When writing my book Can We Have Our Football Back? I heard that a current Premier League player wanted to talk to me about the current state of the game, and especially about money. He would only talk to me if I guaranteed his anonymity, which I was happy to do. So I can’t tell you who he plays for, nor anything about him other than he’s happy to say he’s in the autumn of his career and has played in the top flight for years.
He’s a really interesting person, very self-effacing and kind. He has given away all of his £200,000-per-month wages for about three years now, donating it to various charities and investing in projects, anonymously where possible. His position is that Premier League footballers are massively overpaid and that something needs to be done about it, preferably a radical wage cap. He’s very critical of the people in football, from agents to club owners and directors, and “all the flies that circle around the shit”, almost all of whom he says are “horrible greedy bastards”.
Johnny: “First up, how are you?”
Player X: “I’m fine. We’re all fine, thanks mate. Just trying to keep sharp. Are you two alright?”
J: “Yeah we’re well. The virus doesn’t seem to have reached here yet.”
P: “I suppose that’s the advantage of living somewhere a bit remote.”
J: “So has the club given you a training regime to keep fit?”
P: “Yeah, they have, but I know my own body. I know what I need to do. After all these years, you can feel it when you drop even just 5% of fitness. I’ll be blowing bubbles when we next play though.”
J: “So what are all your teammates doing to pass the time?”
P: (laughs) “The usual shit involving women and computer games!”
J: “OK, let’s get down to business. I want to get your perspective on the debate that’s raging about if players should take a pay cut or not. And Matt Hancock has just said players should be putting their hands in their pockets.”
P: “Him? I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could puke him. He’s just picking on an easy target. Why doesn’t he tell all his rich mates to cough up? All those c**** who fund his party? Fuck off.”
J: “So you don’t think players should donate money to the NHS or help pay the non-playing staff wages?”
P: “You know my thoughts on our money. It’s absolutely disgusting the amount players get. It’s ridiculous. We’re just footballers, not brain surgeons. The fact I’m paid more money than an actual brain surgeon is fucking stupid. And all the while millions live in poverty, getting cans of beans from a food bank. How can that be? I couldn’t live with that, which is why I give it all away now.
“But the thing with this current situation is, it shouldn’t be left up to the lads to make individual donations. The non-playing staff wage bill isn’t that big. The club should fork out for that or the fucking owners should; they’re richer than any of us.”
“The FA or Premier League or PFA or whoever should just say ‘no money for three months, we’re putting it all into an account to donate it to the NHS and other charities.’ Make it compulsory and across the board, including directors. So no-one has to make a choice. Because some will give all their money and some only a few quid. There are greedy, selfish bastards in football like in any walk of life and there are lovely lads who’d do anything they can to help.”
J: “Yeah, that’s a good idea, because if you leave it up to players, there’ll be a press witch hunt to find out who has paid the most and who hasn’t paid anything.”
P: “Exactly, yeah. I hear people defending footballers. Saying there are lads who already donate money to various causes and do good work in the local community. And that’s right. But let me tell you, it is by no means everyone. But I’ll tell you this, none of my first team would miss three months’ money.”
J: “People do seem keen to defend footballers from attacks like Hancock’s, though. And you do see people saying footballers are always the target, not other wealthy people.”
P: “Hancock’s just a thicko politician. But we’re an easy target because the money is so stupid, isn’t it? That’s why it happens. And we’re public figures. Owners and directors are more anonymous. But it should be the same rule for everyone. No wages for three months for anyone. It’s embarrassing. You’ve got lads on £80,000 a week who literally have no idea what to do with all the money they’re still racking up, while you’ve got these NHS workers dying on their feet who can’t buy themselves a meal. That’s fucking wrong. If anything good can come out of this lockdown it’ll be that people really properly understand how things are with money in this country.”
J: “But plenty of people say it shouldn’t be down to the players, that the billionaire owners and companies should be forking out the money.”
P: “Well they should as well, obviously. That c*** who runs Spurs, Levy. What a greedy shite. The fact that his first instinct is to shave money off the lowest-paid staff is entirely typical of so many people at that level. Evil little c****. You’ve no idea. They wouldn’t piss on a nurse if they were on fire. They are only bothered about wealthy people. They think the wealthy are better people and more important. Seriously, they do. They wouldn’t understand why people would be disgusted at what he’s done there. But that doesn’t mean players shouldn’t be giving up their money as well. You get this a lot now don’t you?”
P: “That thing – there’s a word for it – where people say you can’t have a pop at one group unless you have a pop at all the others.”
J: “Oh, whataboutery, you mean?”
P: “Yes. That’s it. Does my head in. So I can’t say footballers should donate their wages without making a fucking long list of all the others in society who also should? Fuck off, mate, eh?”
J: “We get it a lot when writing about almost everything. ‘You’ve written about this but what about that?’ Like I can’t write about anything unless I write about everything.”
P: “I don’t know how you do your job. The ignorant pricks would really wind me up.”
J: “Ha! At least I don’t get 30,000 people telling me to fuck off on a Saturday afternoon. Just to pull this back to the wages situation, why do you think footballers should be giving away all their wages? 100%. A lot of people will think that’s extreme.”
P: (groans) Look, look, players get the majority of money that comes into the club, don’t they? Most of the turnover of every club goes on wages. So if we’re not going to sort it out, who the fuck is? The lad who sells pizza on matchdays? Fuck off. No football fans should be finding excuses for footballers at this level. I don’t understand why they do that. It’s like they’re sticking up for us for some reason. Fuck off you creep, y’know? Eurgh. I hate those people who go on social media and say shit like ‘players have got a right to earn all that money’. Fuck off mate. You know fuck all so shut your fucking yap. I’ve got a ‘right’ have I? Fuck off. I’ve no right to earn more than someone who is caring for the dying. What monster would say that? These people who say things like that have lost perspective.”
J: “That’s an interesting idea. Let’s expand a bit on what you mean by losing perspective.”
P: “They don’t really grasp what big money really means in real life. You know that I’ve not taken a wage for nearly three years now. I used to say I’ve donated it to charity, but someone said I’d just ‘invested it in other people’. I like that better. So that’s about £8million, and I’ll be honest, I’ve still got millions in the bank from my career. I’ve taken no money for three years and I’ve wanted for nothing. Every single player could do the same. Imagine how much good we could do with all that money.”
J: “That’s amazing when you really think about it. Giving money away like that.”
P: “It’s not a big thing. It really isn’t, Johnny. When you’re rich, it’s just numbers. I want your readers to think about this in their own lives. Right? Get a perspective on what sort of income top-flight players earn and what it really, really means. Because it’s just cold numbers otherwise, isn’t it? I want them to imagine that they’ve bought a nice big house that cost £1million and it’s paid for in full. You and your wife have got a BMW series 5 and a Land Rover Sport. Over £100,000 worth of cars. Imagine that. I bought all of that a few years ago when I was on bigger money than I am now with just 20 weeks’ wages and bonuses. OK, I’m not bragging or showing off, you know that, I’m just saying how it is. I get free physio and medical care. Free gym. Even free trackies and trainers.
“So imagine you’re me. What are you going to do with £50,000 every single week of the year once you’ve got all that? Tell me? What? OK, you need clothes, a suit maybe, nice shoes. What’s the cost per year for those? Even if it was £30,000 – and I don’t see how it could be – you’ve still got £170,000 left from your first month’s wages.
“Bills for food and lecky and gas are piddling. What the hell can anyone spend £200,000 a month on? And I’m well below average in my pay. Imagine getting half a million or a million in your account per month? What people don’t seem to understand is that when you’ve loads of money, almost nothing seems expensive. Do you get me, Johnny? Nothing. It’s just a number. Any of your readers who think they could spend £200,000 per month every month for the next three years is kidding themselves. You can’t. Normal people can’t anyway. If you wanted to buy paintings by Warhol or someone you could shell it out, but the lads don’t do that. My wife says footballers are all normal lads with abnormal money. She’s right.
“So there you are with a big nice house, cars, no debts and the money is piling up. Why not give it away? It’s a no-brainer. Why not help people who have nothing or not enough? No-one deserves all this money, and we’re now not even playing football for it. We’re doing fuck all. I just don’t understand why you’d not help less fortunate people. Ask your readers how would they live with themselves having millions in the bank and knowing that millions of people can barely pay their rent or have to use a food bank to feed their kids. You’ve got so much and so many have got so little.”
J: “Well you know what people say, don’t you? We’ve talked about this before. They’d say you’re an elite player who’s paid as such because there are not many really good players. They’ll say you’ve had to be dedicated to the game for most of your life and that it’s a short career, so you have a right to the big money while you can earn it.”
P: “People who say that can fuck right off. Short career? I’ll have done 20 years by the time I pack up. Who has a job for 20 years any more? No-one. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but so has my cousin who works in the NHS. She’s pounding the wards 12 hours a day dealing with people who are dying – actually dying. Try telling her that she’s not dedicated her life to it or hasn’t got a special talent. She’ll fucking chin you. Meanwhile we’re doing sprints or playing crossbar challenge, with some lads earning more in a day than she’ll earn in a year. You get me? It’s wrong and no-one can tell me it’s not wrong. If you’re defending that situation you’re a muppet. This virus thing has just made it all more obvious for people.”
J: “But people can’t all earn the same money. That’s not how society works.”
P: “It’s not a perfect world, I know that. Never will be. But it doesn’t have to be this bad. The virus has shown all of us how important people who do all the dirty jobs for little money are to everyone. They keep it all running. The gap between rich and poor doesn’t have to be so huge. Those with loads should have a lot less and those who have very little should have a lot more. I don’t know how you go about making that happen, but that’s what we should be aiming at. Meanwhile, people like me have to do their bit and give back what we have undeservedly earned to people who need help. It’s not that mad, is it?”
J: “I don’t think so, no. Wouldn’t it help if I could use your name, though? Then you could set an example.”
P: “I’ve thought a lot about that but I’m shit with words. I’m not a talker really. I don’t want to have to go on TV and talk about it. And you know what’d happen. First people would say I was just bigging myself up. Then the papers would be up my arse trying to prove I was a hypocrite or worse. The tabloids would start making shit up about how I wasn’t as good as my word. Then some lads would think I was weird, they’d not understand what I’m on about, so it’d be bad for the dressing room. On top of that I’d get loads of weirdos wanting money off us for mad ideas. I mean, I fear for the kids as well. Some nutter might kidnap them knowing that I’m loaded and giving away money. You don’t know what could happen. It scares me sometimes. But that’s why when I heard about your book last year I wanted the truth of the situation to be out there, without the hassle that would come with going public.”
J: “I’d not thought about it being dangerous for you and your family.”
P: “Why would you? Wealth fucks so many things up. It changes how people treat you. You’re no longer a regular bloke. Being a footballer in the Premier League isn’t a job like any other. If we were paid normal money, life would be much more simple. Better, in fact. Much better.”
J: “OK, so let’s wrap this up with how you think we can go forward with the virus situation suspending…(interrupts)
P: “It’s not complicated, Johnny. Clubs pay non-playing staff wages in full for the duration. The Premier League or whoever has the power, takes the players and directors’ wage bill for three months and donates it to essential workers and the NHS. Six months if it goes on longer. That’s it. Not hard. No fuss and bother. Just do it. The lads will probably be glad to have the pressure taken off them. Then we’ll go round Hancock’s house and get his money off him. The twat.”