The anniversaries of two events that revolutionised football have been marked over the last couple of weeks. It’s 60 years since Jimmy Hill and the Professional Footballers’ Association, successfully challenged the players’ £20 maximum weekly wage.

Back then, footballers’ conditions were a form of professional indenture, limiting both their earnings and freedom of movement. Their unglamourous lives well documented in Gary Imlach’s moving biography of his father, “My Father and other Working-Class Heroes”.

Stewart Imlach, a Lossiemouth “loon”, played for many English teams and was a member of Nottingham Forest’s 1959 FA Cup-winning side. He also played four times for Scotland, twice in the 1958 World Cup Finals. Gary describes his father’s career as virtual slavery, as he was traded, sometimes unwillingly, between clubs. His wages were reduced in the close season, forcing him to look out the tools and return to his trade as a joiner to tide the family over the summer.

The threat of a players’ strike in 1961 brought the maximum wage to an end. Fulham’s Johnny Haynes, became the first £100 a week footballer. My boyhood hero, Graham Leggat, a teammate of Haynes at Fulham, once told me that the rest of the team had to settle for around a fiver a week more. Nevertheless, it was the first step along the way to Gareth Bale’s current weekly wage, reportedly somewhere north of £300,000.

1961 was only a partial victory, as club chairmen exploited loopholes in the agreement and the unfair “retain and transfer” system remained in place. In 1964, George Eastham, then of Newcastle United, described the system as “a slavery contract”. He successfully took the club to court, where retain and transfer was deemed a restraint of trade. Eastham’s success tilted the system in the players’ direction, but it was a journeyman Belgian professional, Jean Marc Bosman, who changed world football for ever.

It’s just over 25 years since the European Court of Justice agreed with Bosman and ruled that retain and transfer was contrary to the Treaty of Rome, as it restricted freedom of movement within the EU.

This was a nasty shock for both Fifa and Uefa who believed their Swiss headquarters placed them beyond the EU’s reach. The impact was immediate, with Alex Ferguson observing that “all hell let loose”. Players could move without fee at the end of their contracts and teams could field as many foreign players as they liked.

Bosman may well have been a pawn in a much bigger game and, as the recent BT Sport documentary revealed, he gained little personally from the revolution he initiated. The 1995 verdict swung the balance of power hugely in favour of star players, their agents and the leading clubs in England, Germany, Italy and Spain. Significantly, only one team, Porto, from outside those countries has won the Champions’ League since 1995.

The Bosman ruling has had a profound effect on Scottish football. Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean could never have enjoyed European success with Aberdeen and Dundee United in the post-Bosman era. The Old Firm may be big fish in a very shallow pool, but Bosman means they will always be minnows in the bigger pond.

Continuing the piscatory metaphor, they will nevertheless, still be able to net out of contract players from the smaller fry of the Scottish game. The absence of meaningful compensation is already leading to over-fishing and the decreasing stock of talent.

Brexit and the end of free movement, represents a significant dilution of the Bosman ruling as it applies in the UK. Clubs will be keener than ever to develop more home-grown talent. While there can be no return to the quasi-feudalism of retain and transfer, for the good of the game, a fairer formula is required to adequately compensate clubs that lose out of contract players to bigger fish.

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