The bosman ruling

December 15th 1995 is a key date within the history of football and what the court decided on that day has had a major effect on how football has developed into the major money spinning sport it is today.

Jean- Marc Bosman was a born on October 30th 1964 and prior to the landmark trial was an average player, playing for Belgian clubs Standard de liege and RFC Liege and had won 20 caps for Belgium at youth level.

Before The Bosman Ruling

In England if a player wanted to transfer clubs they had to put in a written transfer request, however if the club refused this the player had no choice but to stay with them as long as they maintained paying the amount of wages they did in the previous contract. This meant if clubs didn't necessarily need you but didn't want you going to another club they would simply ‘keep hold of you' or if you signed your first professional contract as a eager youth player and then became a indispensible player the club could simply keep hold of you and pay you the wages you had before you became an established player. This was the point of the system; it stopped richer clubs claiming all the best players and kept players wages down.

This system was obviously a ticking time bomb and in 1960, George Eastham challenged the power which the clubs had. Eastham played for Newcastle United and made clear his desire to leave and put in several written requests all of which were declined by United. Eastham eventually left football as was his desire not to play in the north east, a year later Newcastle and Arsenal agreed a fee and Eastham moved to London, however Eastham pressed on with his case and took it to the High Court to test the ‘retain and transfer' policy in the eyes of law.

Judge Wilberforce indicated five areas that needed inspection;

  • Are the rules of the Association and the regulations for the league a restraint of trade?
  • If so, are the restraints no more than such as are reasonably necessary for the protection of the Association or of the league or of its members?
  • Has the court any jurisdiction that the retention and transfer system is invalid against all or any of the defendants?
  • If so, should the court exercise that jurisdiction?
  • Has the plaintiff any right to damages?

The decision of the High Court was to rule the ‘retain and transfer' system an ‘unreasonable restraint of trade'. It was decided that at the end of a players' contract if the club did not renew the contract the player was allowed to leave however if a new one was offered the player did not have a right to refuse as long as the contract was not less than the previous, this still left players feeling somewhat limited.

In England 1978 the freedom of contract was introduced this allowed players the option to refuse the offer of another contract, however if a new club wanted your services they would have to compensate your previous club. Tribunals were set up to determine the amount payable if clubs could not agree a suitable fee. Players and their agents were still not permitted to approach possible clubs to instigate a transfer; they had to wait to be approached.

The Bosman Ruling

A decade had passed without football being affected by any new legislation until the Bosman ruling [2]. Jean-Marc Bosman football player in the Jupiter league in Belgium for RFC Liege wanted to move to France and play for Dunkerque however using the cross-border transfer ruling Liege wanted a payment, Dunkerque were not willing to pay the sum of money RFC Liege wanted so the deal fail through and subsequently Bosman was relegated from the first team causing his wages to decrease. Bosman took court action against the European Football authorities, RFC Liege and the Belgian Football authorities; he argued that payment of transfer fees for free agents conflicted with EU citizen's right to free movement within employment.

The case took five years to be settled as each ruling was appealed; finally it reached the European Court of Justice in Luxemburg. Bosman sued on grounds of restraint of trade and argued that FIFAs Article 17 breached this and was in fact illegal. The court ruled in favour of Bosman as the system, as it was constituted, placed a restraint on freedom of movement of workers and was prohibited by Article 39 of the EU treaty of Rome [3]. As a result the European Union demanded that regulations concerning players' transfers and limitations on foreign players be amended almost immediately [4].

This ruling meant Bosman and every other EU footballer were free to negotiate deals to any other EU based team after their current contracts expired, they were also allowed to sign pre-contract deals with other clubs if they had six months remaining on their current deals. This ruling also stopped UEFA imposing quotas on how many foreign players are allowed to play in a team at any one time. At the time UEFA were imposing a quota on their European Cup competitions that only allowed three non nationals in a team on match days. However these quotas were not fully outlawed, it could not be used to restrict the amount of non EU players on a match day team.

Post Bosman Benefactors

British Success In European Cup Competitions

British clubs before had to field weakened teams in cup competitions as the UEFA quotas on foreign players included Scottish and Welsh players as well and meant British clubs were at a huge disadvantage.

After the ruling Manchester United won the 1999 Champions League featuring only five English players out of thirteen in the final.

Rich Clubs

Big wealthy clubs were now the only teams that could afford the best footballers as their massively inflated wages; used to keep them for leaving, left the small clubs unable to compete.

Instead of going to smaller league clubs in the same country for rising stars, the wealthy teams were broadening their horizons and bringing ‘out of contract' foreign stars and paying their agents rather than the smaller clubs for their youth.

Post Bosman Sufferers

Relegated Football Clubs

Clubs trying to keep hold of their rising stars and best players gave them long lucrative contracts. This left some clubs paying large sums of money for players who did not live up to expectation, also clubs that had been relegated had wage structures that they could not possibly afford thus going under for example Leeds United.

Fans

As clubs paid more to attract bigger names and their wage structures bulged, revenues had to be maximised, so the cost of tickets increased, television packages became available. Football became a money making industry with the influx of foreign players the foreign market developed and the biggest teams cashed in, instead of playing pre-season games against lower league opposition to widen their fan base, teams such as Manchester United went on tours of Asia and Africa leaving their home based fans in other parts of England unable to watch their stars.

Other Cases That Could Change Football

The Hoekman Ruling

In 1987 Danny Hoekman suffered a serious injury in a tackle with FC Utrecht keeper Jan-Willem van Ede. He never quite recovered and in 2002 he took FC Utrecht to court as the employer of the player who wrecked his career. He was awarded 12 Euros as reparable payments and although the payment was reduced as this would of bankrupted the club is this a landmark case that sets a trend?

Tibor Balog V FIFA, UEFA, And The European Commission

In 2001 Balog wanted to leave RSC Charleroi for AS Nancy, RSC Charleroi demanded an excessive amount for the transfer to go through, obviously Nancy rejected this and Balog went to court. As a non-European the Bosman ruling didn't apply to this case so it went to court; The Belgium courts sided with Balog and he moved to Belgium club Mons. RSC appealed and the case went to the European Court of Justice as the case came to a conclusion FIFA settled the case amicably out of court. This suggests that FIFA knew they would lose and it would see another case like the Bosman case but with Non- EU players and wanted to avoid this happening but my view is this case is a first of many.

What Happened To Marc-Jean Bosman

Bosman was 25 when his court case started and was at the pinnacle of his career but the case took five long years and in 1996 a year after the landmark case he was forced to leave lowly placed third division side Vise due to it not being financially viable to make money. Bosman's lawyer is quoted as saying “He gave his career to a court case to serve a cause, but he sees that the transfer fees are still there, quotas on home-grown players are making a comeback and the rich clubs are getting richer and the poor poorer”.

Bibliography

  • Tom Fordyce (14 December 1995) 10 years since Bosman
  • http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/4528732.stm
  • University of Leicester department of sociology sports resources: Fact sheet 16
  • http://www.le.ac.uk/so/css/resources/factsheets/fs16.html
  • Guido Analysis. The Hoekman Ruling: Potentially a New Bosman Ruling?
  • http://bleacherreport.com/articles/246731-the-hoekman-ruling-potentially-a-new-bosman-ruling
  • The Football Industry Group: Fact Sheet one
  • http://www.liv.ac.uk/footballindustry/bosman.html
  • Eur-Lex, Treaty establishing the European Community (Nice consolidated version) - Part Three: Community policies - Title III: Free movement of persons, services and capital - Chapter 1: Workers - Article 39 - Article 48 - EC Treaty (Maastricht consolidated version) - Article 48 - EEC Treaty
  • http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:12002E039:EN:HTML