Vale Jimmy Hill: and in his memory perhaps we can stop this incessant whining for maximum wages emanating from over on the left. Before his campaigning footballers were the hired helots of their clubs: after it they became the major beneficiaries of the money flowing through it. All rather Marxist, and why not, the profits and value of the business flowing to those working by foot and head:
In 1957, Hill, then a bossy midfielder with Fulham, was elected chairman of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the players’ union. At the time the maximum weekly wage for footballers was capped at £20, although the best teams could draw crowds of 60,000 every Saturday afternoon. Stars such as John Charles were being tempted to leave the British game for Italy, where there were no limits on pay, while some clubs were paying illicit bonuses to players to persuade them to stay. The confrontation between the Football League and the PFA began when the former suspended some Sunderland players suspected of taking under-the-counter payments. Hill worked successfully to have them reinstated, and then challenged the League to end the wage cap and to allow footballers to move freely when their contracts ended. Astutely using television to win over public opinion, Hill – who always had something of the barrack room lawyer about him – took his union to within four days of an all-out strike in January 1961 before the League was forced to capitulate. The lid of Pandora’s Box had been forced open, and football would never be the same again.
British football is certainly different and almost certainly vastly better for the change. It would certainly be difficult to see what would be left of it if wages were still capped at around those of a skilled working class job.
This is not just about footballers of course: parts of Wealth of Nations are Smith railing against the wage and price fixing of the medieval guilds, and how those distort an economy to the detriment of the consumer.
We do not want to have price fixing of any kind, because prices are signals about how scarce resources should be used to best effect. If that means that rare skills, from nutting a leather ball to running a 100,000 person corporation bring in large incomes (and the two are, these days, comparable in amount) then so be it. As long as the result comes from a free market in skill and talent and not from rent seeking then that's the best allocation of talent we're going to get.