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during the 1900 to 1901 season football players in england earned an average of seven pounds per week different clubs had adjusted to the professional era at different speeds and as wages accelerated beyond the national average an appetite for restricting player earnings had started to grow in 1893 concerned by those rising costs and the threat to the club’s income derby county among others had lobbied the football league in support of a maximum wage it would take nearly another decade but they would get their wish in 1901 after a football association annual general meeting a four pound weekly cap was placed on the earnings of any footballer playing in the football league the aim was to protect the owners but also to discourage players from moving clubs and migrating towards the richer sides the practice of paying match bonuses was also ended replaced instead by a benefit payment or testimonial due to players after five years service and it was a change the players were willing to fight in 1898 they’d made their first attempt at unionizing forming the association footballers union three years later however and despite being able to boast 250 members at its height the union dissolved having failed to gain any traction with either the fa or the football league in the winter of 1907 instructed by not only the limits on their earnings but also their working conditions and lack of insurance they tried again at a meeting organized and chaired by billy meredith the manchester united and wales outside forward a new organization was birthed the association of football players and trainers union it began over half a century of antagonism and appeasement with the maximum wage proving a familiar battleground in 1919 after the first world war it was set at 10 pounds per week in 1920 it fell back to nine pounds and in 24 it receded further to eight pounds in the 1950s alone it was set and reset on four different occasions the 14 pounds in 1951 15 and 53 17 and 57 and 20 in 58.

the regularity of the skirmishes characterized the contentiousness of the issue but also the growing militancy of the union and its members but the maximum wage was not the only issue of the time the retain and transfer system remained in effect and under that system the balance of power lay solely with the club they owned the registration of a player even beyond the end of his contract if he rejected a new contract then quite unlike today the player was not then free to move and crucially neither was the club obliged to pay him they also possessed the right to sell him at any point if the player didn’t agree to that transfer then again they didn’t have to pay him in 1956 a 28 year old jimmy hill who was still playing for fulham was elected as president of the players union shortly thereafter re-christened as the pfa and it was with those twin grievances that he went to battle we were able to turn the arguments from being about money to being about principles remembered hill in his autobiography the first was the freedom to earn as much as an employer was prepared to pay and the second was the freedom to leave an employer at the end of a contract between december 1959 and november 1960 hill described the pfa staggering from one fruitless meeting to another with the football league in february 1960 the dispute was referred to the ministry of labour by the end of the year after an extraordinary general meeting of the football league on the 8th of november hill recalled the players being enraged by the lack of progress on either front and by the league’s failure to offer even a placating solution in response he orchestrated a publicity campaign later that month the players gathered at three separate meetings in london birmingham and manchester to show their support for the union and the cause on the radio on the television and in the written press many players also pled their case to the public among them high-profile figures like bobby robson bobby charlton johnny haynes and jimmy grieves the league returned with an offer but it was derisory on the issue of the maximum wage it would allow an increase up to 30 pounds a week but slyly that was only accessible via two pound annual increases if a player remained with his club if he were to transfer he would drop back to the 20 pounds limit to hill it was a spin an empty gesture on the evening of the 9th of december after the football league had announced their offer hill invited members of the media to a fleet street pub where he outlined why his members would be rejecting it and four days later on the 13th of december 1960 the pfa and its members gave one month notice of their intention to strike beginning one of the strangest weeks in the history of british football initially the football league was outraged with its chairman joe richards no doubt playing to the public galleries admonishing the players for their militancy strikers he said will render a grave disservice to the game and will probably put out of employment large numbers of professional footballers fearing an impasse the pfa plotted ways to protect the players with the football league threatening to replace them with stand-ins games against celebrities and television personalities were explored as fundraising measures the association also urged players to contact local businessmen and find temporary work opportunities but at the end of the week the motion to strike was still carried 694 players voted for with only 18 standing against the week before christmas partly in response to the player’s conviction in their cause sentiment began to change even among several chairmen too including burnley’s bob lorde under pressure the football league began to wilt they conceded on the issue of the maximum wage agreeing to its abolition but stood firm on the transfer system the players rejected the compromise three to one alan hardacre the football league secretary was bullish this is our final offer we shall budge no more hardaker announced i’m not budging on the issue of the transfer system which will remain as long as there is a league competition in this country joe richards was even more dismissive i’ve told the player this was the last word we shall not go to arbitration and if there is a strike we shall carry on the league as best we can but despite its strong rhetoric the football league was being boxed into a corner and the strike was still on the league’s threat of using amateur players was quickly challenged the chairman of the trade union commission under whose banner so many supporters fell implored its members to support the impending strike and to boycott any games featuring replacement players the pfa also discussed staging their own games using adapted team names and makeshift pictures but ultimately there would be no need on the 18th of january 1961 in a meeting lasting four hours an agreement was found alan hardaker remained good to his word the league would renege on the agreement pertaining to retain and transfer and it would take another two years and a court case to force that transfer reform but the maximum wage was at an end the union had prevailed in the years prior fulham’s eccentric owner tommy trinder a famous television entertainer is believed to have jokingly rebuffed the contract requests of his staff forward johnny haynes were he allowed trinder is supposed to have claimed then he’d happily pay the england international five times the maximum wage but he too was good to his word in january 1961 johnny haynes got his new contract and became england’s first 100 pounds per week footballer the new era had begun

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