—- How Much is Enough?, from award-winning film-maker ROD HAY, is a four-part football documentary with a difference. This is not all about goal-clipped tips of the iceberg but delves into the how and the why when of the global transfer system . . as viewed by agents, players, managers, entrepreneurs, club owners, sponsors, fans, officials, media and just about anybody who has had something to say about the biggest and most supported game in the world, where winning is everything.
Now, according to Hay, football’s new ‘Hollywood super studs’ gauge their success on the maxim that if you haven’t made a million by the time you’re 25, it might be a good time to start looking for a new profession.
The series highlights how money has become the all-important arbiter, triggered by nearly a century of false promises to players.
For example, the early Victorian club owners treated their players little better than cattle, expecting not only complete loyalty, but gratitude for what could only be described as scant reward: You signed on for life, with no options and no voice; you were just part of the playing ‘gulag’.
Meanwhile, clubs were already earning significant profits at the turnstiles, from which the players got next to nothing.
Survival for many was only really achieved through a second job, either in the mines or on the docks. An injury could well be the precursor to early retirement, or worse still, incapacitation and sometimes even death, as medical attention and insurance coverage gave little support to the injured and dying.
The attempt to form a union was a long drawn-out affair, leaving many players destitute and bereft of welfare.
Hay’s filming reflects back to where the game, as we know it, evolved in the English Midlands, in which the laws of Association football were being slowly defined.
Previously, games without rules had often been organised with whole village participation, invariably with chaotic results. The game bore little resemblance to the one we know today. Hands, feet, and anything else one could muster, were used in the pursuit of victory.
Once pitch size, ball shape, numbers of players, use of body parts, referees, and time frames had been worked out, the difference between the game of football and rugby could be established.
The upper class though, steadfastly dictated the rules for both codes, referring to football as “a gentleman’s game played by hooligans”, and rugby “as a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”.
Progress was now unstoppable. Copyright ownership of the original game would be a complicated and protracted affair but was inevitably swept along by the impetus of a new beginning.
Rivalries brought the best out of traditional enemies, and there was none greater than England v Scotland, as they transferred a bitter history of national conflict onto the football pitch.
As a consequence, this made the game even more exciting and dramatic. Stars emerged and soon became recognised, although little regard was given to appearance fees.
Manchester City’s Welsh wizard, Billy Meredith, was arguably the first superstar. He attracted huge crowds which highlighted further the need to improve payments, as more and more of the working class dominated the playing side of the game.
A temporary solution came in the form of ‘under the table’ payments, seen as a convenient way of appeasing the situation.
However, Meredith’s anger and persistent public condemnation of the system, along with a deep commitment towards improving players rights and conditions, led at last to the formation of a bona fide players union, under the leadership of Meredith.
It was committed to its independence, and rejected any form of FA or club owners interference.
While little footage remains of Meredith, Hay manages to conjure up an image of the elusive right winger. An ex miner, Meredith was fearless, both on and off the field. Fans loved his hypnotic dribbling skills and familiar toothpick that never left his mouth. Club owners hated him, but could not deny the money he continually brought through the turnstiles.
Meredith could do no wrong on the field of play, winning league and Cup honours and Manchester City were seen as the best team in England.
Off the field though, a sensational bribery claim in 1905 led to several City players being suspended in which Meredith was targeted as the likely ring leader.
It seemed the perfect opportunity for club owners and the FA to make an example of these underhand, working class players, now that they, the establishment, possessed the legal fire power.
This was a complex affair but Meredith and the other City players were subsequently banned for life, only to have the ban discreetly lifted a year later, on condition they did not return to City.
Catalyst for change
Most of the players, including Meredith, moved to neighbours Manchester United, where they would again win league and cup honours. Meredith was now not only a hero, but a champion of the underdog. He was becoming the catalyst towards real change.
He also became a star of the silver screen, and his weekly provocative news columns attacking the establishment, provided perfect material for the vaudeville comedians of the day. Even Charlie Chaplin used Meredith’s public feuds to help his own career.
While the players’ union was trying to rewrite the laws over player ownership and earning power, World War I erupted, leaving the much anticipated changes in limbo.
War would deprive the game of change for the next 50 years.
ROD HAY is an award winning writer-producer-director, based in Australia, who has been creating unique images and stories for over two decades. His experience stretches across four continents and a range of features, television series, documentaries, commercials and music videos. He is equally at home with action, drama, sport, and animation.
In sport he has covered many subjects, covering football, athletics, horse racing, boxing, motor racing, rowing, rugby, swimming, tennis, and gymnastics, all at top level, although football is his passion and preferred choice. He played for West Ham United as a junior.
He has won a number of global awards including Sportel’s Golden Podium d’Or in 1997 and Ficts Film Festival’s best football film of all time, in 2008.
His programmes have screened in more than 100 countries, including History Channel in the United States and the rest of the world, Discovery, Sky, Fox, ESPN, HBO, Globo, TF2, ART, Premier, SBS, Canal +, to name but a few. He is also a freelance photo journalist and correspondent, author of four books, and an inveterate traveller.
In 2006 he was president of the prestigious Sportel International Film Jury, in Monaco, has been a jury representative on various other festivals, including AlJazeera and He has been running his parent company, Moving Targets, for more than 25 years.
How Much is Enough? is currently playing on ESPN. The series goes global from April/May, and then onto DVD and the internet.
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