Changed days for fortunate few when it comes to being shown the door

Life in the lower leagues can still be tough for those trying to be professional footballers

Chelsea’s John Terry prepares to be subbed on at Stamford Bridge on Monday night. Photograph: PA

Chelsea’s John Terry prepares to be subbed on at Stamford Bridge on Monday night. Photograph: PA

 

In his wonderful book, My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes, Gary Imlach recalls how players were treated under the old Retain and Transfer system.

It was a ludicrous convention that endured for 70 years under which clubs could virtually dictate the terms that team members would receive for the following season. Those who rebelled faced the prospect of moves to unwanted destinations or periods without pay while they were punished, or waited for their futures to be resolved.

His father, Stewart, was playing for Bury when the club suddenly agreed a deal to sell him to Derby. It was 1954 and Gary’s parents were to be married a couple of months later and so, to head off any opposition from his mother, the club’s manager, Dave Russell, and his assistant went to the factory where she worked to sell the move to her before her husband to be could convey the news.

Retain and Transfer was abolished in 1963 thanks to a successful PFA action in the High Court

She would later recall how her friend, Enid, told her of receiving the news that her husband, Imlach’s then Bury teammate Eddie Gleadall, had “agreed” a move.

“I’ve signed for Scunthorpe,” he apparently told her after arriving home from what was supposed to be a normal day’s training with the club. “Well, why didn’t you say no?” she asked. “You can’t say no,” he replied. “If they want to get rid of you, they’ll get rid of you.”

Imlach senior would certainly realise the truth of that as Derby later traded him to Nottingham Forest who, in turn, sold him on to Luton just a couple of months later.

In the latter instance, he was away with the team for a game and was roused from his sleep at 1am to be told of the deal for the very first time. Personal terms were not much of an issue thanks to maximum wage and there was, it seems, virtually nothing to be done bar accept your fate.

Retain and Transfer was abolished in 1963 thanks to a successful PFA action in the High Court but life in the lower leagues can still be tough for those trying to live their lives as a professional footballer.

At Imlach’s old club, Bury, over the past few days, around half the squad has been shown the door. Those affected range from 21 year-old Niall Maher from Manchester who must now seek his third club, to Paul Rachubka, once of Manchester United and fast approaching his 20th birthday.

Jermaine Pennant is surplus to requirements too, having joined on a short term deal in January, although the 34 year-old is, at least, likely to be secure financially after earlier spells at Arsenal, Liverpool and Stoke.

The situation is being replicated up and down England as the various leagues wrap up with every out of contract player in danger; many of them just 12 months after signing for their particular club.

At the top end of the Premier League, the money means there is rather less cause for sympathy

The likes of Peterborough, meanwhile, retain a little of the 50s spirit by transfer listing many of those with just a year to go unless they sign a new deal so as to avoid the prospect of somebody they might actually want to keep leaving for free next summer.

At the top end of the Premier League, the money means there is rather less cause for sympathy. Freedom of movement is one of the things that persuaded Manchester United to hand Wayne Rooney a new four year contract worth some €350,000 a week back in 2014.

Chelsea, it seems, were making eyes at him but the Londoners might now regard themselves as having dodged a bullet with the England striker’s subsequent decline now making him an expensive extra at a club where José Mourinho could probably think of better ways to spend the money.

For years, Rooney looked like a steal at £20 million; now, as he nears the end of his first season at the club to yield less than 10 goals, he is a second choice and sometimes decidedly second rate.

Zlatan Ibrahimovich is four years older and recovering from an operation that will keep him sidelined until the start of next year but the Swede might yet get the new deal that he stalled on before he got injured. Marcus Rashford, meanwhile, is currently regarded as the future and Rooney, you suspect, is being nudged towards China in the summer even as the club plans to head off in the opposite direction on their preseason tour.

Supporter sentiment is of course, a factor, in these situations and at Chelsea the club appears to have spent upwards of €3 million on being seen to let their “captain, leader, legend” down lightly now that he is no longer actually needed around the place.

John Terry has been for years the only product of the club’s youth development system to play successfully in the Stamford Bridge first team and, though he actually arrived from West Ham aged 14, that has earned him a particular loyalty from fans apparently willing and able to overlook some of his actions down the years.

Generations of players before him could have only dreamed of being disrespected like that

It would be interesting to hear what Stewart Imlach or any of his contemporaries would have made of Terry bemoaning the idea last February that his, admittedly outstanding, Chelsea career was not going to have “a fairytale ending” as the club was not inclined to open talks on a new deal.

Eventually, the club relented and though he took a huge pay cut, those in charge appear to have apparently been willing to pay him almost €60,000 a week for a year because of his particular status at the club, a little more than the average annual salary of a League Two player.

Terry, it seems, felt he would feature more and so benefit from performance related payments but Antonio Conte, one suspects, knew otherwise and after starting a few games early on, his appearance from the bench on Monday evening, loudly cheered from the stands, made it 17 minutes of Premier League action over three games since the start of November.

The message has, it seems, been received loud and clear, and Terry will go quietly, with good grace, this time. Generations of players before him could have only dreamed of being disrespected like that.

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