How money took over footballÃ¢ÂÂ¦ in 1879
No turnstiles, no tickets, no huge wage demands. Late 19th-century football was a serene placeÃ¢ÂÂ¦ until money came along and turned it into the monster we love and loathe today.
The first recorded outbreak of Ã¢ÂÂprofessionalismÃ¢ÂÂ occurred in Lancashire when Darwen employed two Scots, Fergie Suter and James Love, in 1879. Though it caused a minor scandal, players had been secretly paid Ã¢ÂÂ in cash, fish, beer, whatever Ã¢ÂÂ for years. In 1885, professionalism was legalised and in 1901 a ÃÂ£4-a-week wage limit introduced.
The FA tried to cling to amateur ideals, but in 1905 Middlesbrough broke the bank, buying SunderlandÃ¢ÂÂs Alf Common for a record ÃÂ£1,000. Boro had been languishing near the relegation places in Division One, but with Common on board, they leapt up to mid-table anonymity and languished there for a bit. Who said you canÃ¢ÂÂt buy success?
In January 1908, the FAÃ¢ÂÂset a transfer fee limit of ÃÂ£350. But even then, clubs could outmuscle the FA:Ã¢ÂÂby April, the new law had been withdrawn.
By 1922 the maximum wage had grown to ÃÂ£8 a week (ÃÂ£6 in the summer), and clubs also gave a loyalty bonus of ÃÂ£650 after five years. The money no longer came from the club owners either Ã¢ÂÂ since Small Heath (Birmingham City) set the trend in 1888, clubs had been turning themselves into limited companies and directors saw football as a money-spinning pension plan.
The first ÃÂ£10,000 transfer came in 1928 when Arsenal bought David Jack from Bolton (none of the money going to the player or his agent), but by the time Jimmy Guthrie took over as chairman of the PlayersÃ¢ÂÂ Union in 1947, the maximum wage was still only ÃÂ£12 a week (ÃÂ£10 in the summer).
David Jack: Cost a bob or two, but not in wages
While his namesake, folk singer Woody Guthrie, sang at the time, Ã¢ÂÂYour pastures of plenty must always be free,Ã¢ÂÂ Jimmy was determined to get a better deal for players. Guthrie wanted not only to provide health care, insurance, legal advice and pensions for players, but to turn the idea of wages and contracts on its head. Unfortunately many of the players thought he was an untrustworthy Ã¢ÂÂleftieÃ¢ÂÂ and Guthrie made little ground.
The same year, Notts County bought England striker Tommy Lawton for a groundbreaking ÃÂ£20,000. County were in Division Three but the maximum wage gave all clubs roughly the same pulling power. True, higher crowds meant there was an income differential between clubs in Division One and Division Three, but in 1950 it was just 2:1. By 1995 it was 10:1 and rising.
Where Guthrie had stalled, Jimmy Hill triumphed in 1961. As the PFAÃ¢ÂÂs new chairman, Hill championed the case of George Eastham, who challenged Newcastle UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs right to refuse him a transfer even though his contract had expired.
The retain-and-transfer system had long shackled players to clubs, but after a costly court battle, Hill released Eastham and opened the door to market forces. How could Hill have predicted that 40 years later there would be complaints that playersÃ¢ÂÂ wages were so high that a salary cap should be re-introduced?
No sooner had the maximum wage been abolished than Fulham handed their superstar Johnny Haynes ÃÂ£100 a week. By 1964 Manchester UnitedÃ¢ÂÂs Denis Law was the best-paid player in the UK. As the booze-fuelled Ã¢ÂÂ70s arrived, commercial sponsorship grew alongside the profile of footballÃ¢ÂÂs new superstars. Previously, footballers had earned the same as Ã¢ÂÂnormalÃ¢ÂÂ people, now they had cash to splash.
Keegan: Ooh, yer brut(e)
In 1978, Liverpool became the first British club to have a shirt sponsor (by the early-Ã¢ÂÂ80s it was commonplace) and the same year Gordon McQueen became the first ÃÂ£500,000 player when he moved from Leeds to Manchester United.
That record was doubled the following year when Trevor Francis joined Nottingham Forest, but it was 1988 before the first ÃÂ£2m transfer with Paul GascoigneÃ¢ÂÂs switch from Newcastle to Spurs.
Then came the Bosman ruling of 1995, allowing out-of-contract players and their shadowy representatives to negotiate higher and higher wages as a transfer fee between clubs was no longer required.
Before Bosman, the wages to turnover ratio at Premiership clubs was a reasonable 47 percent. Five years after Bosman it was 63 percent Ã¢ÂÂ perilously close to a critical level. Spending shot up by 50 percent in the same time, as clubs went for broke in an attempt to live the dream.
In 1995, Dennis Bergkamp was the best-paid player in the country, having just joined Arsenal from Inter for ÃÂ£7.5m, but his salary would soon be eclipsed as the so-called Ã¢ÂÂforeign invasionÃ¢ÂÂ gathered pace.
In 1999, for the first time, more was spent on foreign stars than homegrown players Ã¢ÂÂ ÃÂ£182m compared to ÃÂ£158.2m. That season also saw BritainÃ¢ÂÂs first high-profile Bosman departure as Steve McManaman left Liverpool for Real Madrid for free.
Just as transfer fees rocketed between 1994 (Chris Sutton ÃÂ£5m, Norwich to Blackburn) to 1996 (Alan Shearer ÃÂ£15m, Blackburn to Newcastle) and on to 2002 (Rio Ferdinand ÃÂ£30m, Leeds to Man United), so wages went through the roof.
In 2000, Roy Keane became the countryÃ¢ÂÂs leading earner with a new ÃÂ£52,000-a-week contract. Ex-Wales and Man United midfielder Mickey Thomas, jailed for making fake money, made light of it: Ã¢ÂÂSo Keane is on 50 grand a week? So was I until the police found my printing machine!Ã¢ÂÂ
At the time, ÃÂ£52,000 a week seemed ridiculous. These days pretty average Premier Leaguers can be pulling that much in while the top players have long since crossed the ÃÂ£100k-a-week barrier.
Recession? The 19 players in FourFourTwopÃ¢ÂÂs Football Rich List 2009 probably think thatÃ¢ÂÂs a nightclub.
For the full Rich List, see FourFourTwo magazine, out now. If quoting, credit FourFourTwo magazine and link to FourFourTwo.com.
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