Liverpool Mercury – 14th December 1888

A conference of representatives of the leading Association football clubs in the north of England was held yesterday, in the Grand Hotel, Liverpool, for the purpose of considering the rules bearing on professionalism, and if possible to adopt measures to modify or abolish the system at present prevailing. The two rules which the promoters of the meeting consider require alteration are rule 22, which states “That any member of a club receiving remuneration or consideration of any sort above his necessary hotel and travelling expenses shall be considered a professional;” and rule 23, which is to the effect that players of a “different nationality” cannot play as professionals in ordinary club matches unless they have resided for two years within six miles of the ground or headquarters of the club for which they play. In their circular the promoters ask, in regard to rule 22, “Is it reasonable to suppose – is there any one foolish enough to believe – that a working man engaged at his trade is willing to forfeit a day’s pay for the sake of playing football?” and remark, in reference to rule 23 – “The term ‘different nationality’ cannot fairly apply to any person born in the United Kingdom. It is sheer nonsense to speak of a person born in Scotland or Wales as being of a different nationality to a person born in England.” They also say – “Let us have fair, open transactions and liberty to make agreements with any player in an honest, straight-forward manner, and thus put an end to the intolerable system under which every club and working player are open to suspicion.” – Mr. John Houlding, in the absence of Major Marindin, presided, and there were present Messrs. R. P. Gregson and J. S. Roscow (Lancashire Association), R. Wilson, W. Jackson, J. J. Ramsay, A. Coates and R. L. Stockton (Everton); G. Wild and D. B. C. Jepson (Darwen), J. O. B. Grundy (Crewe Alexandra), W. Blenkhorn (Halliwell), J. Gregson (Heywood), A. S. Moore (Manchester district), E. Ramsbottom and J. Smith (Southport Central), A. Daniels (Davenham), H. J. Williams (Notts Jardines), G. A. Hughes (Northwich Victoria), J. W. Abraham (Crewe Alexandra), J. Prescott (Bootle), H. Brownlow (Bolton Charity Cup Association), Mr. J. C. Granville (Burslem Port Vale), J. Panter and T. Sadler (Newton Heath L.Y.R), J. G. Hall (Crewe Alexandra), Mercer (Rossendale), W. Wray and E. Griffith (Chester), C. Driver (West Manchester); J. McMillan (Sunderland), F. H. Lipaham (St. Oswald’s), L. Emery (Burslem Port Vale), A. J. Dickinson (Sheffield), William I. Irving (West Manchester), J. T. J. Lister (Burnley), George Armistead (Burnley), E. E. Goulding (Halliwell), G. H. Hunt and W. Tunstall (Haydock), F. Dyson (Manchester district), Joseph Brierley and H. S. Hamer (Bury), J. J. Bentley (Bolton Wanderers), H. Veevers (Denton), J. E Kershaw and Christle (Heywood). Other clubs represented were Hurst and Lincoln City.

Mr. BARCLAY (honorary secretary of the Everton club) read a number of letters from clubs, agreeing in the main with the objects of the conference as stated in the circular. West Bromwich, however, stated their opinion that the Association rules were very satisfactory. They thought that the circular might be submitted to the League, and then it could be discussed fully. Aston Villa replied that the action of the promoters of the Conference was too precipitate, and they could not join in it. Mr. Barclays said, in the course of some remarks, the questions at issue had been too long avoided, The views of the promoters as to the matters for consideration that afternoon were as follows:- 1. Payment of wages for time lost, 2. The two years’ qualification by residence of players of different nationality. 3. The difficulty in transferring the services of players from one club to another; and 4. The best means of carrying out the conclusions of the conference. In the first place he said they desired liberty of contract, so that in ordinary club fixtures they might be in a position to play any man provided he was a duly registered professional of the club. The difficulty here was the wretched question of nationality and the importation of players. As they understood the case, the rules in question were framed to prevent importation. Had they fulfilled their object: (“No”)

They said emphatically no; and their contention was that instead of preventing importation, they in reality led to a system of veiled professionalism. The result was that one or two unfortunate clubs, owing to rivalry or jealousy, were reported, and suspension was sentenced upon them as a warning to others; whilst other clubs and players, who were equally guilty might be fortunate enough not to be reported, or by good luck, good management, or good tactics come triumphantly through an investigation. Personally, his main objection to the rules as they now stood was that they lead indirectly to “poaching,” and perhaps to dishonourable bargains; and consequently the players and not the committees or association were masters of the situation. The question of payment of wages for loss of time also had been too long avoided. Some clubs appear to have been under the impression that they would give offence to the powers that be by discussing and suggesting amendments in their rules; others did not seem to care; and in more instances there was a disposition to simply bring the matter forward at the next general meeting of the English Association. There was a prevailing feeling, however, that unless the council had the question pressed to their notice, and unless there was unity of purpose and action, they could never hope for reform. (Applause.)

Mr. GREGSON (secretary of the Lancashire Association) fully agreed with the objects of the conference and the proposed alterations of the rules. When the rules were taken into consideration by the association before, the whole thing was only a compromise. They thought the matter fully out, but could not carry it owing to the two-thirds majority rule. Many members of the council of the Football Association were agreed that the rules required reform, so that if the matter were brought before the council he did not anticipate any difficulty providing that conference could offer some rules to take the place of those discarded. He was strongly of opinion that the wages clause ought to be inserted, it would clear the way very much if that conference could settle the definition of “amateur” and “professional.”

The CHAIRMAN expressed his opinion that the time had arrived when there should be some amelioration of Rule 22. In older times they always played in their own neighbourhood, now they went perhaps 100 miles to play a game of football, and men could not be expected to sacrifice a day’s pay. A man should have a day’s pay allowed him, and yet not be registered as a professional.

Mr. BRIERLY (Bury) proposed, and Mr. DYSON (Manchester) seconded a motion “That in the opinion of this conference a reform of the rules is necessary.” The resolution was carried.

Mr. GREEN (Wigan) urged that the terms “amateur” and “professional” ought to be abolished and the term “player” substituted.

Mr. DYSON was authorised to support the payment of a day’s pay for loss of time, but, at the same time, his club was anxious that there should be no loophole for abuse. (Hear, hear.)

Mr. GOLDING (Halliwell) and Mr. BENTLEY (Bolton Wanderers) spoke in favour of an alteration in Rule 22.

Mr. GREGSON then proposed that Rule 22 take the following altered form:- “Players and others, amateur or professional. Any member of a club receiving remuneration or consideration of any sort above his necessary hotel and travelling expenses and wages actually and of necessity lost, shall be considered to be a professional.”

Mr. BENTLEY seconded, and the resolution was carried, there being only one dissentient.

Mr. GOLDING pointed out that it might be desirable to place some limit to the amount of a day’s pay, mentioning an instance in which a member of the Corinthian Club received £70 for the loss of a day’s professional duties. If that was not professionalism what was?

Mr. GREGSON moved, Mr. BARCLAY seconded, and it was carried, “That each association shall make such qualification for its own competition as may be deemed necessary, subject to the general rules of the F.A.”

Mr. ABRAHAM (Crewe Alexandra), in discussing Rule 23A, said his club had imported and would continue to import professionals so long as other clubs did it, but they were strongly opposed to the spirit of importation. But whilst they imported men from other countries they were leaving their own lads out in the cold; and he did not think it would be asserted that in England they had not as good making of football players as Scotland or Wales. His idea was that they should stop importation altogether. He was persuaded that in their junior teams there were men who, if properly encouraged, would be equal to any as football players, and better as far as morality was concerned.

Mr. PORTER moved as a substitute for Rule 23A, “That a professional from any part of the United Kingdom having signed his registration form may play in ordinary club fixtures on any date he may be selected after he has been duly registered.”

Mr. DYSON seconded.

Mr. BARCLAY, in reply to Mr. Abraham, said the club of Lancashire did not seem to care about encouraging local talent. They went in for Scotch-men, and as long as they did that he thought they ought to have the rules altered to allow them to play professionals with more freedom.

The resolution was passed.

A committee was then formed for the purpose of dealing with the resolutions passed and bringing them before the English Football Association.

The proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to the chairman.