MICHAEL WOLSEY: No, we don’t want a GAA Super League
The GAA prides itself on running amateur sports but everybody knows that many counties, and some clubs, make payments to managers and coaches.
Players don’t get paid a wage but they get expenses and perks such as holidays and trips abroad for training.
At some stage in most seasons an argument will be advanced that these payments should be made official. It wouldn’t really be professionalism, say those in favour; just an honest and open way of rewarding good players. Semi-professional … sort of.
They should be careful what they wish for. There is no ‘sort of’ about professionalism. It may start small, but a policy of pay-for-play always leads to a position where big teams thrive and small sides struggle. If anyone in the GAA doubts that, they should take a warning from the short-lived plan for a European Super League that has enraged football fans everywhere.
Soccer has always paid its players, of course, but for a long time it strived to keep the game semi-professional … sort of. Top English clubs tried to do this by imposing a maximum wage for players. Inevitably, the maximum crept up and up, until it reached £20 a week.
It seems laughably little but, back in the 1960s, £20 was not a bad wage. It was a better income than most football supporters could have hoped for, but it was within the general ambit. Since a footballer’s earning days are short, it ensured that fans and players shared a common lifestyle.
Some clubs couldn’t afford to pay the maximum wage. Others could afford to pay far more and got around the limit by awarding, yes, expenses and perks such as holidays and trips abroad for training.
Money talks, and eventually the wealthy clubs got the maximum wage abolished. The semi-professional era was over and a gap began to grow between the lifestyles of the people who played the game and those who watched them play.
Nowadays they could not be further apart. Even an average Premier League player, who may spend more time on the bench than on the pitch, will earn more in a week then most of those who support his team can hope to make in a year. Transfer fees for quite ordinary footballers are calculated in multiple millions.
The finances of big football clubs bear no relation to the reality of life for most of us and the pampered players move in a wealthy little world of their own.
Big clubs need a lot of money to survive in this strange universe they have created. They draw more income from television than they do from the terraces and have ceased to care about the home supporters who give them their loyalty.
Little clubs, who don’t interest TV audiences in Asia or the Middle East, are excluded from television’s bounty, but occasionally they get the chance to share crumbs from the top table and we have the pleasure of watching a League of Ireland side advance through a few rounds of the Champions League or Europa League.
If the Super League moguls had their way, even that door would have been shut. They don’t want upsets that play havoc with their financial projections, the upsets that make football fun. The league they wanted would have been a closed shop, an invitation-only franchise without promotion or relegation.
The righteous anger of the football world has sunk the Super League for now. But I fear it will be back. Uefa has a plan for a revamped Champions League which is not so very different; like the Super League scheme it has an in-built bias in favour of big and wealthy clubs which pays no regard to the traditions of the international football family.
The structures of the GAA are very different from those of professional football and it is hard to imagine it ending up in such a sorry state. The Association should be wary, nonetheless, of any steps that would take it down that road, such as pay-to-play or the promotion of glamorous inter-county contests at the expense of club fixtures.
Gaelic football, camogie and hurling are rooted in the community, the top players are our family, friends and neighbours, not stars from another constellation.
The GAA should make sure it stays that way.