The Professional Footballers Association is the players’ union. But how well does it represent their interests? And why isn’t it more open about its activities?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today… the “full and open” PFA review that is anything but…
After 40 years with one man in charge of the Professional Footballers Association, it was time for a change.
Gordon Taylor, who began his role in 1981, was the world’s highest paid union leader on an annual salary of over two million pounds.
But in 2018, the chairman of the PFA, Ben Purkiss, asked a question.
Why, if the organisation had 50 million pounds in the bank, was it not meeting the needs of its members?
Why had it allocated just a hundred thousand pounds to dementia research when the condition affected so many of its members?
It’s a subject that ex-footballer Chris Sutton is really passionate about, as you can hear.
“They haven’t been interested in it because it doesn’t… it doesn’t benefit them in any way, shape or form. Gordon Taylor… who is stepping down now… has blood on his hands. And we have to recognise this. We can’t keep talking about this. There are things we can do. Preventative measures which we need to put in place. And you need to take ownership, and do it now.”Guardian Football
Purkiss told the Daily Mail that when he suggested an independent review of the PFA, there was an attempt to remove him from his position.
They said he was ineligible to be a member of the union at all… he was playing for Walsall at the time but on non-contract terms.
The move failed.
And his persistence paid off.
A year later, an increasing number of controversies surrounding Taylor prompted a letter – endorsed by 300 current and former footballers – calling on him to step down.
The pressure prompted Taylor to do just that, and it was agreed by the PFA to hold a “full and open” independent review into the union.
An arbitrator named Sports Solutions appointed an independent QC, Naomi Ellenbogen, to lead it.
It had two aims:
One… whether the PFA looked after player welfare adequately enough…
“What is being done? Or what isn’t being done? Gordon Taylor has been Chief Executive of the Players Union, the PFA, for 36 years. Looking after players past and present is what he does.”
“You’ve got 50,000 members. Do we know how many of those have dementia?”
“No, I don’t…”BBC
And two, a look into the way the union was being run. Were policies being adhered to?
One of the key aims was to establish how, and if, the association was spending its money.
Membership of the PFA costs £150 per year.
But its main income, as negotiated by Taylor in 2001, comes from a multi-million pound slice of the Premier League TV rights.
So, with 50 million pounds in the bank, why was only £530,000 pounds spent on benevolent grants for players in the whole of 2017?
It’s something that’s caught the interest of the Charity Commission. It wants to know how the PFA is spending the revenue it received from the TV rights, most of which was supposed to go on charitable causes.
It was agreed that when Taylor stepped down, an independent panel would appoint his successor. Gary Neville was one of the people responsible for giving the job to Swiss-born Maheta Molango.
He’d played for clubs like Lincoln City and Oldham Athletic.
After football, he moved to Spain and took a degree in political science.
Then – passing the bar in New York after studying employment law – he became a lawyer, serving as legal counsel for Atletico Madrid before becoming the Chief Executive of Real Mallorca in 2016.
With this fresh new face, it seemed like times were finally about to change at the PFA, even if there was some pushback.
“Because it’s not someone they know, because it’s not someone they thought they could manipulate…that they can get to, they don’t like it. Really clear for me.”Guardian Football
Molango said it was a “new era” for the PFA and a time of “enormous change” in football.
Yet last week, Molango told reporters that no details from that independent review would be published, this despite earlier promises from Taylor that it was to be “full and open.”
In fact, Taylor said he was “adamant that criticism must not be swept under the carpet”.
New man Maheta Molango says the players want the PFA to focus on the here and now.
It amounts to an astonishing U-turn – and one which prompts the obvious questions:
Why has the PFA decided to withhold the report and at whose behest? Molanga’s? The members? Or was it people in the PFA who are still loyal to the old regime?
Who benefits from what looks like a reputationally damaging change of tack?
Inevitably, people are asking if there’s been a cover-up. Newspapers have speculated that Gordon Taylor still has powerful allies in the PFA.
It seems like the “full and open review”… was anything but.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Gary Marshall.