatment would have meant financial ruin, but after intervention from the PFA he was able to access our funds. He now enjoys good health, remains financially secure and is putting his knowledge back into the game through coaching. Who else in the game could, or would, have done this?

Last year alone saw the PFA's Education Fund donate pounds 500,000 to football's Community Programme. Set up in the wake of Bradford, Heysel and Hillsborough, its brief was to make sure clubs became part of their community and that they give something back to it. It has been astoundingly successful, blossoming from six schemes a decade ago to 94 today. Our Education Fund has also paid back nearly pounds 500,000 to the clubs, by subsidising travelling expenses for their Youth Trainees.

The same fund paid almost pounds 100,000 to the Footballers Further Education and Vocational Training Society (FFE&VTS). This helps current and former players take courses to enhance their job prospects after their short career in football is over. It should be remembered that the vast majority of those who set off on the ladder to football stardom do not make it past the first rung. They may then have missed their best chance of getting to college or university. Of those who do make a living out of the game,very few make enough money to set them up for life. Washed up 35-year-old ex- footballers with no qualifications stand little or no chance in the current ultra competitive, job market. Large numbers of players are also forced to retire prematurely through injury. As before, it is the PFA who feel that the game has an obligation to help with their re-education.

On top of all this, in 1988 the PFA agreed to take only five per cent instead of the 10 per cent of TV money. This allowed a formula to be agreed that stopped the break-up of the Football League. In 1992 the PFA agreed to defer the payments to help the Football League out of another predicament. We have also recently paid part of the Football League's share of money owed to the FFE&VTS, not to mention the fact that we regularly give large sums of money to their member clubs to help them through "cash-flow" problems.

After all the PFA's goodwill, we have been rewarded with this shabby treatment from a League whose television income has increased by more than 150 per cent. In changing their position so fundamentally, they have shown scant regard for the Professional Footballers' Negotiating and Consultative Committee (PFNCC). No major rule changes should be made before there has been full discussion with this group. Respect for the PFNCC and its rules has ensured good industrial relations in the game since 1978, largely because it consists of representatives from each of English football's governing bodies.

Not surprisingly, Gordon Taylor, our chief executive, feels that the withholding of "our" 10 per cent is the thin end of a wedge. There are many other areas the League could disregard if we capitulate. We must remain strong. I also hope that the League are not simply stalking horses for a bigger attack from the Premier League. If this were so then it is even more important that we stand firm.

In 1992, when we balloted our members from the top league regarding a strike, I was amazed that well over 90 per cent backed the union. The Electoral Reform Society, who carried out the ballot, seemed similarly shocked, suggesting it was the biggest backing for a strike call they had ever witnessed. If we can get anywhere near the same this time, then I am sure the Football League will see sense.

One suggestion I have heard is that the "players' union is getting too rich and too powerful". If it is, then for once it's good to see an organisation use its wealth and power so sensibly and benevolently. Just when the Football League is set to grow so much because of the financial input from Sky, they have decided now is the time to risk everything and court industrial action. Someone ought to mention to them that football folk are the last people who should be shooting themselves in the foot.

Pat Nevin plays for Tranmere Rovers and Scotland