£27.50. Thatcher’s Britain in 1986 and I had made it. My first football contract at Oxford United and I was on the glorious YTS programme that would spawn a generation of striking miners, and kids whom after two years went from being a statistical reminder of a world that didn’t care, to a nobody. But hey, the official unemployment figures were going down. Massaged by huge numbers of teenagers leaving school and going straight into training programmes that were neither suitable, nor sufficient. But I was different and I was also very lucky because at least I was training to be a professional footballer, doing something I loved. I had a two year contract, one that both the club and I had to honour, because that’s the way it’s supposed to be isn’t it?
There was one little tiny detail though that I had to keep a secret from the other trainees. I had been lucky enough to have been offered a YTS contract for Motherwell, but their offer came with a caveat that included a weekly payment of £12.50 for expenses, a provision of the YTS scheme that actually meant Maggie was bumping up my wages to £40 a week. Now Oxford United had made it very clear they were keen to sign me and during our long, drawn out protracted negotiations (consisting of a very amicable five minute telephone call and me shouting through to the other room to my dad) it was made clear I could have the extra £12.50.
“It’s up to you son,” was Dad’s reply.
And that was it. Oxford matched Motherwell’s offer of £40 a week and I was to become the highest paid first year trainee in the club’s illustrious history. You should have heard the fanfare in my head. Only problem was, could I keep my mouth shut long enough to make sure I protected my little expenses envelope every Friday? It was given to me in a more covert operation than a Mafia hit, because if I didn’t keep shtoom, it was made clear to me I would lose it, as there would have been turmoil among the trainees who were all getting a wee bit less than me. Of course I could do it. I was 16 and I was learning at a very young age, about what football was like. No one ever talks about their contract or the individual deal they have struck. You negotiate your own deal until both yourself, and very importantly the club, are happy. Don’t ever forget, no player ever held a gun to the head of a football club Chairman to make them sign on the dotted line or offer that lucrative contract the club can barely afford (well with the possible exception of the much sought after captain of Medellin United). It’s an unwritten dressing room rule – never discuss your personal terms with your team mates – contracts are sacred and any extras you can negotiate are kept within the confines of your head.
That Jackie MacNamara’s contract details were ever made public, will be much more a source of frustration and disappointment to him, than the revealing of a clause entitling him to a percentage of any transfer fees. Indeed, looking beyond the morality of the issue and seeing it purely from a business point of view, you have to admire the intuition and foresight of him (or his agent) to recognise the potential in negotiating such a clause. However, the morality of whoever leaked the information to all and sundry, must be seriously called into question.
Let me state before we go any further that is the NOT the sort of deal that, as far as I am aware, is commonplace in Scottish football. I have heard of some high profile managers in England on my travels who have had some sort of remuneration clause regarding transfers, put in the contract, but in Scotland I would say it is something of a rarity.
Whether you agree with the individual clause or not, it doesn’t matter. The manager and the club struck a deal they were both happy with. It was a win-win situation for the club. The manager gets a sweetener for developing players good enough to be sold on at a huge profit and the club fills its coffers.
However I’m not sure the club foresaw the backlash, when the news of the clause was leaked.
I can understand the fans’ perception that It could bring about a conflict of interest, but does anyone really think that Jackie would have been thinking about personal gain when the club was negotiating with Celtic about selling Mackay-Steven and Armstrong? Do they think he would be pushing the club to sell because he was to make a few quid from it?
From a moral point of view, there are of course nagging doubts that may make the whole thing not quite ‘sit right’ from a fans point of view. But what it also does is highlight the fickle nature of the football fan. Three months ago, Jackie was the best thing since the Arabs found oil. An unfortunate turn of results on the back of the sale of the two best players (for considerable money) AND the incredible run of four games in a row against the best team in the country, has turned the average United fan from being understanding of the situation to questioning it. Would this have been the case had the team continued on its good run pre-January? Somehow, I think there would have been a significant broom and a rather large carpet up Dundee way.
I’m a football supporter myself and it’s important to differentiate between the two types of fan. The ‘supporter,’ by the very definition of the word, supports his or her team and club, through thick and thin. Supporting the manager and the team through good times and bad, not changing at the first sign of adversity or the revelation of an unusual clause in a contract. That unswerving dedication and devotion to the club and it’s players. The passion will occasionally spill over into the odd screaming rant, but in the main, there is a controlled determination to help the club be as good as it can. In Scotland I would say this describes the majority of people who follow their team up and down the country, through all types of weather AND adversity.
The ‘fan’ however can be a little different. The very word itself is short for FANATIC. A word that to me conjures up all manner of extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm for a cause, and rarely stops to get on the rational bus. Maybe some of the ‘fans’ now starting to make a contractual issue of what I am certain would have been no more than a flea in the ointment had the club continued to win matches, could take a step back and look at the bigger picture; the team, the club, the financial reality and the future, the team can start getting back to making headlines ON the pitch.
One thing there can be no question of is that Jackie MacNamara is at a crossroads in his Dundee United managerial career. From what I have seen on social media, the newspapers and from talking to some of the Tangerine collective, they are split right down the middle on this one. Whether they decide to react in a supportive or in a fanatical manner, could well decide if Jackie remains at Tannadice beyond the end of this season. What you should remember though is that three indifferent months, on the back of losing your two best players, and a clause in a managerial contract, does not make him any less capable than he was before. Very often, when it comes to football management, it can be better the devil you know. There are many, many clubs’ ‘fans’ who will be able to vouch for that.
Finally….. As I’ve said I’m a football supporter (and occasional fanatic) myself. I’ve followed my team through good and not so good. Supporters are the lifeblood of the game and at the moment they are being taken for granted rather than being treated as an essential. Luckily there are people out there who are determined to do something about that. In my capacity of media whore and ex-professional footballer, I have been approached by the newly formed Scottish Football Supporters Association, to be a consultant on a voluntary basis on an Advisory Panel to see if we can give the supporters a greater voice and more prominent position in the game. The Chairman, Paul Goodwin, has worked closely with many clubs over the years regarding fan ownership and, has indeed been instrumental in the formation of highly influential supporters groups at clubs such as Hearts, Dunfermline and Rangers. It’s time that not only do the Supporters have a voice, but that they are heard. Hopefully I can help in some small way to working towards that.
My first book – JOURNEYMAN: FOOTBALL FROM THE INSIDE is now available to pre-order from http://www.tecklebooks.co.uk All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery.
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