Sunday’s match at Stamford Bridge between Chelsea and Fulham is a fixture in which players’ leader Jimmy Hill played days after he had masterminded the campaign that brought an end to football’s maximum wage.
Not only was Jimmy Hill – the bearded one in the photograph – an unflinching inside-forward for Fulham, he was a union leader who believed in getting his hands – and knees – dirty.
The photograph, which shows Hill tangling with Chelsea’s goalkeeper Peter Bonetti at Stamford Bridge on 4 February 1961, was taken a few days after Hill, as chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, had led the players to victory in their wages war against the Football League and its clubs.
Hill’s vigorous command was a major factor in forcing the players’ employers to agree to abolish the cap on earnings. At the start of 1961 players were not allowed to earn more than 20 quid a week. Hill, having rallied the overwhelming support of his members, told the clubs: ‘Give way or we strike.’ The clubs gave way.
No one had more reason to be grateful to Hill for the clubs’ landmark capitulation than his Fulham team-mate nd England international Johnny Haynes.
The story that has been somewhat embellished but is broadly true is that the chairman of Fulham, the comedian Tommy Trinder, was so confident the maximum wage was a permanent fixture that he had boasted his star player, Haynes, was worth £100 a week.
Haynes, a streetwise Londoner, kept the press cuttings and, straight after the PFA’s victory, Trinder had to pay up.
There is more to this story than simply that but the fact is that Haynes’s substantial pay rise outraged officials of other clubs. Major H. Wilson Keys, West Bromwich Albion’s chairman, was not alone when he harrumphed that Haynes’s wage was ‘dangerous and unsettling’ and speculated that Fulham might have ‘to starve other players’ to finance it.
In fact, the idea that players across the board might straightaway start making extravagant demands was never going to happen.
At that time a lavish lifestyle was an unknown concept, to professional footballers, anyway. They were so conditioned to low wages in a low-wage society that the next step up was not-quite-so-low wages.
Bill Nicholson, Tottenham Hotspur’s manager, gave a much more realistic reaction than Wilson Keys: ‘No one can tell what difference it will make. We have a fair idea of the percentage increase we will offer but it would not be wise for me to disclose it. It is a matter for the club and player and might be some way from the amount we ultimately pay.’
The advent of players being paid serious money did not come for another 40 years with the convergence of two significant arrivals: the Premier League and satellite television. These in turn brought on a third significant arrival: every player’s must-have accessory, the agent.
What looked to many like a reckless gamble by Rupert Murdoch’s arriviste TV station, Sky, turned out to be the work of a savvy business brain. In 1992, Murdoch agreed to pay the newly formed league the thick end of £304 million, a stratospheric figure at the time, to secure live coverage of 60 matches a season over five years. The 2016-9 deal struck by Sky and BT Sports was £5.1 billion.
Sky has raked in massive winnings from its 1992 investment – and not just for themselves. The age of the multi-millionaire footballer was about to begin.
It might be nice if the Chelsea and Fulham players who on Sunday afternoon tread the same turf as Hill did in 1961 give at least a moment’s thought to the man who prepared the way for the huge rewards they now take for granted.