The Leaguers: The Making of Professional Football in England, 1900-1939

By Matthew Taylor | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER FOUR
Players II:
Labour Relations

In common with broader historical interpretations of managerial activity, existing accounts of relations between footballers and their employers have tended to apply the notion of 'paternalism' without sufficient explanation or conceptual precision.1 While there is little doubt that the notion of the individual capitalist 'father' looking after and caring for 'his boys' has an obvious appeal in the environment of male professional sport, it serves nonetheless to simplify the range and variety of managerial strategies that were available to employers in this as in other industries. By the turn of the century, the largely direct and personalised relationships between employers and workers that characterised nineteenth-century paternalism were increasingly being superseded in many industries by more formalised and bureaucratic labour strategies such as scientific management, collective bargaining and the introduction of welfare schemes.2 Professional football was certainly not immune to these developments. More than this, an emphasis on traditional paternalism ignores the importance of central administrative bodies, such as the Football League and the FA, which as we have seen assumed considerable direct and indirect control over the payment of professionals, the regulation of the labour market and other aspects of capital–labour relations. In this context, the immutable picture of the paternal employer presiding over a deferential workforce is no more adequate as a complete explanation of labour relations in football than it is in the older manufacturing or the emerging service industries.

The concept of workplace control has been a major preoccupation of labour historians, but it still remains rather vague and wide-ranging. In the Marxist variant developed by Braverman, control at work was secured by employers through a gradual process of de-skilling, technological change and the sub-division of work tasks, which led to the subordination of the workforce.3 While this interpretation has been seriously criticised historically, particularly in the British context, other

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