On the 18th January 1961 England saw the abolishment of the professional footballers salary cap.
……. What ……. You never knew it existed? Well not many do, whether they follow the ‘beautiful game’ or not.

So this week marks the 50th anniversary of the abolishment of the rule by the football association at a time when many quarters including the fans, authorities and the media are asking whether a salary cap should be reintroduced on the earnings of a Professional Footballer in England.

Professional Football in England – Where Did It All Start?
The Football Association in England first legalised the employment of professional footballers in 1885, and almost immediately Blackburn Rovers one of the oldest teams of professional football clubs registered their players as professionals with a total wage bill of £615.

In 1901 Liverpool Football Club won the English First Division, the average wage of their players was £7 per week. However the following season of 1901/1902, the Football Association imposed a maximum wage for players of £4 per week … the first salary cap in English football.

Manchester United's Billy MeredithBilly Meredith of Manchester United Football Club was instrumental in establishing the first Professional Football Players Union in England – The AFPU. The establishment of the AFPU was to protect the rights of professional footballers. However, in 1909 an independent walkout (not necessarily involving the AFPU) by several players from Manchester United and fellow players at North West clubs, led to the Football Association asking to ban the union.

Steady Increase on Professional Football Wages – 1920’s to the 1950’s

A review of the maximum wage for professional footballers was undertaken in 1920 when the maximum wage was increased to £9 per week, however just 4 years later in 1924, the maximum wage was lowered to £8 per week. What made matters even more difficult for professional footballers in this era was that there was limited or no insurance compensation or even ‘summer’ and ‘closed-season’ pay.

The next change to the maximum wage for Professional Footballers in England wasn’t announced until the 1940’s when the maximum closed season salary was raised to £7, yet at that time it still wasn’t unknown for players to just be paid a minimum retainer or paid nothing at all during the closed season. In 1947 the maximum wage was raised once again to £12 per week by a National Arbitration Tribunal.

The increase in 1947 was just a forerunner to the 1950’s, where the maximum wage for professional players steadily increased – 1951 it was increased to £14 per week – 1953 to £15 per week – 1957 to £17 per week – and then in 1958 the maximum wage was once again increased this time to £20 per week.

Post War English Football
The post war period saw an apparent’ boom in English football and it is not an underestimation that in the time of standing areas, attendance peaked as high a 20-30 million over the course of a year (even with less clubs than there are today).

However, even with these high attendances players were still paid comparatively little in comparison to what the football clubs must have been earning in gate receipts, and as such it was not uncommon to ask “where the money went”.

Many players were in effect semi-professional, running other business or having second jobs so as to supplement their playing salary, as such is it worth considering the charge laid at modern day footballers in that they don’t do a full days work, and if it was the case that they had to do a second job they would.

The most interesting second job/career of a footballer from the post war era was that of Ted Ditchburn who was the goalkeeper for Tottenham Hotspur FC and England goalkeeper Ditchburn ran his own ticket agency as another business and surely in current-day football this would raise eyebrows as possible ‘ticket-touting’, let alone see charges under the regulation of modern day footballing authorities (despite the keepers business being totally legal, and ‘above board’).

Threat of Professional Footballers Strike on January 14th 1961Former PFA Chairman Jimmy Hill
The prominent figure in English Football of Jimmy Hill was appointed chairman of the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) in 1957, and 4 years later in 1961 Hill was a key figure in the abolishment of the maximum wage for professional footballers in England, when the threat of a strike by professional footballers on January 14th 1961 effectively forced the Football League to abolish the maximum wage.

Brian Clough (a player at the time of the proposed 1961 players strike) succinctly commented at the time “I would expect the right to negotiate my contract the same as any other profession.”

‘Rumoured’ Top Earning Footballers in England
Since the abolishment of the maximum wage for professional footballers in England, there has been a steady (some would say dramatic) increase in salary for the top players over time, Johnny Haynes of Fulham & England - Reported to be the first footballer in England to Earn £100 per weekstarting in 1961 with Fulham’s star player ‘Johnny’ Haynes who was apparently the first English Player to earn £100 per week in wages. Seven years later the Northern Ireland and Manchester United legend George Best again raised the bar yet further when his salary was reported to be ten times that of Haynes 7 years earlier at £1000 per week.

In more recent times there have been rumours as to landmarks in the wages of some of England’s top-flight profession football stars. In 1992 John Barnes of Liverpool was reported to be the first player to earn £10,000 per week, and nine years later this had again increased 1000% when Arsenal’s Sol Campbell earned a reported £10,000 per week in 2001 (which may have arguably been increased due to the matter of his ‘Bosman’ transfer).

The most recent high profile landmark in regards to a professional football players earnings in England was in relation to England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, who it is reported in the latter part of 2010 his new ‘deal’ was worth £250,000 per week (salary rumoured to be £200,000 of that), yet in terms of an actual wage it is that Manchester City‘s midfield Yaya Toure is rumoured to command a weekly salary of approximately £240,000 per week.

A good comment on the subject to consider is from Gordon Taylor (current Chairman of the PFA) said :
“I hope the 50th Anniversary of the end of the maximum wage will remind people of an important principle. Footballers, like any profession, should not have to earn only what an employer wants to pay them.”

The Future of Football Players Salaries
What will happen from here?
Will salaries and deals continue to rise, will the authorities impose a salary cap and maximum wage, will the clubs jointly impose an unofficial wage ceiling ?
… well your guess is as good as mine.