"Premiership footballers deserve all the rewards they get"

PUBLISHED: 01 Jan 2008

AUTHOR: David Bowden

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When in November 2007 the sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe described Chelsea captain John Terry’s wages as ‘obscene’ [Ref: BBC News] he spoke for many, both inside and outside the game. Chelsea has become synonymous with the vast wealth floating around the game, with the players becoming the most visible beneficiaries of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich’s injection of cash [Ref: The Times]. With the average wage of a Premiership footballer topping £1 million [Ref: The Times], a recent survey found that 64 per cent of the public feel that footballers are the most overpaid group in society [Ref: The Times]. The Archbishop of York has argued they should pay higher taxes [Ref: The Times]. He said it was just not right that a Belfast porter could earn £131 a week while a guest at the Beckham’s World Cup send-off party paid £50,000 for a ticket. The response to Sutcliffe and other critics has been fierce [Ref: The Times]. Daniel Finkelstein said footballers’ pay was entirely in keeping with their market value and Duleep Allirajah wondered why footballers were being singled out. Shortly afterwards, the controversy surrounding the alleged rape at Manchester United’s Christmas party brought the topic back into focus [Ref: Independent]. Terence Blacker saw such incidents as evidence of the moral degeneracy of footballers who have become divorced from the ordinary working people who pay their wages [Ref: Independent], while James Lawton saw it as a symbol of the excess specific to English football. Simon Barnes countered that, regardless of the veracity of the claims, much of the criticism was nothing more than snobbery. Meanwhile, Sol Campbell’s complaint that players were subject to unacceptable levels of abuse [Ref: BBC News] – a claim supported by some of the game’s leading names [Ref: BBC News] – suggested a footballer’s life may not all be about easy money, although Rod Liddle argued this comes with the territory [Ref: The Times]. Are footballers overpaid, over-indulged and under-performing prima donnas? Or are they uniquely talented individuals who entertain millions and have a right to be rewarded accordingly?

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This section provides a summary of the key issues in the debate, set in the context of recent discussions and the competing positions that have been adopted.

You’re going home in the back of a limousine
It was not always thus. There was a wage cap in British football until 1959, and there have been repeated calls over the last few years for football to follow the example of top US sports like American football, which introduced a wage cap in 1994 [Ref: BBC News]. Although a cap has been adopted in the lower leagues [Ref: Accountancy Age], it is argued that such a policy would be extremely difficult to implement without damaging the quality and competitiveness of the Premier League, and that other entertainers do not face similar curbs on their earnings [Accountancy Age]. There have been complaints that high wages lead to over-inflated ticket prices, but Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan believes that compared to other forms of entertainment like West End theatre, football is not that expensive [Ref: Guardian]. Jim White, though, argues that young people have been priced out of watching football, and that as wages and ticket prices rise so do expectations – fans expect to be entertained and are less tolerant of failure.

England are staying home
This point about expectations helps explain why footballers’ wages get so much media attention: England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. It is no coincidence that the players who’ve received the most criticism in relation to wages and behaviour – Terry, Ashley Cole [Ref: Daily Mail], Joey Barton [Ref: Independent] – are all English. There is a perception that their obsession with a celebrity lifestyle is having a detrimental effect on the quality of English football [Ref: Independent].

Who bought all the pies?
There are also broader social concerns being played out in the microcosm of football. Within days of England’s failure to qualify, UEFA president Michel Platini blamed free market economics and big business for destroying English football [Ref: Guardian]. Many ask whether it’s a mark of a fair and just society that footballers can earn hundreds of times as much as arguably more valuable workers like nurses simply because they’re lucky enough to have been born with a highly marketable talent. The Mayday for Nurses campaign sought to tap into this unease by asking footballers to donate a day’s salary to a fund for nurses. But critics detected snobbery, and it caused a furore amongst those who thought footballers were being made scapegoats [Ref: The Times] – criticised in a way that high-paid professionals like bankers and lawyers are not and when the real money in football is in the hands of owners [Ref: The Times]. Critics argue what footballers deserve to be paid should be decided by the market – by what fans are willing to pay and owners spend on pursuing success. Should footballers be expected to set an example, or are they bearing the brunt of a lack of proper political debate in society?

The player is a %?#!!?
Should footballers’ wealth and status go hand in hand with the expectation that they behave as good role models? Footballers are influential figures – used to promote causes such as environmentalism [Ref: Observer] and anti-racism [Ref: Guardian] – and blamed when they set a bad example on and off the pitch [Ref: Guardian]. But Rod Liddle argues it should be their skill and talent that does the talking, and Nicky Campbell thinks it is a tragedy that George Best is now remembered for his personal problems rather than his undoubted genius.


It is crucial for debaters to have read the articles in this section, which provide essential information and arguments for and against the debate motion. Students will be expected to have additional evidence and examples derived from independent research, but they can expect to be criticised if they lack a basic familiarity with the issues raised in the essential reading.

Claridge versus the MP

BBC Sport 24 November 2007

Let’s get real – the problem is wages

Simon Jordan Observer 2 October 2005


Laugh at the crass footballers, but do not resent their wealth

Simon Barnes The Times 21 December 2007

Obscene wages for all

Duleep Allirajah spiked 16 November 2007

Fine. So what should a sports minister be paid?

Daniel Finkelstein The TImes 7 November 2007


Poor Sol may cry foul but it’s footballers who need a good kicking

Janet Street-Porter Independent on Sunday 23 December 2007

Wealth that buys nothing but disloyalty and disrespect

Rob Hughes The Sunday Times 5 June 2005


Football’s money men making loudest noise

Jim White Daily Telegraph 5 January 2008

Give ‘Mayday for Nurses’ the red card

Duleep Allirajah spiked 15 March 2007

More gravey train than slave ship

Hugh McIlvanney The Sunday Times 5 June 2005


Definitions of key concepts that are crucial for understanding the topic. Students should be familiar with these terms and the different ways in which they are used and interpreted and should be prepared to explain their significance.


Useful websites and materials that provide a good starting point for research.

Normal rules don’t apply in football’s parallel universe

Terence Blacker Independent 12 December 2007

Boys ‘look up to footballers, not fathers’

Daily Telegraph 3 December 2007

Levelling the playing field

Guardian Unlimited comment is free 1 May 2007

The time when footballers were almost slaves

Boris Mellor Arsenal Times 26 March 2007

Don’t blame the footballers – blame the parents

David James Observer 7 January 2007

Remember George’s genius and drop all this role model cant

Nicky Campbell Guardian 1 December 2005

Let these poor footballers talk with their feet

Rod Liddle The Sunday Times 25 September 2005

Foul! Time to send football’s bad boys off TV

Amelia Hill and Denis Campbell Observer 6 March 2005

The state of football

YouGov Survey Results 1 November 2003

The salary cap proposal of the G-14 in European football

Késenne Stefan University of Antwerp 1 July 2003


Links to organisations, campaign groups and official bodies who are referenced within the Topic Guide or which will be of use in providing additional research information.


Relevant recent news stories from a variety of sources, which ensure students have an up to date awareness of the state of the debate.

Hangover from party that turned into night of shame

Independent on Sunday 20 December 2007

Mr Average of football nets £1m

The Sunday Times 18 November 2007

Flak comes at Gerry Sutcliffe from all angles

Times Online 2 November 2007

Gareth Southgate angered by nurses’ charity

Times Online 11 October 2007

Eto’o: Players are worth wages

BBC Sport 11 August 2007

Footie fat-cats

The Sunday Times 7 April 2007

John Terry’s greedy, says JT

The Sun 17 February 2007

If the cap fits

BBC Sport 27 May 2006

Survey reveals footballers’ wages

BBC Sport 11 May 2006

Wenger against cap on salaries

BBC Sport 31 December 2005

Football FD writes off wage cap

Accountancy Age 11 August 2005

Football FDs back player wage caps

Accountacy Age 29 July 2004


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