This is an extremely challenging and worrying time for our country, and the world, as we all try to navigate the Coronavirus pandemic. Our admiration and thanks are with the NHS and all keyworkers who are keeping our country going at this very difficult time.
Football, of course, faces its own challenges. As this is an ever-moving situation, our staff are working tirelessly behind the scenes on this unprecedented crisis to address the needs of the players, while considering the clubs and the wider industry.
Our initial response to the outbreak was to focus solely on the health and safety of players, club staff and the fans.
We circulated advice and recommendations to all players and clubs regarding best practice at the training ground, and as the outbreak progressed, we then voiced the player’s concerns to the leagues which resulted in training being suspended at all clubs.
We wanted to ensure the necessary steps were taken to ensure football was taking responsibility to do its part in reducing the potential for spreading the virus. It was quickly obvious that the wider implications of the pandemic were more important than football.
Understandably, with the season subsequently on hiatus, the players’ and clubs’ financial positions then became a priority issue.
We had an initial meeting with the Premier League and EFL on Monday 23rd March.
At this point, our attention was mainly focused on EFL players - particularly League One and League Two - as their need was most urgent. Here, a significant number of players are employed on a relatively short-term basis, with 12-month contracts and salaries closer to the national average. As such, many of these players will have contracts ending in June. These are often people with young families, for whom their immediate financial position is uncertain.
As the month progressed, we saw first-hand correspondence from multiple EFL clubs telling players that they needed to immediately sign paperwork in order to receive March’s salary. In several instances, this was sent the day before the squads were due to be paid. Players were being asked to agree to a range of terms including furloughs, deferrals and, in some cases, pay cuts. For some, this constituted a legal change to their contract that would have standing beyond the resumption of football.
As the players’ union, we have a duty of care to our members and advised that players should not sign any contractual amendments, particularly when being put under significant pressure, without being fully informed.
In addition, there was no consistency from clubs with regard to wording and the terms being offered. This meant the PFA was dealing with a high number of differing cases in a short space of time.
Contrary to some press reports the PFA has never stated that it will block all wage deferrals. What we have sought to put in place is a structured and unified approach to ensure a fair response across the leagues.
To address this, we called for an urgent meeting with the Premier League and EFL - which took place on Friday 27th March. The PFA’s primary aim was to ensure that wages for EFL players were protected for that month, this was agreed.
In addition, a timetable was established to collectively use early April, to reach considered decisions and solutions, with a view for any potential changes and reductions to salaries coming into effect on April’s payroll. Talks on this basis are ongoing.
Each club’s financial standing will vary. We are aware of the public sentiment that the players should pay non-playing staff’s salaries. However, our current position is that – as businesses - if clubs can afford to pay their players and staff, they should.
The players we have spoken to recognise that the non-playing staff are a vital part of their club and they do not want to see club staff furloughed unfairly. Any use of the government’s support schemes without genuine financial need is detrimental to the wider society.
In instances where clubs have the resources to pay all staff, the benefit of players paying non-playing staff salaries will only serve the business of the club’s shareholders.
We understand the severity of the situation and the challenges that clubs from all divisions face. We have requested, via the leagues, that clubs provide us with information about their financial position, so that we can make informed decisions for the future – both immediate and long-term.
While we have a remit to protect our members, throughout our history, we have also done our utmost to protect the wider game. There are a large number of clubs within English football who would simply no longer exist without the PFA’s support. We have often been the organisation to pick up the pieces when clubs hit financial difficulty.
We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.
In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.
Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.
We are hoping to reach an agreement with the Premier League and EFL that secures the long-term future of the clubs and protects players.
As an industry, we are in discussions with clubs and players to identify the support we can give to our country during this difficult time.
We have set up a dedicated email for any enquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org
The PFA will always focus on your health and wellbeing, this remains our utmost priority as we continue to work alongside clubs and the leagues to find unified solutions to the problems that lie ahead.
At this time, football must come together as an industry to protect the game we love. We will continue working hard to protect you, and update you through our communication channels as and when events evolve.