Contract to kill…

Neil Rose on Vinnie Jones's legal proceedings against the transfer system

British football will shortly face arguably its greatest challenge yet. A London solicitors’ firm is preparing to launch a legal challenge on behalf of two Premiership players – one of whom is thought to be Vinnie Jones – against the transfer system.

They will be seeking a ‘domestic Bosman’, namely a ruling that players out of contract can move to another English or Scottish club for free. It is the culmination of over a year’s work by the law firm, Reid Minty, under the guise of the Players Out of Contract Association (POCA).

After the Bosman ruling, Reid Minty lawyer Jonathan Ebsworth – who represented Spurs and Terry Venables in a previous job – was asked by his client Jones to look at the implications. Ebsworth concluded that the domestic football authorities were wrong to say the case only applied to out of contract players moving between EU countries. Jones and his agent asked Ebsworth to publicise his opinion, and so POCA was born. It now has around 100 members.

At its first meeting in January 1996, around 60 players attended, including John Hartson and Mick Harford. As POCA stepped up its efforts, the authorities seemed to be coming round to the realisation that Ebsworth might be right. With the FA’s suggestion of free agency to non-contract players over the age of 24 and the concession that non-European players can move freely within the EU, Ebsworth believes that ‘the cat is now out of the bag’. As it stands, he says, British players are at a competitive disadvantage to non-British players in their own country, as only they are unable to move to an English club for free once their contracts expire.

Ebsworth argues that free agency would make football more competitive. “It would take away what is currently the sole variable – the transfer fee,” he says. Instead players would have more freedom to choose their clubs and would not be limited to those that could afford the transfer fee. As most clubs in the Premiership can afford top players wages, Ebsworth says free agency could lead to a better spread of the best players throughout the League.

From WSC 123 May 1997. What was happening this month