Halve pro salaries to nurture grassroots – Johnston

Grassroots football is being ignored, says Liverpool legend Craig Johnston

Liverpool legend Craig Johnston has launched an impassioned plea to Premier League clubs to halve players’ salaries and use the money to invest more in grassroots football.

The Australian, who won five league titles at Anfield during the 1980s, says that Premier League chairman are “selling their soul” and that players are “living in La La Land” and are being paid “far too much money”.

Speaking on talkSPORT radio last week, Johnston said: “Why should footballers be recession proof? They have been living a bubble for too long. Why is everybody else in the country suffering? Why are the banks going under? Why are countries defaulting on their debt?

“Footballers have been living in La-La-Land with all this money.  This isn’t like shock, horror. This is the start of the end, unless somebody wakes up and understands that footballers are getting paid too much money in this country.

“If you halved the players wages and gave that half into the community and said ‘this is for grassroots and youth development’ to develop English players, that’s where the game is. That’s long-termism.

“But everybody is [about] short-termism. Everybody is money, money, money. Someone has to stand up and say ‘hey, the players don’t need that much money’. Footballers don’t need three Ferraris.”

Johnston moved to England from Australia as a teenager and made his career within English football. But, having fallen in love with the game in his adopted country, he believes that there is a serious problem with the game.

“I think there’s a problem from top to bottom and everybody ignores grassroots. That’s where the future of your game is. It’s [about] developing your players and giving them a systematic approach to getting better on a daily basis.”

The 1986 Double winner acknowledged that the Premier League invest millions into grassroots football but claims this is some way short of what is required.

“Millions is not enough.  It should be half of the players wages. I’m saying 50 percent and do you know why?  Because nobody else is talking any common sense.

“I’m Australian. I shouldn’t be as upset as I am.  You Brits should be taking control of what you’ve got rather than living for short-termism. This is your game.

Johnston, who was speaking to talkSPORT’s Richard Keys and Andy Gray, believes that “mercenary footballers” from overseas are taking money out of the English game and investing in their own countries rather than in the grassroots game in this country.

“You shouldn’t ignore other countries,” he concedes, “but footballers will be OK abroad.  The problem is the footballers here.  What is happening at grassroots? Where is all the great new talent coming through? The answer is it’s not.”

Johnston, who is also famed for inventing the Predator boot, was unequivocal in his message for the powers that be.

“Yes I’m talking to the people at the Premier League and the FA,” he said.

“Somebody has got to get together the chairmen and say ‘enough is enough’. The footballers are getting paid far too much money and half of that money needs to go back into the communities of the clubs that represent the Premier League.

“You’re selling your soul. You’re selling your soul.”

“The clubs should get together. Someone like David Dein who is independent should get the 20 chairmen in a room and they should make a deal.

“Banks are going under. Countries are going under. How are footballers recession proof?  The clubs aren’t recession proof. Name me three clubs that are making money. Nobody is making money.  It’s the community – the club is the community.

“Mercenary footballers will come and go from abroad, but the club remains there so why doesn’t the club have a right to make money?

“Players are getting too much money. The communities are getting nothing.  Sort it out.

“And chairmen: wake up to yourselves. Get together, sit down in a room. [Re-invest] 50 percent of the wages and if you don’t you’re all cowards because your clubs are going to go bankrupt. How about that?”

In a candid interview Johnston tells his football story, from leaving Australia as a child to becoming a part of Anfield folklore… with plenty more in between!

Listen to the interview in full at talkSPORT.co.uk.

Have your say!

What do you think about Craig Johnston’s comments?  Should Premier League clubs pay their stars less money and invest more in the grassroots game?  Would that damage the value of the Premier League? Or should the future of the English game come first?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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  1. Danny Bradley on September 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Agree with Mr Johnston’s thoughts 100%. How can a footballer who entertains for 90 minutes a week, sorry, could be upto 180 minutes a week receive in excess of £100k for doing so. The doctors and nurses of this world, save lives 7 days a week and do not receive that sort of salary in 5 years. The football salary is totally out of sync with the real world….the only losers are the people that keep funding this to happen, the general public. How many footballers have you seen bailing out businesses that are going under…..thats right…none.

  2. renfrewshire united on September 25, 2011 at 1:05 am

    I think should give lot more half there wages and turn up . I think should help with the running of other clubs on nights have free help take training and put money towards fund better faciltes etc

  3. Matt on September 26, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    I like the sound of this but let’s be realistic, it isn’t going to happen. No-one in their right mind will ever give up 50% of their salary, no matter how wealthy they are.

    What would be more realistic is 3% to 5% of their annual income given directly to an independant (not for profit) organisation that oversees football at a grass roots level.

    Having the FA, Premier League and football League overseeing grass roots clearly isn’t working!

  4. John Parker on September 26, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    Matt says that Craig Johnston’s suggestion is unrealistic and that it’s not going to happen but that negative outlook is the very reason why we’re in the state we are now! Something along the lines of Mr Johnston’s demands must happen soon if irrevocable damage to the English game is to be avoided. Football was always the common man’s game but for too long now, excesses of money from foreign influences, by and large, have priced the common man out of the professional game.
    Why should so much money, largely controlled by external influences, be focussed upon 20 elite clubs (the majority of whom are poorly financially managed) and their overpaid and frankly greedy players and agents? Furthermore, when are the powers that be going to exercise proper control over the player’s agents who no sooner earn a fat fee for agreeing one deal for their Client than their looking to earn a further fat fee for re-negotiating that deal, with the threat of moving the player on to another Club?!
    When the Abramovich’s, Venky’s and Arabian princes and their like finally lose interest in their ‘playthings’ and pull the plug, where will these financially unsound Football Clubs be then?
    When are the FA, the Premier League and the football public in general going to wake up and realise that the current situation is just not sustainable in the long term?!
    We all need to pull our heads out of our backsides and do something now to stop the train from hurtling over the precipice!!!

  5. John Uwins on September 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I agree with John P. that we should not give in so easily. Craig Johnston is completely right about the professional footballers being excessively overpaid. We need, in fact, must convince those controlling football to divert more funds down to the grassroot level. By giving more financial support and working with grassroots clubs, football will see massive benefits, which will generate more talented, English players and, in turn, create more opportunities for new generations coming through. I urge all the Chairman and top Managers of Premier League clubs to visit their local grassroots clubs. See how they are run and above all start to realise the important role that they play in youth development. They do far more than just coach/play football.

  6. Matt on September 29, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    In response to John P and John U comments.

    I too feel that premier league players are paid way too much but I don’t feel that any of my comments are negative – just realistic.

    Forget about demanding premiership players take a 50% pay cut because it just won’t happen and you both know it! For a start who is going to enforce it? Seeing that most premiership teams are privately owned there is no-one to make this demand happen!

    What is needed is a more gradual and common sense approach that might get people (i.e. the premiership teams, players and the premier League) listening. Asking for a small percentage of salaries and income to be deducted and distributed to grass roots football is more realistic – i.e. what a premiership player spends on a watch would keep several grass roots teams going for a couple of seasons!! We need to make them see they have a moral obligation to help grass roots football survive. After all every single player in the premier league played for a local team at some point in their career.

    In my opinion there are 2 main things that need to be addressed:

    1 – The fit and proper test for club owners. Why can’t there be a clause added that demands clubs distribute a certain percentage of revenue to grass roots football and youth development for all young player – not just those in their academies.

    2 – before point 1 can be implemented there needs to be an independent body that controls grass roots football. The F.A, Premier League and Football League should not be in charge of grass roots. They’ve been in charge for too long and look at the mess we’re in!!

  7. Heath Ravey on September 30, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    AT LAST !!! someone who has actually had the decency to stand up and tell it like it is. I am a new manager / coach at a north west semi pro club with no money to pay for semi pro players. A club that fell into slight disrepair but is at the heart of the community but is under funded its rediculous. I have paid for all my own coaching and welfare officer courses not because I had to but because I want to. I love football and have since I could walk but its so upsetting to see players and clubs struggling to find sponsors for shirts nevermind full kits when 10 miles down the road we have 2 of the richest clubs in the world. Now I am certainly not saying the clubs dont do a hell of a lot for the communities but the footballers them selves, especially the foreign players, come here get what they can and go again. If the clubs dont wake up to the fact that football is , and must be, the balance between business and sport for all then we will see a huge divide appear with grass roots developing welfare, codes of conduct and a real community feel against multi billion pound buisness for the better off. We need football people in football not just business men. Lets not condemn them for making money but make them realise and make the whole footballing industry remember that there wouldn’t be football if it wasn’t for the thousands of grass roots clubs and volunteers that give up their time and own money to let kids play. Its time to give back were it counts not by celebrity visits with well meaning words.

  8. Heath Ravey on September 30, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Oh and I also agree with Matt. More results come from any campaigns when it starts off small and builds from that. We need to be realistic.

  9. Andy PTJFC on September 30, 2011 at 7:58 pm

    Whilst I applaud the sentiment (half of Tevez’s weekly salary would allow us to have top notch draining put in on our 3 pitches) I think Matt is right, it wont happen because of market forces etc etc. We must also remember that it is only the top players that are paid the obscene wages, the smaller clubs just get very very high wages (the Carlos Tevez’s of this world on £250k/week v Blackpool players on around £10k/week), perhaps the old wage cap would be more practical, but that wouldn’t help grass roots.

  10. Theo Walcott on October 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I get paid 70,000 a week while rooney gets paid 250,000 its a huge difference. but doesnt really bother me. I we got paid less who would put in a effort to win cups and leagues (Barclays Prem.)

  11. jimmy kenny on October 8, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    well done craig
    wish a lot more people were as outspoken as you
    just goes to show how much you love the game
    and thanks for all the pleasure you gave me playing for l f c

  12. msb03 on October 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    A day of Rooney or Tevez’s weekly wage approx £35,750 would run our grass roots football club with 170 members – 9 teams – 2 full size pitches and 3 mini pitches for nearly 3 years. The FA should introduce a tax on transfer fees say 1% of the gross transfer value, this includes the agents cut for doing very little and this should be directed to grass roots football especially the building and maintaining of sports pitches and club facilities. In the last transfer window approx£468,000,000 was spent according to sky

  13. Ted Beech on October 17, 2011 at 6:15 am

    Where would Tevez, Rooney, and the like be without grassroots football.
    Also the Government could do more all the tax paid in from wages and tv rights should go direct to the lower league teams and grassroot football,if only eh!

  14. Tony Birdfield on October 18, 2011 at 7:49 am

    If you think grass roots football is going to lead us in to winning the world cup you are also in cloud cuckoo land. My son has played for three different teams in the last four or five years. I have come to the opinion that:Grass roots football is 1) Run too incestously with managers sons playing and given preference or cliques of parents running the teams and giving preference to players that are poor at the core skills control, passing, getting into space. 2) Most of the managers/coaches have played what I call English kick and run football and although they pay lip service to the more team oriented passing continental football they never see it through, primarily because they themselves do not have the skills and being normal insightless individuals unconsciously discourage the players from developing them. 2) In my experience from premier league down violent behaviour is still too often ignored or sometimes unconsciously promoted. The respect agenda seems a great idea but in my opinion managers try their best to ignore/deny when a player goes over the line especially if they are a particularly good footballer. As Rooney found you can get away with elbowing someone in the face deliberately but 3 match ban if you swear at a SKY camera. This sort of duplicity is rife from grass roots up to top level football. See football is no different to the politics of everyday life.

  15. John Hartshorn on November 6, 2011 at 1:47 am

    @ Tony Birdfield …if you are so concerned about the state of coaching in your area why don’t you get your badges and take it up yourself?

    As for where money should come from for grassroots simply add 10% to the value of transfer fees which would have been £47m this summer as taking from players or halving their pay is unrealistic, as much as you may dislike it, because the major players would simply play elsewhere.

  16. Jayhaych on November 8, 2011 at 1:21 am

    @John Hartshorn
    What Tony’s trying to say is there’s a culture that exists within grass roots football…favouritism, cliches etc…and I agree a standard of football which harks back to the days of Graham Taylor” Hit it long, chase it, clear it, hit the channels!”
    Now it’s all well and good saying get involved, take the relevant badges and do something about it, if concerned, but we’re talking about a culture…how do you change that culture?
    It’s going to take a re-vamp from top to bottom….I can’t ever envisage a day where footballers would give up half their paycheck…not going to happen! But the major clubs should encourage players to do more for there communities and possibly the PFA could maybe charge a fee to be donated to grassroots football as part of the membership.

    To all of the pro-footballers at the top level: How many ferrari’s can you drive at one time? Try to give back as football will just consume itself!

  17. Matt on November 10, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Jayhaych is right – it’s a culture change that’s needed! And I think it’s needed in the coaching space.

    The problem is that these thing’s take lot’s of time and lot’s of money. At least we all know there’s money!! I really like the idea of a transfer tax as it wouldn’t even need to be that high!

    Although we all see some shocking scenes over our local parks on a Saturday and Sunday morning – by shocking I mean grown men berating 8 year old boys because they made a mistake that lead to a goal, constant coaching from the sidelines by pushy parents and cries of ‘kick it long, clear it, don’t mess about with it’ – I don’t think you can blame the managers of these youth teams, because they were probably coached like this when they were kids! Let’s not forget that these guys give up their precious time to manage teams – without them there would be no grass routes football.

    What’s needed is a change in coaching philosophy from the very top. This is where funding should be channelled so coaches can be taught how to teach skills, technique and ball control – rather than build a team of big lads who can run fast and out muscle their opponents.

    Holland did it in the 70’s with their total football ethic, Germany did it in the 90’s when they overhauled their rules on the amount of foreign players allowed in each squad which lead to a massive increase of youth academy players getting their chance in the first team (players such as Muller and Ozil). And I think Spain’s possession and pass style of play speaks for itself!

    But do we have the patience to change our way’s? A culture change is a 10-15 year project!

    Looking at how these changes have benefited our European cousins, I think it’s worth it!

  18. John Hartshorn on November 10, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    I was not implying that anyone was wrong on here, I completely agree with whats been said so far. What I was trying to say was that while people stand around pointing fingers at what is obviously wrong from many angles with our game at grassroots level that instead of getting annoyed about it then moving from club to club to club, why not do the coaching badges and get involved, use your own ethos to the advantage of others and don’t let happen in your team / club what you see happening in so many others and when you start to win tournaments people will sit up and take more notice of a winning team / club and how they have achieved that more than they will do by someone shouting out from the periphery.

  19. Matt on November 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    John Hartshorn – well said and I completely agree, it’s just that the FA badges are quite expensive – not everyone can afford to take them.

    But if the FA picked up the cost of the level one badge more people might be inclined to take them

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