WAY, way before the Coronavirus had become a part of our daily lexicon, footballers and their salaries were long a bone of contention. At top level at least; those further down the food chain and outwith the elite percentages might have cause to quibble about public perceptions of their take home pay.

But when Matt Hancock very publicly pointed the finger on Thursday at footballers and their apparent unwillingness to take a wage cut when there are precious few in the country who will escape without some kind of financial pain, there were more than a few notable exceptions from his accusations.

Should footballers play their part? Of course they should. But the burden should also be shared. There is a feeling from those in football that the sport is often held to a higher account than other industries. Given that there are an estimated 2.5 million millionaires in the United Kingdom, there may well be a case to be argued. And while there is no question that it looks particularly crass when players are pocketing substantial weekly sums when others who are far closer to the breadline are being furloughed and forced into a 20% wage cut, there are also bigger fish that need to be brought into the equation.

Of Britain’s 100 wealthiest people, more than a third are made up of Tory party donors. They are made up almost exclusively of property moguls, financiers and retail CEO’s. Hancock seemed particularly mute on the like of Virgin Atlantic, one of the donors to his party. Owned by Richard Branson who at the last count was worth an estimated £3.8 billion, they were one of the first companies to seek government help.


Without using a sports column to wade into political waters, Hancock’s delivery was surely a populist move to turn attention away from the deficiencies in policy that have left the NHS so ill-equipped to deal with the pressures it currently faces. Least of all because of their strategic cutting and cutting long before this pandemic. MPs have routinely awarded themselves substantial pay rises while the Tory party – and the cheering may still ring in the ears of some – vetoed a pay rise for nursing staff not so long ago. So those in glass houses and all that.

At the same time there is no question that clubs as rich as Tottenham should not be claiming government cash to exploit the Covid-19 crisis. The behaviour of the London club and that of Newcastle this week is beyond contempt. Daniel Levy – Britain’s highest paid CEO – was paid £7m in salary and bonuses by Spurs last year. Mike Ashely was forced into a u-turn on keeping his Sports Direct stores open in opposition to government advice only because of the public backlash. He responded by hiking up the prices of all online products. Manchester City are owned by a sheik.

While some sympathy has to be given to the alacrity with which the legalities around furloughing staff had to be rushed through, it seems fairly obvious now that some sort of caveat had to go with it. For example, those who access the scheme are then prevented from paying out substantial bonuses above a certain amount for a period of time after using the system. It may well have been a means to ensuring its lack of manipulation.

That players will be forced into wage cuts is inevitable. But the accusation that they have considered themselves oblivious to what has been gone on around them feels a bit iffy.

Manchester United players revealed yesterday that they will donate 30% of a month’s wages to the NHS. It was cute, really; a wage cut may well have added money into the pockets of their billionaire owners; this way the money goes directly to where it is needed.


Wilfried Zaha, the Crystal Palace striker, has offered NHS workers free accommodation to help ease the burden on London's hospital workers. Manchester United’s much criticised Marcus Rashford offered his services to FareShare, a food distribution charity, after schools in a vulnerable Manchester area were closed due to the coronavirus, raising £134,000 for food.

Closer to home, Andy Robertson got involved with Age Scotland who have experienced a tenfold increase in calls for help during the current crisis. Footballers are not choirboys. But nor are they at the root of the problems we face now.

In any case when this is all over it will be interesting to chart the economic effect it has on football. SKY and BT Sport have been fairly quiet about what subscription levels have fallen to in the wake of the shutdown but as the game’s biggest paymaster – particularly south of the border – there is every chance that the ramifications of what we are enduring now will linger substantially.

It may well be that the kind of salaries that have become the norm, especially south of the border where the TV pot is particularly lucrative, will veer towards the exception rather than the norm.

The call this week to cancel the Edinburgh festival and Wimbledon confirms what we have known all along; real life is not on the way back any time soon. There has been a desire among many, this author included, to delay a decision on the outcome of the season for as long as is possible. It still feels like the fairest way to settle matters pertaining to titles and relegation is to afford every chance that they are settled on a pitch and not, potentially, in a courtroom.

But the longer we go on with no definitive insight into just how long current conditions will last – and the suggestion is that things will get worse before they get better – then the feeling is that clubs simply are not in a strong enough financial position to hang on for another three or four months.

There will be a need among a huge number of them for the end of season payments that could be the difference between staying afloat and going to the wall.