What if…the Professional Footballers’ Association had not been founded?

On Thursday 15 May, the PHM will explore alternative histories for Museums at Night. Join our hypothetical tour guides as they weave tall tales and ask you to imagine infinite possibilities of what might have been. In a series of blog posts before the event we’ll be featuring questions so you can swot up on your hypothetical history and add your own alternatives. On the night we’ll subvert our timeline with your suggestions. In this blog, Learning Officer Lisa Gillen asks What if…the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) had not been founded in 1907 in the Imperial Hotel, Manchester?

Time Off display at People's History Museum© zedphotoIn the Time off? displays in our Main Galleries we look at how people campaigned for shorter working hours and once time off had been won, how did people spend that time? The 1850 Factory Act declared all work to be finished at 2pm on Saturdays, allowing workers to enjoy a Saturday afternoon of leisure. As a result of this football clubs enjoyed a huge increase in popularity. People found playing football and going to the match for the 3pm kickoff a popular way to spend Saturday afternoons.

Football clubs became wealthier as attendances increased. Players started to be paid professionally, although the wages for the majority of players were low, with many continuing to hold down other jobs.

Professional players had little freedom to move to another club for better wages due to the‘retain and transfer’ system, introduced in 1893. The introduction of a maximum wage cap further restricted the amount that players could earn. Players sought to challenge these restrictions and to negotiate improved rights and working conditions for themselves and their teammates.

In October 1893 Billy Rose, goalkeeper for Preston North End, Stoke and England was first man to propose a player’s union. In 1898 the Association Footballers’ Union (AFU) was formed, although its lack of success led to it being dissolved in 1901.

On the 2 December 1907 at the Imperial Hotel, Manchester, the PFA was formed. At that time it was called the Association of Football Players’ and Trainers’ Union (the AFPTU) and was commonly referred to at the time as the Players’ Union. Among those present were seven Manchester United players, Charlie Roberts and Billy Meredith (who had been involved in the AFU), two Manchester City players, plus representatives from Newcastle United, Bradford City, West Bromwich Albion, Notts County, Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur. Like the AFU before it, the Players’ Union intended to assert their members rights and challenge the maximum wage and the restriction on transfers.

Outcasts FC @ People's History MuseumAn early struggle occurred shortly after the union was formed. The Football Association banned players affiliated with the the union, and membership fell. However Manchester United players refused to relinquish their membership. They became known as ‘The Outcasts FC’, and helped to sustain the union in its turbulent early years.

The PFA’s work to challenge restraints on players continued over the next 50 years; the maximum wage cap was scrapped in 1961 and the restriction on transfers was lifted in 1963. Today, players receive huge wages and enjoy freedom of movement within a transfer market.

Though, what if the PFA had not had been formed in 1907…..

Would the Football Association still be able to control and regulate the movement of players and the amount they are paid? Would this have, over time, led to a decline in quality of the game? Would Manchester United and Manchester City be so successful if restrictions were still imposed on the players they could buy and sell, and the wages they could pay? If the football clubs were not so successful, what would this mean for the city of Manchester?

If the maximum wage was not abolished in 1961 would this have changed the nature of premier league football today, where premiership players receive huge wages?

If clubs did not pay out such huge wages, would they reduce tickets costs, therefore making games be more affordable for fans to attend?

Or, if the maximum wage had not be abolished, would this have limited access to the sport for players on low incomes? Would a cap on wages mean that it would have become an elitist sport, where only players from wealthier backgrounds would be able to have a career?

If players remained on low wages would that have meant they would have had to continue to work during their sporting career? Players such as Bill Meredith had to do this, continuing to work as a miner whilst playing professional football.

Would this in turn have been a positive action for the sport, helping to maintain roots within local communities? Gaelic football remains an amateur sport In Ireland; players, coaches and managers are not paid and players continue to work in other jobs within the community. It is the most popular sport in Ireland.

What if Outcasts FC had decided to give up union membership in 1909? Would the PFA have survived? What effect would this have had on the history of the football league in England and Wales? Would the PFA have become as strong?

Join us next Thursday and discuss these and many more questions

What do you think? Add your answers below or come and discuss at our Museums at Night: What if…? event on Thursday 15 May, 5.00pm – 8.00pm


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