Moira Gordon: Footballers are seen as dancing bears

Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston's take-it-or-leave-it offer to his players will see the squad share �20,000 if they finish in at least tenth place in the Premiership. Picture: SNS
Kilmarnock chairman Michael Johnston's take-it-or-leave-it offer to his players will see the squad share �20,000 if they finish in at least tenth place in the Premiership. Picture: SNS
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OK, LET’S get this out the way: we all know that footballers are paid more than nurses. But before we go any further let’s also acknowledge that so are many of the supporters who sit in the stands and watch their teams play each week.

How many of them do you think have trotted off to their employers’ office and demanded that they can be paid less so that the rest of their salary can be sent off to help medical staff and their families or any other worthy cause?

So, casting that sanctimony aside, why do footballers get so little sympathy whenever their pay structure is altered, wages are cut due to the mismanagement or poor budgeting by club owners or boardroom personnel or, in the case of the Kilmarnock players at the moment, their bonus payments are slashed?

In a classic case of moving the goalposts, the Rugby Park staff are unhappy that verbal assurances are not being adhered to. It may not be a popular opinion in some circles and it certainly won’t be condoned by the online trolls who would have players on a treadmill 24/7 and fed only bread and water as a way of compensating for the fact they have the career that their detractors can only dream of.

Is it true that fans of Scottish football teams really believe that the majority of their onfield representatives are being paid the kind of sums that would make a lottery winner swoon? The truth is many are on less than £500 a week, a few can cash in a four-figure total, and only a minority are on the kind of money they can retire on when their short careers are up.

But still few are taking to the forums in support of the Ayrshire playing staff. And that strikes me as odd.

If this was you or me, if we had been promised a bonus and the terms were suddenly being changed, we would, quite rightly, be miffed, wouldn’t we? But footballers, for all they are idolised by some, are viewed as little more than dancing bears by others. No one really cares how they are treated, they just want them to come out smiling on match day and entertain them.

Kilmarnock fans have hit the forums to bad-mouth the players who have been offered one of the lowest bonus packages in the top flight. £20,000 to be shared by the squad if they secure tenth place or higher. It’s hardly the multi-million pound bonuses the bankers pay themselves. It’s not a case of greedy footballers trying to bleed the club dry, after all this is an employment sector where bonuses are traditionally part and parcel of the salary scheme, aimed at incentivising the players to dig that little bit deeper.

Cut through the jealousy over the perceived wages paid to the average footballer in the Scottish game, pare away the anger that fans paid out money for poor football and a nervy campaign which served up more defeats than victories, and transfer the issue to your own life. Regardless of whether you are a window cleaner, a nurse, a solicitor or a public servant, if you were having money denied you that you felt entitled to, who wouldn’t take it up with their union or at the very least raise a grievance?

John Rankin, chairman of players’ union PFA Scotland, has stressed that players these days are very realistic about what clubs can afford, they are willing to take that on board and, in many cases, have done more than they needed to agree wage cuts or revised payment strategies to help clubs out of the mire they often get themselves in.

“These players are handsomely paid for what they do so why should they receive a bonus for finishing below what they are capable of?” wrote one punter, in support of Killie chairman Michael Johnston’s foot-dragging. But if the players don’t deliver and the club slide into the Championship it will cost the club a damn sight more than the money they are seeking in bonus payments.

Perhaps the issue is how clubs address the bonus negotiations. They need to be discussed before players sign and they need to be fair and they should not be reneged on when a chairman or owner discovers an unpaid bill he needs to address.

I am with the fans in agreeing wholeheartedly that bonuses should not be paid for poor results, the same way tips are not mandatory for poor service in a restaurant, but that condition needs to be written into the contract, those caveats agreed ahead of the first ball being kicked.

Punters need to realise that in the entertainment industry there are no guarantees. If a movie is poor we don’t gnash and wail and write to the producers demanding that the actors are not paid.

In a culture where bonuses are accepted and expected, they need to be a proper incentive but they also need to be realistic. Fans are angry that asking their team to simply finish tenth or above is setting standards and ambitions too low. That may be the case but setting them too high is hardly fair when squads are often hamstrung by factors outwith their control.

Maybe the best thing is simply to seek improvement. Kilmarnock cannot argue that they haven’t seen that this term, with more points already on the board at this stage of the season than they had at Boxing Day last term.

I’m no players’ advocate. I don’t accept it when some bleat on when they are asked to come back in for afternoon sessions etc and I accept that they are paid to do a job most of us would love and one that they love too. But just because you enjoy your job, you shouldn’t be punished. Or are we so jealous that we don’t care when they are treated unfairly?

And it is happening more and more often. The Kilmarnock players are not the first to be caught out this way, others have lost out on bonuses, several squads have had to take wage reductions to keep clubs afloat and stave off redundancies and like the rest of us they do that against a backdrop of rising living costs and decreasing job security.

Probably the biggest lesson the Killie players and their counterparts could learn from this is that, in a game that cast aside integrity along with wool-knit strips and laced balls, even with a written contract there are few guarantees, which makes a verbal one little better than worthless. Maybe from now on, the bonuses should be contracted and lodged with the SFA, as Rankin has suggested, and any broken promises should come with consequences.

Then maybe we can all focus on football rather than finances. Ah, I remember those days, but only just.