- Disastrous investments a factor behind players’ calls for reform
• Danny Murphy says PFA failed to protect players
Exclusive by David Conn– The Guardian
A major motivation behind the growing calls for reform of the Professional Footballers’ Association is the large number of recently retired players struggling with severe financial difficulties, despite having had lucrative careers in the game.
One accountancy professional with detailed knowledge of many players’ financial problems told the Guardian that approximately 500 former players from the first generation to play in the Premier League may have lost up to £1bn because of disastrous investments, based on financial advice, and HMRC demands following their involvement in investment schemes promoted as tax-efficient.
Research conducted in 2013 by the organisation XPro suggested that as many as 60% of former players, who earned huge salaries in their Premier League days, were declaring bankruptcy within five years of retiring. Among this large group of players, many of whom have lost everything and also endured divorce, depression and other mental health problems as a result, there is a groundswell of opinion that the PFA has never done enough to protect or help them.
The extent of financial problems suffered by players also underlies the resentment felt by many over the £2.29m annual salary earned by Gordon Taylor, the players’ union’s chief executive, which contrasts with a total of £500,000 the PFA distributed in benevolent grants last year.
The former Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, who is supporting the call by the PFA chairman, Ben Purkiss, for an independent review of the players’ union, said on Monday that he believed there had been “financial abuse” of his generation of players.
“I know personally players struggling with mental health, addiction, financial abuse,” Murphy told TalkSport. “You have to remember that we as Premier League players, we were at Premier League clubs, we were not protected by the PFA, not protected by the Premier League, when the IFAs [independent financial advisers] were coming into the football clubs and brainwashing us or manipulating us. Young lads with no idea of money or concept of what to do. So now we have got these problems that they can’t deal with.”
Murphy pointed to the PFA’s very large annual income from its agreed share of the Premier League TV money, £26.6m last year, which is provided for players’ welfare, and accused the union of failing to spend it adequately where people are in great need.
“Since the TV money got big and players of my generation started retiring, problems have become bigger,” he said. “Financial issues, lots of bankruptcy; we’ve had sexual abuse, dementia has become a huge one for older players; mental health, addiction, all these things now are too much for the PFA to deal with, but they have the funds to expand and help … this is about an organisation that has the capacity to help hundreds of people who are in desperate need, and they’re not doing enough. Their responsibility to players and ex-players is huge but it’s not being fulfilled.”
He stressed that although more than 200 players have endorsed an open letter to the PFA’s management committee which will include a call on Taylor to step down, the campaign is principally to back Purkiss’s review and modernisation of the union, rather than to take issue with Taylor.
After an internal battle with Taylor, Purkiss came out publicly last week calling for a review, arguing that the PFA has to modernise and evolve to better meet the modern challenges of players and former players. The PFA responded by issuing a statement saying it had postponed its AGM, due to be held on Tuesday, because it had a legal opinion that Purkiss is not eligible to be the chairman as he is a non-contract player, with Walsall.
Purkiss, who has refused to step down, is understood to have then sought his own legal opinion, which is clear that he does have a right as a non-contract player to be a PFA member and the chairman.
Purkiss is understood to have argued the PFA is not systematic or strategic enough in helping with the most urgent and difficult issues players and former players face: mental health problems, severe financial difficulties and, for older ex-players, dementia. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment, but he and the PFA have always argued they have tried to protect players from financial exploitation, and done all they can for their welfare provision.
As Taylor is not responding to requests for him to stand down, or agreeing to an independent review, and no election is pending for his position as general secretary an outside challenge may be made to force the issue.
Taylor does not appear to have faced an election challenge throughout his 37-year tenure and some players are questioning whether the correct procedures were followed, although the PFA will argue that they were.
A potential move being discussed is to question the PFA’s election procedures with the Certification Officer, in effect the trade union regulatory body, which would trigger inquiries and a possible investigation.