Since football almost everywhere has been forced to play behind closed doors many aspects of the game have come on the radar. One such area of concern has been player salaries. This is acutely true for lower football teams where match-day income, particularly gate receipts, are a main source of income. This income has disappeared and might not return for some time as it is unlikely supporters will be allowed to attend matches in the normal fashion in the near future.
In response to the erosion of many English Football League club's primary source of income, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tiers of the professional game have proposed the introduction of a salary cap. Such a move is largely unprecedented in recent times (in 1901 the FA introduced a salary cap that would remain until 1963) and would mark a power shift, back towards club owners. This would break the trend of the past 50+ years where players have become more and more powerful.
Salary caps are not unusual in other sports around the world. North American sports employ salary caps quite effectively. All of the major sports in the US, with the exception of Major League Baseball (MLB) use salary caps. MLB instead uses a luxury tax.
In theory, there are two main benefits derived from salary caps. The first is that it brings greater parity between teams or competitive balance. The second is that is encourages teams to live within their means and avoids costs spiraling out of control.
Of course, not everyone is happy. The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) - the players union - have voiced their concern. Formed on 2nd December 1907, the PFA is in its own words "the world’s longest established professional sportsperson’s union".
The union has come a long way since the "retain and transfer" system which effectively tied players to clubs, not unlike baseball's reserve clause. For example, in 1959, George Eastham refused to sign a new contract with his club, Newcastle United, and requested a transfer. This request was declined. The source of the problem was Eastham disputing whether the house the club had supplied him was habitable and the unsatisfactory secondary job that the club had arranged. Eastham refused to play for Newcastle United in the 1960-61 season. Unable to leave, the player went on strike in early 1960. However, in October 1960, Newcastle United finally agreed to transfer the player to Arsenal for £47,500.
As Eastham later recounted:
“Our contract could bind us to a club for life. Most people called it the "slavery contract". We had virtually no rights at all. It was often the case that the guy on the terrace not only earned more than us – though there's nothing wrong with that – he had more freedom of movement than us. People in business or teaching were able to hand in their notice and move on. We weren't. That was wrong”. Rebels for the Cause (2004).
Backed by the PFA, Eastham brought proceedings against Newcastle United in the High Court. In the case, Eastham v. Newcastle United  Ch. 413, the judge ruled partly in Eastham's favour and the retain and transfer system was never the same again.
It will be interesting to see how the hard fought gains since 1963, which culminated in the European Bosman Ruling in 1995, will be impacted by any such salary cap. Might we be moving back in the direction of the owners?