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The Arsenal man who changed the transfer system

George Eastham was not only an Arsenal captain but also the man who did more to reform the transfer system than anyone with the possible exception of Jean-Marc Bosman.

Starting in 1885 players had to register at the start of each season with one club.  The player could then change clubs only if his existing club agreed, although players could change clubs at the end of the season.

As a result successful players demanded pay rises each September when the clubs asked them to re-sign.

In 1893, with many clubs in financial difficulty the Football League changed the rules, so that once a player was registered with a League club he was “retained” by the club until the club released him, even if the club were neither playing nor paying him!  It was in fact a feudal system.

Additionally, to stop players wanting to leave, a maximum wage was introduced in 1901, and gradually the practice developed of clubs paying each other money to buy the contract of a player.  The transfer system was born, and “retain and transfer” became the cornerstone of football contracts.

Inevitably some larger clubs quickly learned how to by-pass the maximum wage part of the contract, and so when in the 1950s George Eastham played for Newcastle United they provided him with a  house and a “secondary job” – a practice that was commonplace.

However George was reportedly unhappy with the arrangements and in 1959, he requested a transfer – which Newcastle refused (as they had every right to do under “retain and transfer”).  George then refused to play for Newcastle until eventually in October 1960, Newcastle agreed to transfer him to Arsenal for £47,500.

With the help of the PFA George then took Newcastle to court and in 1963 he won the case with the “retain” aspects of the system being declared illegal.

As George later said, “Our contract could bind us to a club for life.  We had virtually no rights at all.  People in business or teaching were able to hand in their notice and move on. We weren’t. That was wrong.”

George Eastham made his Arsenal début against Bolton on 10 December 1960, and scored twice in a 5-1 victory and in 1963 he gained his first England cap against Brazil.

He was also in the 1966 world cup squad, and following a campaign to persuade Fifa to award medals to all the squad members, George was presented with his world cup medal by Gordon Brown on 10 June 2009.

George was Arsenal captain between 1963 and 1966 having scored 41 goals in 223 matches.  He then joined Stoke and played in the 1971 and 1972 cup semi-finals against Arsenal.

After a short period managing Stoke he emigrated to South Africa and set up a sportswear company, and, as an anti-apartheid campaigner was a football coach for local black children.   He is chairman of the South African Arsenal Supporters’ Club and gained an OBE for services to football in 1973.

1 comment to The Arsenal man who changed the transfer system

  • Derek Paget

    GE would be in my all-time best Arsenal team. I was there on 10/12/60 when he played a mesmerising first game against what was then a top team [with an England goalkeeper]. It was his bad luck that he played for Arsenal during the Dark Ages.

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