Football

Players' wages usurp transfer fees for the first time

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Some startling news earlier this week came in the form of players' wages usurping those of transfer fees for the first time, especially when considering the mind-boggling numbers circulating the game over the years. And this year of all years - when the Premier League, in particular, went transfer fee crazy.

Official figures from Fifa revealed that the total amount of international transfer fees was £2.6 billion while the figure for wages accrued over the length of the contract came to £3.9 billion. And if that wasn't enough, there was a 33% rise in salaries between 2013 and 2014. 

The figures show, clubs within England spent over double the amount of any other country on international transfers this past summer having transported £652 billion to other countries - which means this does not cover transfers between English clubs such as Raheem Sterling's £49 million move from Liverpool to Manchester City. Compare this to Spain's £324 million. Germany, meanwhile, received £196 million for the sale of players; more than double on the previous summer with 74 percent coming from English clubs.

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Apart from a few fluctuations between 2009 and 2012, the outlays have kept on rising; and not just by the odd million, but hundreds of millions of pounds. Just the fact that I and others talk about the 'odd million' or 'millions' as if it's a fiver is a sign of these times of inequality. We even hear now of clubs getting £30 million 'bargains' because followers of football hear these figures spouted so much of the time by the media and people within the game. 

All this while the wages of what are termed the 'general public' do not even rise at the rate of inflation. Depending on what way you look at it, whether from a football point of view in terms of young English players being given a chance, or from a social vantage point where, according to PSE (Poverty and Social Exclusion), 5 million people live on a salary that is well below the Living Wage, England's spending within the football arena makes for pretty shameful reading.

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Research by the High Centre Bank think tank revealed that in the 20 years from 1992 (year of the Premier League's inception) the average national wage rose 186%. For footballers, there was a 1,500% increase. The cheapest match ticket price went up by more than 1,000% since 1989. 

Since the introduction of the transfer window system in 2002, gross transfer spending has exceeded £7.3 billion, with over 80% of this being spent in summer transfer windows, according to financial analysts Deloitte.

As Nick Isles, chairman of the High Pay Centre, said: "Bankers and company executives frequently make the comparison between their own pay and that of professional footballers.

"There are similarities. For both the pay is extremely high, excessively complex and, in many cases, secret. In football as in business, the money could be better invested in training and infrastructure, rather than unsustainable salary increases.

"It may now be time to put the brakes on this dramatic escalation in pay at the top. We are calling for a national debate on what is fair pay for those at the top of our companies, banks and football leagues."

It is our love of the game that is being exploited. We contribute to this state of affairs with every game we watch on Sky Sports or BT Sport, every overpriced match we attend, every shirt or piece of merchandise we purchase.

If say, 90% of seats were empty at the stadiums of the highest ranked clubs - or even if it reached a point of a crisis like in Italy and Scotland where stadia is often lacking in spectators - then English football would not function; as it is the supporters in this country, and the atmosphere they generate - often cited by foreign coaches and players as the reason they come here to play, not to mention the fans from overseas who are enticed to watch English football - who are the very heartbeat of the sport.

Without them, professional football as we know it would fall on its arse and die, metaphorically, of course, the arse bit at least.

To get a bit David Brent about it, footballers are the stars and the thing we see, the outer shell of the body (although they were fans themselves as youngsters, with many still harbouring those feelings). And the punters/followers of football are the important parts we don't see, the fibre of its being that keeps the body alive.

So the game of football is, to paraphrase Mr. Brent "one big organism, yeah. The people on the phones, they're the mouth, yeah; the people on the pitch, they're the hands and feet...'' The fans? ''Good question: probably the humour.''

Except football fans are all of those things (they are certainly the humour, especially when you take into account the bland image and anecdotes that 99% of footballers, past and present, have projected and project).

TV companies have their part to play and it is good to have the option of watching the game we love from the comfort of our own armchair - or beanbag, however you choose to live your life - but there are limits when it is negatively affecting the way fans interact with the live game. 

The reason for the broadcasters' and players' existence and the game itself is solely to do with football supporters, many of whom are living below the Living Wage, but still try to support their team as much as they can. As the chairman of the High Pay Centre said, the business of football and its wages is excessively complex and often secret, so how are we on the outside to know exactly what goes on.

Many people's lives revolve around football and would not know what to with themselves if it was to end tomorrow. There are those who feel that the extremely high wages of players are well deserved, in which case, will not care what the players earn compared to their own financial income, as long as they can go and see their team on a Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, whenever their club happens to play, without putting a huge dent into their pay.

The wage gap between players and fans is way too much, but the combination of that and the alienation of supporters are unable to afford a matchday ticket a few times a season is simply unacceptable. So let's at least bring down the cost of matchday tickets. 

It is not a solution to the problem as a whole and won't change things overnight, but it will be a huge consolation to fans who simply want to regularly see their team in the flesh whatever their feelings on the situation of extreme inequality.   

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