Covid-19, and the measures put in place to halt its spread, has led to uncertainty across all of society, not least of all in professional football.
And although the attention paid to the beautiful game at this moment should pale in comparison to other areas which are far more important to society and, I’m sure, do not need to be named, the extent to which football is culturally embedded in this country and the astronomic salaries of its players – especially in comparison to key workers – has meant that it has remained at the forefront.
Criticism of players for not yet taking wage cuts has been widespread and has even reached Government, with Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, and Nigel Huddleston, sports minister, calling yesterday for Premier League footballers to take pay cuts and thereby insinuating that their failure to do so thus far is borne out of greed.
Criticism has also been levelled at the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), a union which represents all footballers in England’s top four divisions, which has thus far failed to reach an agreement with the Premier League and the Football League over wage cuts or deferrals.
Yet the PFA is pushing for an agreement which will cover all of its members, many of whom at League One and League Two do not earn vast amounts more than the median national wage, and which will likely be a percentage-based wage deferral scheme whereby players take temporary pay cuts until football resumes.
It is difficult to agree with their rationale. After all, they are a union, and their members have contracts.
And it is not exactly like footballers are unwilling to reach into their pockets, either. No footballer has refused to contribute in some way. Jordan Henderson, captain of Liverpool, is co-ordinating a charitable fund for Premier League players to donate to, something which will directly benefit the fight against Covid-19.
It is not unwarranted for players to desire control of where their money goes, and to ensure that it is spent as wisely as possible.
Moreover, a permanent pay cut would serve only to benefit club owners, all of whom are far wealthier than individual footballers. There is no guarantee that any savings made by clubs will be used to continue paying non-playing staff, especially when several billionaire owners have already made unscrupulous money-saving moves at the expense of wage-insecure non-playing staff. Players at Leeds United and Birmingham City have agreed deferrals with their clubs.
Joe Lewis, worth upwards of £4bn, has furloughed all non-playing staff at Tottenham Hotspur. They will receive 80 per cent of their regular wages from the taxpayer, with the club refusing the pay the remaining 20 per cent.
Mike Ashley, worth £1.9bn, has done the same at Newcastle United, whilst Delia Smith and Michael Wynn-Jones at Norwich City and Steve Gibson of Middlesbrough, have been infinitely generous in paying their non-playing staff the 20 per cent not covered by the general public.
Given the wealth of the individual owners and the viability of player wage deferrals, these moves are obscene.
It is therefore laughable for Government and public opinion to rail against footballers – who are making active efforts to contribute in an effective, fair and dignified manner – and not the club owners who hold the real power and the real wealth.
It is deplorable to do so when non-footballing millionaires and billionaires escape the same criticism, in both ferocity and origin.
Image: Daniel via Flickr and Creative Commons