Thursday, 20 January 2011

The Maximum Wage 50 Years Ago This Week

If I was to ask you what was one of the most single important things that happened in football 50 years ago this week would you be able to tell me? Not many of you I bet. The event I'm about to talk about changed the way that footballers were seen and thought of in this country forever and would set in motion events that we see today. This week 50 years ago the minimum wage was abolished in this country. That's right back in the day footballers had a wage cap. Sound strange? Who was responsible for this ground breaking effort? Step forward Jimmy Hill.

Now more famous for his chin Jimmy Hill was a professional footballer back in the day and a good one at that. A playing career that spanned 12 years he only ever played for two clubs, Brentford 1949-1952 where he made 83 appearances and scored 10 goals and then onto Fulham where he played 276 games scoring 41 goals. It wasn't until 1957 whilst still playing for Fulham that he became chairman of the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) ans set in motion a series of events that the modern footballer should still be grateful for to this day.

At the time the maximum wage was £20 no more. The clubs could control the contracts of players even when they were out of contract and you only left a club if they said you did. None of this handing in a transfer request because they changed the soap in the shower, you did as you were told. Players were much closer to the people that watched the game back then. They worked part-time jobs too supplement their wages and were much closer to the fans that watched them every week. They travelled on the same buses as them, they drank in the same pubs as them, in some cases they even lived on the same street as them. Imagine you call the gas man and Wayne Rooney turns up at the door too fix it, you walk into your local and there is Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane drinking in the pub or your neighbour is Sammi Nasri, this was the scale of what the players of the time did and the way they lived their lives. It seems an absolute world away and to a certain degree it is. Players were treated no better than slaves to be honest. They didn't dare argue and did as they were told. Can you imagine some of the Premier League players doing that? No me neither.

Jimmy Hill had his supporters for change, Brain Clough a young prolific centre forward for Sunderland who's career was cruelly cut short by injury and Bobby Robson an up and coming defender with Fulham, being some of the more famous ones, although not everyone agreed with him. The Chairman didn't want a change obviously thy liked it the way it was. The players wanted change, understandably who would want to work in this way, and after threatening to go on strike  they got their wish  of a ballot and the first £100 a week player was born the great Johnny Haynes.

Personally I don't think Jimmy Hill gets the credit he deserves for the way that he changed the game in this country. Players nowadays don't get out of bed for less than £100,000 a week but they need to realise what their forefathers went through to get them into the position they are in today. Yes it is a short career, it can be ended with a badly timed tackle at anytime, the riches they have now are beyond the wildest dreams of most of the fans that watch them play week in week out. I'm not going to tar them all with the same brush because I know a lot of them aren't the drunken, disrespectful idiots that fall out of night clubs with some orange bird on their arm, but I wish just sometimes they would think back to what they owe Jimmy Hill and his kind and the way that they took a fight on that no one thought they could win.

Jimmy Hill went on to be manager of Coventry City where he won the old Third Division title in 1963-64 and the old Second Division title in 1966-67. He changed many things at the club, the kit for a start to sky blue and introduced the modern day match programme that we all read on a Saturday at whatever club we go and watch. He left the season Coventry went into the top flight and started a successful broadcasting career where I remember watching him as a child growing up.

Jimmy Hill did what he did because he knew it was wrong and the Chairmen knew it. It took a brave man to step forward and change the game for the better for the players of the day. To give them a better standard of living, to change things for the better for them not him. The way football has changed with its agents and such like, players have lost touch with the fans who pay their wages. If only for a little while this week I hope they stop and think about Jimmy Hill and the way he went about changing the game for THEM. For that I hope they are grateful, they damn well should be.

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