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Profile: Richard Orme Wilberforce
Richard Orme Wilberforce was a participant or observer in the following events:
George Eastham. [Source: BBC]Former Newcastle United midfielder George Eastham wins the Eastham v Newcastle United court case against the club (see June 1960). The case significantly changes the “retain-and-transfer” system that bound footballers to their clubs even when there was no contract between them. Essentially, the judge, Mr. Justice Wilberforce, finds that the system is an unreasonable restraint of trade and goes far beyond what is necessary to ensure clubs are able to protect their legitimate interests. The Football League argues that the retention provisions are necessary to stop the richer clubs signing all the best players, which helps maintain interest in the spectator sport. However, Wilberforce finds that this argument does not justify the mechanisms used by clubs to retain players and that it is unfair that players cannot get a job with a different club at a time when they are no longer employees of their old club and are not being paid by it. “The system is an employers’ system,” Wilberforce comments, “set up in an industry where the employers have succeeded in establishing a united monolithic front all over the world, and where it is clear that for the purpose of negotiation the employers are vastly more strongly organised than the employees. No doubt the employers all over the world consider this system to be a good system, but this does not prevent the court from considering whether it goes further than is reasonably necessary to protect their legitimate interest.” Despite Eastham’s victory, only the “retain” element of the retain-and-transfer system is abolished and a new transfer system is constructed. Every player’s contract is now a matter of free negotiation between him and the club, without the binds of the maximum wage (see 1961). Once a contract has expired, the club can only renew it on terms that are no less advantageous to the player than the old ones had been, and the new contract has to last for at least the same time period (unless both parties agree otherwise). If the club is unwilling to do this, the player is entitled to a free transfer; if the club decides to get rid of the player, the original contract will continue to run until he is transferred. Disputes will be referred to the League Management Committee and then to an independent tribunal incorporating league and players’ union representatives. [McArdle, 2000]
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