2001 ASSLH conference – The Socceroos strike a deal


Braham Dabscheck
School of Industrial Relations, University of New South Wales


In the period September 1996 to January 1998 the Australian Soccer Players’ Association and Soccer Australia were locked in a dispute over payments to, and a collective agreement for, Australia’s international players—the Socceroos. The major theme of the paper is that the tenets of unionism prevailed over “macho-management”. The dispute is situated in the context of Australian soccer’s recent history—charges of maladministration, if not worse, and the 1995 Stewart Report—and collective bargaining, since the formation of the players’ association in 1993. The paper provides an account of the major events and machinations associated with the playing out of this dispute.

Workers form unions in the belief that they will be more able to protect and advance their employment interests through collective, rather than individual, action. The mere formation of a union, however, does not in and of itself, guarantee that the said workers will be able to enhance their employment conditions. For this to occur, the union will need to develop organisational and strategic capability to extract concessions from employers (Webb & Webb, 1911; Hoxie, 1924; Perlman, 1949; Shister, 1953).

Employers would like to operate in a world free of unions; negotiating with workers on an individual basis. Individual bargaining not only enhances their ability to conclude more favourable employment conditions with their workforce, but also helps to enhance the latter’s commitment to the firm. The literature identifies a category of employer—macho manager—who holds no truck with unions and unionism.

Purcell (1982, 3) says that macho “managers [are] almost contemptuous of unions and negotiating procedures…[their] spirit is almost of the divine right of managers to manage, to broach no argument and get on with the job of directing, controlling and enforcing order over a demoralised workforce”. For Mackay (1986, 26), under macho management “unions and their formal channels of communication are…bypassed…[and] relegated to the sidelines as management seeks to establish its ‘unitary’ view of the enterprise…management can give its version of the world direct to the workforce unmediated by…unions.”

Unionism and macho management make for an unstable combination; a condition of disequilibrium. A union, especially a recently formed one, which is unable to neutralise or bypass a macho manager, will find its relevance, and very existence, called into question. A similar fate awaits a macho manager who is unable to resist the entreaties of unions.

A struggle between a union and a macho manager occurred in Australian soccer over payments to players who represent Australia in international games—the Socceroos—in the period September 1996 to January 1998. The protagonists were the Australian Soccer Players’ Association (ASPA)—in mid 1999 it changed its name to the Australian Professional Footballers’ Association—and David Hill, the chairman of Soccer Australia.

David Hill is the epitome of a macho manager. A former head of the New South Wales State Rail Authority and the Australian Broadcasting Commission, he was appointed Soccer Australia’s chairman in the first half of 1995. He refused to enter into negotiations with ASPA over Socceroo payments1 prior to the playing of games/tournaments. To deflect possible industrial action he, or other Soccer Australia officials, indicated that negotiations would occur after the game/tournament had been completed. However, once this had occurred, and threats of not playing were over, Hill steadfastly refused to countenance negotiations with ASPA.

ASPA’s Socceroo campaign was player driven. Hill tried unsuccessfully to drive a wedge between the leadership and membership of the union. Players were prepared to strike to induce Hill and Soccer Australia to sit at the bargaining table. In December 1997, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, “player power” pushed Hill to one side, Soccer Australia agreeing to enter into negotiations with ASPA. On 29 January 1998 two separate agreements were signed. The first was for the recently completed tournament in Saudi Arabia; the second, for a four nations series to be played in Australia in February 1998.

This article will provide an account of the various events and machinations associated with this struggle; of how unionism prevailed over a macho manager. Most of the information contained in this article is derived from documents and file notes, the latter usually hand written, of various meetings and telephone conversations, attended by Brendan Schwab, ASPA’s chief executive officer and kindly provided to the author.

Background and context: collective bargaining in Australian soccer

Soccer, both in Australia and overseas, has traditionally operated under a set of employment rules known as the compensation and transfer system (or retain and transfer system). Under this system, a player can only take up employment with a new club, in the same or another league (domestic or overseas), with the permission of his former club. The granting of such permission invariably involves the payment of fees—a compensation fee for players out of contract and a transfer fee for players under contract. This system, with the restrictions it places on the employment rights and economic freedom of players, has been a continuing source of controversy. Courts, in various jurisdiction, have, generally speaking, viewed the compensation system as an unreasonable constraint on players’ employment rights (see Dabscheck, 2000).

During 1993 and 1994 Australian soccer2 was wracked by a series of rumours concerning maladministration, if not malfeasance, by officials, coaches and agents in the transfer and selection of players; coaches demanding payments from players to be selected; and secret commissions and significant proportions of transfer fees from overseas clubs, being directed to other, or unknown, parties. In June 1994 Soccer Australia announced the appointment of the Honourable Donald Gerald Stewart, a former judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, and a former head of the National Crime Authority, to conduct an inquiry into Australian soccer.

Mr Stewart’s Report was never published by Soccer Australia. It feared that various persons named in it would initiate legal proceedings to defend their reputations. The Report was subsequently published by the Senate, Environment, Recreation, Communications and Arts References Committee, under parliamentary privilege, on 10 January 1995 (Stewart Report, 1995). In June and November 1995 this Committee, in turn, released two reports on Australian soccer (Senate 1995a; 1995b). Most of the Stewart Report is devoted to examining particular events and specific allegations concerning various individuals, and tracking down monies associated with the recent transfer of leading Australian players to European clubs. The Report expressed strong criticism of the compensation system. Mr Stewart surmised it would be struck down by Australian courts. He recommended that Soccer Australia and APSA enter into negotiations, under the auspices of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, to change soccer’s employment rules (Stewart Report, 1995).

ASPA was formed3 on 27 April 1993 in response to problems experienced by players under the compensation and transfer system, harsh treatment by clubs and, in the context of rumour and innuendo surrounding the administration of soccer, as a force to lift the image and profile of the game. ASPA has staunchly acted in defence and support of members’ employment interests, both individually and collectively. In so doing, however, it has sought to establish a co-operative relationship, or partnership, with Soccer Australia and its constituent clubs. By helping to establish the commercial success and well-being of soccer, ASPA believes it will be more able to obtain enhanced benefits for members.4

Throughout most of its history ASPA has had a membership rate of somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent. In the period being considered here ASPA’s membership was in the order of 220 members. In August 1993 it helped increase payments to Socceroos, who had threatened strike action, from $1,000 to $5,0005 a game, during the 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign (see Wade, 1995, 95-102). In September 1993 it merged with the 35,000 member strong Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (The Alliance was one of David Hill’s sparring partners in his regency at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation). ASPA subsequently went its own way in 1998. During 1993 and 1994 ASPA attempted to enter into a collective bargaining deal with Soccer Australia. Such negotiations stalled over the compensation and transfer system.

In the second half of 1994 ASPA sought to have its differences with Soccer Australia resolved by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. In the latter part of 1994 it succeeded in an application to have a Full Bench of the Commission adjudicate on the compensation system. In a decision on 9 June 1995, the Full Bench expressed criticism of the system. It said, “in its present form it should be abolished”. It went on to add, however, that it should not “be abolished until consideration has been given to whether something else be put in its place”, or it “could be modified so as to remove its unsatisfactory features”. Such changes could occur by the end of 1996, under the auspices of the Commission. Significantly, the Full Bench also said that such negotiations should include “all the terms of an agreement or award to cover the remuneration and conditions of employment of professional soccer players… To the extent that agreement cannot be reached arbitration may be necessary” (Media Alliance v Marconi, 1995, 68-80).

The parties subsequently negotiated a comprehensive agreement. The Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999 runs to 60 pages and contains seven schedules. They relate to terms and conditions of employment, compensation and transfer systems, code of conduct, grievance procedures, standard player contracts, registration forms, and the Australian Soccer Players Commission. The Players Commission, changes to the compensation system and payments by Soccer Australia to ASPA for the use of players’ images from television rights are the major features of the agreement which have relevance for the discussion here.

The Players Commission comprises representatives from Soccer Australia and ASPA, plus a jointly agreed chairperson. The Players Commission can consider any matter referred to it. It does not possess a deliberative power. It can only “make recommendations to the parties”, which are not binding “unless and until endorsed by the Board of Commissioners” of Soccer Australia (Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999, 57-60).

Two major changes were introduced to the compensation system. First, players who do not receive an offer of employment from their current club, 30 days prior to the expiration of their contract, on “terms and conditions no less favourable” than their previous contract, will automatically become free agents (Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999, 30-31). That is, they can sign with a new club in the Ericsson Cup—not overseas, however, per Federation International de Football Association6 (FIFA) regulations (FIFA, 1991)—free of the encumbrance of a compensation fee. Such a system has operated in English soccer since 1963, following Eastham, where Mr Justice Wilberforce found rules similar to the compensation system to be an unreasonable restraint of trade (Eastham v. Newcastle United, 1964; see Dabscheck, 2000, 153). Second, by the end of 1997/1998, those players who had turned 26, or played six years with the same club, would become free agents, remaining so for the balance of their careers in Australia (Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999, 32). Free agency, after six years with the same club, has operated in American baseball since 1976 (see Dworkin, 1981). The agreement also said Soccer Australia agreed to pay ASPA a percentage of all domestic and international compensation and transfer fees. This figure would be determined by the Players Commission (Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999, 35). At its inaugural meeting, held on 12 December 1996, it determined on a figure of five per cent (Minutes, 12 December 1996).

David Hill was appointed chairman of Soccer Australia in 1995, after the fallout associated with the release of the Stewart Report. He signed the Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999. Events before his term of office and out of his control—the Stewart Report, ASPA’s proceedings before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission— provided him, and Soccer Australia, with little choice. Hill would not be so accommodating, however, when it came to negotiating a collective agreement for the Socceroos.

Playing for pride, travel and experience

The overwhelming majority of Australia’s leading players ply their trade overseas; mainly with European clubs.7 Such players may earn weekly incomes in the vicinity of tens of thousands of dollars. By comparison, for the 1995/1996 season the average annual income of players in the Ericsson Cup was $20,0008 (Dabscheck, 1996, 608). Overseas players are usually only selected for matches against crowd pulling European or South American teams; or in key World Cup qualifying games. While overseas based players were supportive of and/or active in ASPA’s attempts to improve their pay, they may not have been ASPA members (the same could be said of some domestic based players). They were more likely to be a member of a players’ association which operated in their respective domestic leagues.9

For internationals against nations in Oceania, where, with the exception of New Zealand, playing standards are relatively low, and less important tours to Asia or (South) Africa, the Socceroos are usually chosen from Ericsson Cup players.

In the second half of 1996 the Socceroos were scheduled to play a series of games in preparation and/or as qualifiers for the World Cup in France 1998. In September, prior to the Socceroos departing for a four nations tournament in South Africa, Brendan Schwab rang Socceroo, and ASPA executive member, Warren Spink to ascertain players’ views concerning the establishment of a Socceroo collective agreement (B. Schwab, personal communication, 7 September 1996). For games in Saudi Arabia and Tahiti Soccer Australia offered players terms of engagement of $154 per diem while on tour (and/or in training camps), match fees of $750 a loss, $1000 a draw, and $1,250 a win, and would meet all appropriate expenses such as travel, accommodation and meals. Players were asked to sign and return an attached copy of the letter. Alternatively, “your attendance at the training camp/departure with the team will be deemed to constitute acceptance” (D. Woolley, personal communication, 1 October 1996; 15 October 1996).

On 18 October, prior to a World Cup qualifier away against Tahiti, Schwab received a phone call from Socceroo captain and ASPA executive member Alex Tobin. Tobin complained that players had not received match fees, in the order of $3,000, for the recently completed South African tour; nor any share of prize money, which was believed to be $60,000. More significantly, Tobin believed that there was substantial prize money available for the winner of the series against Tahiti, who would qualify as winner of the Oceania region for FIFA’s Confederation Cup, to be held in Saudi Arabia in December 1997 (B. Schwab, personal communication, 18 October 1996). Later that day, Spink phoned Schwab informing him players had been told, by coach Eddie Thompson, that such prize money was equal to $600,000 (B. Schwab, personal communication, 18 October 1996). Tobin objected to players being offered contracts which did not include a share of prize money (the level of which he did not know). He also told Schwab, to the latter’s surprise, that players would boycott the return match against Tahiti in Canberra on 1 November, if Soccer Australia didn’t “come to the party”.

Over the next few days Schwab held a series of discussions with various players and/or ASPA executive members. Soccer Australia was criticised for its attempt to keep prize money secret. Schwab was told the only real satisfaction players derived from playing was pride, travel and experience (B. Schwab, personal communication, 19 October 1996). Schwab and ASPA president Kimon Taliadoros discounted the likelihood of other players “scabbing” if the threatened boycott went ahead (B. Schwab, personal communication, 20 October 1996).

It was decided that Schwab would inform Soccer Australia’s chief executive, David Woolley, that players’ departure with the squad did not constitute acceptance of Soccer Australia’s offer of employment (B. Schwab, personal communication, 20 October 1996). The players also signed a petition. It said that if Soccer Australia did not reach agreement with ASPA that players should receive a negotiated share of prize money for being Oceania champions, were paid for the recently completed South African series, and negotiated a comprehensive Socceroo collective agreement, by 5 pm on Monday 28 October, it “cannot be guaranteed” that the 1 November game against Tahiti, “including any training and promotional arrangements…will proceed as scheduled” (Players’ Resolution, 21 October 1996).

Schwab contacted Woolley, who agreed to meet on 24 October (B. Schwab, personal communication, 22 October 1996). On 22 October Spink told Schwab the players were prepared to take action in Tahiti. They were concerned, however, that “scabs” would be used in the return leg. He also told Schwab that players had received per diem allowances for twelve, rather than fourteen, days, to which they were entitled. Spink also said Tobin had received a letter from Hill rejecting the players’ claim for a share of the South African prize money, which “angered the boys even more” (B. Schwab, personal communication, 22 October 1996).

Schwab spoke to Woolley again, highlighting the urgency of the matter. Woolley said he was trying to “keep a lid on things” at his end. He told Schwab that Hill’s response to the players’ resolution was to withdraw the team. Woolley also said that Soccer Australia had only recently received details of the Confederation Cup. Oceania had only received confirmation from FIFA, in the last month, as a confederation.10

On 24 October Schwab and Frank Farina, an ASPA executive member and former Socceroo, who had played with a number of leading European clubs (and is the current Socceroo coach), met with Woolley, Peter Haig and Corrine Blatter of Soccer Australia. Woolley conceded that Soccer Australia had been at fault with communications. Information was presented on losses Soccer Australia had incurred in staging internationals. Apparently, there had not been any prize money for the South African tournament. It was agreed that players would receive two extra per diem allowances. There was general discussion concerning the development of a formula for the distribution of prize money for all tournaments, through to the World Cup. It was “agreed”—though this was later to be a source of controversy— that players would receive 20 per cent of appearance fees, 75 per cent of prize money and 5 to 10 per cent of television, sponsorship and marketing—“images”—income. In addition, the parameters for a collective agreement, to expire at the end of the World Cup, should be drawn up. Schwab was assigned the responsibility of drafting the necessary agreements/documents. Schwab’s notes of the meeting state “Woolley very confident amounts would be accepted” and “Woolley needs to discuss the parameters—needs approval/ratification of the [Soccer Australia] Board—its next meeting is the day after the Canberra match” (B. Schwab, personal communication, 24 October 1996).

Schwab drafted a “Heads of Agreement”, which he forwarded to Woolley on 28 October (B. Schwab, personal communication, 28 October 1996). The “agreement”, however, was not ratified by the board of commissioners at its 2 November meeting. Schwab was informed that Soccer Australia had appointed Woolley, Hill and board member, Basil Scarsella, to handle the matter (B. Schwab, personal communication, 4 November 1996). In the ensuing week Schwab received assurances that all was well in hand. On 7 November Spink told Schwab that players had still not been paid for the South African tournament. After a series of phone calls Woolley agreed to meet with Schwab. The meeting occurred on 28 November.

At this meeting, also attended by Soccer Australia’s Peter Russell, Woolley told Schwab that image rights had not been raised with the commissioners, as he doubted he could sell the idea to Hill. Hill was apparently agreeable to a 20 per cent share of appearance fees; but baulked at 75 per cent of prize money; preferring 30 per cent. Woolley speculated that Hill might be talked up to 50 per cent. General discussions occurred over the cost of maintaining the international program, image rights that could kick in for global and profitable tournaments, and the eventual processing of a collective agreement (B. Schwab, personal communication, 28 November 1996).

The Socceroos were to play a four nations tournament in various Australian cities, over the period 18-25 January 1997, beginning with a training camp on 13 January. As Christmas 1996 approached Schwab had various conversations with Spink, Tobin and Farina, reporting back on his 28 November meeting. They were prepared to accept a 50 per cent share of prize money. This, in turn, however, strengthened their resolve for obtaining 10 per cent of image rights. On Christmas eve Schwab wrote to Woolley informing him that ASPA had prepared a draft response to the 28 November meeting. It would be forwarded to him once it had been ratified at a players’ meeting, prior to the four nations’ series. He asked Woolley to provide him with relevant financial details of the forthcoming tournament (B. Schwab, personal communication, 24 December 1996).

Schwab and the Socceroo activists were prepared to recommend industrial action if Soccer Australia failed to ratify the “compromise agreement”. On 10 January Schwab phoned Woolley and told him players were becoming increasingly impatient. He also queried Woolley on the financial information he had requested prior to Christmas. Woolley assured him that such information was being finalised (B. Schwab, personal communication, 10 January 1996).

On 14 January Schwab and Taliadoros meet with the Socceroos. Hostility was directed at Soccer Australia over its failure to enter into an agreement and provide financial information for the forthcoming tournament. The mood of the meeting was far from conciliatory and rejected the “compromise agreement”. It was decided to draw up a players’ resolution (B. Schwab, personal communication, 14 January 1997). It was signed by 21 of the 22 players—the straggler not having been contacted.

Later that day Schwab and Taliadoros met with Woolley, advising him of the players’ resolution. Schwab requested that Soccer Australia agree in writing to the 28 October “in principle” agreement. Woolley denied any such agreement had been entered into; maintaining that he had only agreed to act as a conduit in placing it before Soccer Australia’s board of commissioners. Moreover, he told Schwab that Corrine Blatter would back his version of events. In response, Schwab said Frank Farina would—and did so in a subsequent phone conversation—endorse his interpretation (B. Schwab, personal communication, 14 January 1997). The record (see above) supports Woolley. The frustration for Schwab was that Woolley had been confident that the numbers in the “agreement” would be accepted. Schwab and the Socceroos felt they had been “sold a pup”.

On the following day Woolley phoned Schwab in an attempt to have the Socceroos desist from their planned industrial action. He told Schwab that the bans were not a smart move, Hill “will go ballistic”, they had the “potential to blow everything away” and would not return Soccer Australia to the bargaining table. Schwab responded by emphasising the strength of the players’ resolve. He also tried to convince Woolley to provide a written response to the “compromise agreement” of 28 November. This, he said, would help to buy time for an eventual resolution (B. Schwab, personal communication, 15 January 1997).

David Hill also phoned Schwab. He said he regarded the player’s actions in Tahiti as a “stunt” and their resolution of the previous day as “scum” tactics. He refused to negotiate under duress. He told Schwab there would be “No discussions until after [the tournament] and until [you] unequivocally withdraw [the] threat in writing” (B. Schwab, personal communication, 15 January 1997).

Following these conversations Schwab, various activists and players held a series of meetings on how best to proceed. They decided to ban training on 16 January, promotions and the last game against Norway in Sydney, on 25 January (B. Schwab, personal communication, 16 January 1997). Recently appointed coach, Terry Venables who had managed11 several leading European clubs and England’s national team, cancelled training for 16 January. Schwab decided to conduct a secret ballot of players for striking the Norway game. They voted 21-1 for the strike (B. Schwab, personal communication, 18 January 1997; 20 January 1997).

Certain procedures need to be complied with, under the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth.), for unions undertaking industrial action to be protected from tortious action before common law courts. Two are relevant here. First, under Section 170MI, a union is required to notify the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, and appropriate employers, of the initiation of a bargaining period. Second, under Section 170MO, a union has to provide employers with three days notice of its intention to engage in industrial action. Schwab made the appropriate notifications on 17 and 21 January respectively (B. Schwab, personal communication, 17 January 1997; 21 January 1997). The latter, beside informing Soccer Australia that players would not play against Norway, placed a ban on all promotional activity, until the dispute had been resolved.

ASPA, it should be remembered, had amalgamated with, and was a part of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance. If the Socceroos decision to strike was not protected action, both ASPA, as it constituted a part of, and the Media Alliance would be liable for any damages awarded. After consulting the Media Alliance’s joint federal secretary, Chris Warren, who endorsed ASPA’s actions (B. Schwab, personal communication, 19 January 1997), Schwab decided to further investigate the legal status of the Socceroos proposed strike.

Two particular issues were of concern. The first was section 170MM of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth.) which, amongst other things, said that only “protected persons” could engage in “protected action”. Persons who were not members of a union could not engage in “protected action” with union members. If this occurred the union would be participating in a secondary boycott, which Section 170MM prohibited. The problem for Schwab was that while the Socceroos—well, all except for one—supported strike action, they were not all members of ASPA, and hence “protected persons”. Second, under Article 37 of FIFA’s Regulations Governing the Status and Transfer of Players, “Any player registered with a club is basically obliged to respond affirmatively when called upon by the National Association of which he is a national to play for one of its representative teams” (FIFA, 1991, 10). Schwab was worried that the players would be banned by FIFA if they refused to play.

Schwab had a series of discussions with the Socceroo activists. They decided to maintain their position of not playing to pressure Soccer Australia to come to the bargaining table. To not do so would be interpreted as a backdown. The results of the secret ballot would be released on 23 January. If Soccer Australia had not agreed to negotiate by the close of business on Friday 24 January—the day before the Norway game—ASPA would announce, in the interests of the game, its preparedness to call on the conciliation services of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to resolve the dispute. These changed tactics were subsequently endorsed by the Socceroos (B. Schwab, personal communication, 20 January 1997; 21 January 1997).

Schwab duly faxed Woolley of the players’ intention to engage in industrial action.12 Later that day the two spoke over the phone. Woolley was prepared to hold meetings in Sydney next week—note, after the Norway game—if players withdrew their proposed industrial action, including the promotional bans. With respect to the latter, Soccer Australia had produced material containing players’ images, which they wished to use. Schwab, of course, wanted to negotiate. He agreed that players would not strike in the Norway game. The players, however, would maintain promotional bans, save for the material already prepared (B. Schwab, personal communication, 21 January 1997). On the following day Woolley informed Schwab that Hill would attend the Sydney meetings (B. Schwab, personal communication, 22 January 1997).

Schwab and the players felt well pleased with events. It appeared that Soccer Australia was prepared to negotiate a collective agreement on payments. Alex Tobin informed Schwab that Hill wanted to meet with players on the morning after the Norway game. Schwab thought it would be best if players avoided the meeting. He surmised that Hill would try to drive a wedge between players and ASPA—or more correctly, himself. He advised, to the extent that the meeting went ahead, it was imperative players demonstrated their unity and commitment to ASPA and its position on player payments (B. Schwab, personal communication, 24 January 1997).

The meeting, in fact, never took place. ASPA executive member Alistair Edwards told Schwab flight schedules had been altered to enable interstate players to attend the meeting. On the night of the Norway game, however, the players decided that they didn’t want to meet with Hill. They did not want to hang around for another day, having been in camp since 13 January. Nor were they “scheduled” to receive an additional per diem payment. Locally based Sydney players returned to their homes after the game13 (B. Schwab, personal communication, 26 January 1997).

Much to his surprise, and more to his annoyance, Schwab was informed by a journalist that Soccer Australia had decided to cancel the forthcoming meetings in Sydney (B. Schwab, personal communication, 27 January 1997).

Schwab rang Hill who confirmed that he had, indeed, cancelled the meetings. He had decided so, he said, because he had been unreasonably snubbed by the players. He told Schwab, if they have no interest in meeting me, then I have no interest in meeting ASPA. Hill went on to add that ASPA’s behaviour had been appalling, being nothing more than “union ratbaggery”, as exemplified by its threatening letters. ASPA’s demands were “loony”. He would not agree to any formula, or percentage cuts, of appearance fees or prize money. If players wanted a share of profits, ASPA should agree to receiving a share of the losses. He told Schwab that Soccer Australia, not ASPA, is financially responsible for soccer.

Hill said players would receive daily allowances; win, draw and loss payments and, where applicable, non-negotiable bonuses. He conceded there were two areas where ASPA could have a legitimate input. First, all players in the squad, not just those who played in games, should share bonuses. Second, bonuses for World and Confederations Cups should be paid to players who participated in qualifying rounds, not just those in the squads for the respective cups. Hill anticipated FIFA would pay $1 million per game, in France 1998, and players would receive approximately $50,000 each (for three first round games). With a squad of 22, players would receive approximately one-third of the money on offer.

Finally, Hill ridiculed ASPA’s claim for a share of television and image rights. Schwab countered that provision for such payments was contained in the Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement (see above). Hill replied, “sue us”. Schwab asked, “do you want to terminate [the] collective agreement?” Hill said, as far as he was concerned “it is totally irrelevant”. (B. Schwab, personal communication, 27 January 1997).

Alarm bells rang within ASPA. Hill’s conversation with Schwab not only indicated that there was no end in sight to the imbroglio over Socceroo payments; but also, and more importantly, had the potential to fundamentally undermine the relevance of the Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement, which had only been bedded down six months earlier. Amongst other things, Schwab and his confidants were worried that Soccer Australia would not honour various payments to ASPA (see above), which were crucial to its future operation, if not survival.

On 28 January Schwab sent a circular, and wrote to players concerning developments. He informed them that Soccer Australia, in the next two weeks, would send them a non-negotiable offer of payments, until the end of the World Cup. Besides maintaining bans on promotions, he told players

it is essential that no player accept any offer made by Soccer Australia without having contacted the Players’ Association in order to receive advice in relation to it. It is understood that the offer will be put on a “take it or leave it” basis, an approach which will bring into question the legal effect of any contract made as a result (B. Schwab, personal communication, 28 January 1997).

Schwab explored two new avenues in his seemingly never ending quest to negotiate a collective agreement for the Socceroos. On 29 January he requested that the Australian Industrial Relations Commission exercise its conciliation powers in helping to resolve the dispute (B. Schwab, personal communication, 29 January 1997). A conciliation hearing was scheduled for 5 February. Second, Schwab hoped to utilise the Australian Soccer Players Commission (see above) as an adjunct, or compliment, to conciliation proceedings. Schwab had several discussions with Players Commission chair John Barker, whom he hoped would help broker a deal, under the general auspices, or direction, of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Schwab was prepared to discontinue promotional bans, as a sign of good faith, if Soccer Australia agreed to discussions within the forum of the Players Commission (B. Schwab, personal communication, 4 February 1997).

On 3 February Barker told Schwab that Woolley had informed him that Hill was happy for matters to be handled by the Players Commission. The following day Schwab was told that Woolley had notified the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that neither he, nor anyone else from Soccer Australia, would be able to attend the 5 February conciliation proceedings. Woolley also told Barker that Soccer Australia would provide a schedule of proposed payments for the next week (B. Schwab, personal communication, 3 February 1997; 4 February 1997). Conciliation proceedings were re- scheduled for Valentine’s day!!; and the Australian Soccer Players Commission meeting for 21 February. On 11February Schwab sent a circular to players about these developments. It said “negotiations…are, at long last, about to commence in earnest!” It went on to add, “Whilst Soccer Australia has indicated it no longer intends to ‘by-pass’ the Players’ Association, obviously, we cannot be assured of this” (Player Update, 11 February 1997).

On 12 February Schwab received a message from the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that Soccer Australia had no intention of attending the Valentine’s day conciliation conference, due to the Australian Soccer Players Commission meeting later that month (B. Schwab, personal communication, 12 February 1997). At the subsequent meeting Woolley told Schwab Soccer Australia “was unable to develop a comprehensive player bonus system until all relevant participation costs…were precisely known”. Whatever bonuses were paid would be in specified set amounts, not as a percentage of various revenue streams. Once it had such information, which it expected by the end of March, Soccer Australia “will be happy to provide budgets to ASPA as it has done in the past” (Minutes, 21 February 1997). Schwab found himself back at square one.

At various times in his discussions with, and circulars to, players Schwab intimated that ASPA would ask the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to arbitrate the dispute. This, he pointed out, had served ASPA well in negotiating the Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement 1996-1999 (see above). Legislative changes, however, precluded ASPA from using the arbitration option in this dispute. In March 1996 the Howard Liberal National Parties Coalition was elected to government. At the end of 1996 it enacted the Workplace Relations Act 1996 (Cth.). For interest disputes, of the type being described here, the Commission will only exercise arbitral powers where industrial action will “endanger the life, personal safety or health, or the welfare, of the population or part of it”, or will “cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it” (Section 170MWC2; Section 170MWC3).14

In April 1997 the Socceroos, with mainly overseas based players, played a friendly against Hungary in Budapest. Prior to the game, Hill circulated a non-negotiable schedule of payments for forthcoming games, including the World and Confederations Cups. Besides the usual per diem allowance and win, draw, lose base payments (see above), players would receive special bonuses of $15,000 each, if Australia qualified for the World Cup, plus $15,000 a game with three first round games guaranteed. For the Confederations Cup there was a $1,000 bonus for players who had played in games against New Zealand in 1995 and Tahiti in 1996 (a total of $4,000), and $5,000 a game, with three first round games guaranteed (Schedule of Team Payments [9 April 1997]).

Soccer Australia had not bothered to notify, discuss or negotiate the payment schedule with ASPA. Schwab only received information about its existence second hand, from players and journalists (B. Schwab, personal communication, 9 April 1997). He told the Sydney Morning Herald’s Mike Cockerill (1998, 76) it “is an offer which has been made behind the back of the union… The way it has been handled suggests…[Soccer Australia] want to drive a wedge between the overseas players and the domestic players”. Cockerill quoted Hill, in response, “Personally, I don’t give a stuff about the union”. ASPA appeared to be losing in its struggle to establish a Socceroo collective agreement.

On 9 April Schwab wrote to Woolley thanking him for a $10,000 cheque Soccer Australia had sent, in partial payment of its obligation to pay ASPA five per cent of domestic and international transfer and compensation fees (see above; B. Schwab, personal communication, 9 April 1997). This may have helped assuage fears that Soccer Australia would repudiate the Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement.

Australia did not qualify for the World Cup. In the crucial final round of matches it drew 1-1 away against Iran, and squandered a two goal lead, in the home leg, to draw 2-2; being eliminated on the “away goals counting twice” rule. The game in Melbourne attracted a crowd of over 85,000, an Australian record, providing Soccer Australia with a tidy profit of $2 million (Cockerill, 1998, 131). In the future, as Hill was to subsequently find out, Soccer Australia would find it difficult to cry poor mouth. Per Soccer Australia’s “Hungary” payment schedule players received $9,500 in win and draw (not lose!) bonuses, plus several thousand dollars in per diem allowances. The total player bill was something in the order of $300,000.

In December 1997 the Socceroos assembled in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for the Confederations Cup. FIFA announced increases in appearance fees and prize money. Australia subsequently finished second in the Cup, losing 6-0 to Brazil, which translated into increases in income from US$1 million to US$1.5 million. Schwab had conversations with Leo Karas, a manager for goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who, at the time, played with English Premier League side Aston Villa. Bosnich was prepared to act as a “negotiator” with Hill in attempting to increase player payments. Figures in the range of $12,000 to $25,000 per player were apparently being discussed. Hill, a regular “kick in the park” player, presumably enjoyed his discussions with such a high profile player as Bosnich. Schwab warned Karas that Hill had reneged on a deal in the past, and that ASPA was looking for a long term deal to govern Socceroo payments (B. Schwab, personal communication, 12 December 1997; 16 December 1997).

On 12 December a meeting occurred between Hill and the Socceroos. The players asked if payment for the Cup could be increased. Hill replied in the negative. He was asked if he was prepared to discuss the matter. Players pointed to the increased revenue that Soccer Australia had received from the Melbourne game against Iran (see above), and the windfall from the current Cup. He again replied in the negative. Hill apparently said “If you don’t like it, strike, I dare you” (Cockerill, 1998, 132). The players called his bluff. According to Tobin, the players were aware the impact such a decision would have on their careers, and the international future of Australian soccer. The meeting became very heated. It appears that the players rounded on Hill, providing him with a most unpleasant experience. The strike did not go ahead. The players voted 18-3 to ban training prior to the first game (Cockerill, 1998, 127-137; Slater, 1999, 238-241; A. Tobin, personal communication, 6 September 2000).

After this meeting Hill gave the green light for negotiations with ASPA to occur. He also decided that he would not participate in these negotiations. Why did Hill complete this volte-face? Dempster (2000, 19) quotes an unnamed person who commented on Hill’s personality/style of operation during his respective regencies at the State Rail Authority of New South Wales and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This person said of Hill

He is a grossly repressed person with a very complex set of personality traits… It’s the tyranny of the weak. People instantly perceive this rather exposed person and adapt their own behaviour accordingly; whereas they would prefer to stand and fight and yell. They choose not to, though, because they detect that his personality is closer to being dismantled than their own.

At that fateful meeting in Riyadh, a group of Australian soccer players, some of whom had been campaigning for over a year for improved payments, and felt they had been “led down the garden path”, were not sensitive to the alleged nuances of Hill’s complex “personality traits”. In aggressively challenging him, it would seem that they “dismantled” his defences; hence his departure from the (negotiating) scene.

On 17 December Soccer Australia issued a media release that special bonuses would be paid if the Socceroos qualified for the final round of games in the Cup. The amounts ranged from $120,000 for finishing fourth to $650,000 for being champions. The Socceroos finished second. According to the media release they would receive an extra bonus of $540,000 (Soccer Australia, media release, 17 December 1997).

Behind the scenes Soccer Australia commissioner George Negus and Schwab began discussions, searching for a means to resolve the dispute. On 22 December, Soccer Australia issued a press release which said that Hill had written to “Tobin, inviting players or their representatives” to find a solution to the vexed issue of Socceroo payments (Soccer Australia, media release, 22 December 1997). On 17 January 1998 Tobin and Schwab sat down with Woolley and Scarsella.

The major sticking point for Tobin and Schwab was that players should receive a 50 per cent share of prize money over US$500,000 provided by FIFA in the Confederations Cup. This was an issue players had felt strongly about in Riyadh. In addition, for ASPA, this would establish a benchmark for future Socceroo negotiations. Woolley and Scarsella were prepared to concede this. In exchange, players would forego per diems and match and bonus fees for the period of the finals, per the “Hungary” schedule (B. Schwab, personal communication, 9 January 1998). The special bonus which Soccer Australia agreed to, of $650,000, minus these discounts, amounted to an overall increase of almost $382,000 above the “Hungary” schedule. The 21 players in the squad received an average increase of $18,200. Alternatively, the players’ share of total Confederations Cup income, received by Soccer Australia, increased from 24 to 41 per cent.

The parties also discussed payments for a forthcoming four nations series to be held in Australia from 7 to 16 February. It was not anticipated that the tournament would generate significant revenues. Soccer Australia offered its traditional per diem allowances and win, draw, lose bonuses; which ASPA was prepared to accept. On 29 January 1998 Woolley and Schwab signed off on both agreements (B. Schwab, personal communication, 29 January 1998). ASPA had succeeded in its quest of negotiating a (or rather two) collective bargaining agreement(s) for the Socceroos.

As long as Soccer Australia doesn’t get it

Hoxie (1924, 24 and 292) has depicted unions as being pragmatic, how they employ the method of trial and error, how they will use “in general anything that works” (italics in original). Perlman (1949, 275 and 282) has pointed to unions seeking to control and administer job rights, and the importance of members, who “must evince a readiness to make sacrifices” in struggles with employers. The behaviour of ASPA in this dispute is consistent with these insights.

Brendan Schwab continually explored various stratagems to bring Soccer Australia to the bargaining table. He worked “hand in glove” with various ASPA executive members, many of whom were Socceroos. With one, or rather three exceptions, ASPA’s campaign was player or member driven. On three occasions—Tahiti in October 1996, Sydney in January 1997 and Riyadh in December 1997—players were prepared to strike to secure a collective agreement. On two occasions—Tahiti and Riyadh—players made such a decision in the absence of any involvement by Schwab. Attempts by David Hill to divide players, several of whom were ASPA executive members, from their association, and play-off local and international players failed.

The players “dismantling” of Hill at the meeting in Riyadh in December 1997 was the turning point in this dispute. Hill subsequently resigned as Chairman of Soccer Australia. Appointed as a reformer after the Stewart Report, as “a man with a reputation as a headkicking Mr Fixit” (Hall, 2000, 298), he had failed to revitalise Australian soccer. Australia had not qualified for France 1998, despite the appointment of high profile coach Terry Venables. And then, of course, there was the continuing saga of Socceroo payments. Hill unsuccessfully contested a seat on behalf of the Australian Labor Party—that party which had been formed by trade unions more than a century earlier—in the 1998 Federal election. The removal of this macho manager from the apex of Soccer Australia enhanced ASPA’s ability to negotiate further collective agreements.

In September 1998 ASPA and Soccer Australia, with a minimum of fuss, negotiated the 1999 Confederations Cup Collective Agreement. Its major features were that players would receive 40 per cent of appearance, and 50 per cent of prize, money. In saying this, appearance fees would be discounted for payments in qualifying games. The most novel feature of the agreement was that five per cent of the prize money will go to ASPA (45 per cent to players) to help fund its operation. Woolley was prepared to agree to ASPA receiving five per cent, subject to endorsement by players. In obtaining such undertakings Schwab spoke to an agent representing a number of overseas based players. The agent told Schwab that the players agreed to receiving such income “as long as Soccer Australia doesn’t get it” (B. Schwab, personal communication, 18 September 1998; 24 September 1998). Unfortunately, for all concerned, the Socceroos didn’t qualify for the 1999 Confederations Cup.

ASPA has negotiated a second Ericsson Cup Collective Agreement (1999-2001), and is pursuing a third. It is also seeking to negotiate a Socceroo agreement to cover the period to World Cup 2002, in Japan and Korea. It may encounter new macho managers who will attempt to thwart its ability to act collectively on behalf of players. In the struggle over payments, and a collective agreement, for Socceroos, in the period September 1996 to January 1998, ASPA, and the tenets of unionism prevailed over macho management.

NOTE: The author appeared as a witness on behalf of the Australian Soccer Players’ Association in a case before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in 1995. He is a member of the now named Australian Professional Footballers’ Association’s advisory board. He would like to thank the association’s chief executive office, Brendan Schwab, for providing access to various documents associated with this study. The author is alone responsible for the views expressed, and any errors or omissions.


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1 According to Dempster (2000, 42-49) Hill had developed the reputation of being a union-buster at State Rail, and refused to negotiate with staff unions during his reign as the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s managing director.
2 The National Soccer League was formed in 1977 with 14 teams. It has been an unstable league. Its size has varied from 12 to 24 teams, and forty teams have competed in the league. In 1999/2000 it generated approximately $27 million (Australian) dollars.
3 There have been seven previous attempts by Australian soccer players to establish player associations. For details see Dabscheck (1994) and Hay (1996).
4 For example see Schwab (1998). Point 4 of ASPA’s 5 Year Strategic Plan 1997-2001 is to “promote and advance the well being of the game”. Its rules have as one of their objects (2e) “to promote and encourage the game or sport of soccer”.
5 Unless otherwise indicated all monetary amounts are expressed in Australian dollars.
6 The controlling body of world soccer.
7 It has been estimated that in 1997 over 90 Australians played professionally overseas (Cockerill, 1998, 49).
8 For the 1999/2000 season the now named Australian Professional Footballers’ Association estimates it has increased to $42,000; with full-time players, who comprise 56 per cent of players, earning an average of $55,000 (PFA, 2000).
9 There are, at least, 32 soccer player associations world wide, the majority being European based, who are affiliated to an international soccer players confederation called the International Federation of Professional Footballers’ Association, abbreviated to FIFPro. Formed in 1965 FIFPro and its European division, the European Federation of Professional Footballers’ Association, represents and co-ordinates players association negotiations with the Union des Associations Europeannes de Football (UEFA)—the governing body of European soccer—and FIFA.
10 Details of the Oceania Football Confederation can be obtained from FIFA’s web page.
11 Coach and manager are essentially equivalents. The former term is preferred in Australia, the latter in England (Europe).
12 Schwab also contacted Louise Connor of the Australian Council of Trade Unions. His object was for her to persuade the Council’s secretary Bill Kelty to speak to Neville Wran to persuade Hill to agree to negotiations. Wran was Soccer Australia’s president, and had been a long serving Australian Labor Party premier of New South Wales. In 1980 he had appointed Hill, at the age of 34, as head of the State Rail Authority. In turn, he had encouraged Hill to become Soccer Australia’s chairman after the “own goal” of the Stewart Report. The need for Kelty to contact Wran disappeared when Soccer Australia, apparently, agreed to negotiate (see below).
13 It is not clear what Hill wanted to discuss with the players. It may have been a more or less mild version of the conversation he subsequently had with Schwab (see below).
14 The legislative changes are more complex than that presented here. See MacDermott (1977) and Creighton and Stewart (2000).