National League captains write to FA demanding talks over ‘shameful’ contract changes
National League players are “shocked and frustrated” by the Football Association’s changes to contracts for next season and are seeking urgent talks to find a solution.
The FA are imposing new terms on non-League player contracts from July 1 which will allow clubs to cut short due to illness or injury.
Under the new terms, injured National League players will only be paid in full for 12 weeks.
Clubs will then be able to reduce their wages to statutory sick pay – £99.35 a week and payable for 28 weeks – until they are fit.
For those playing below the fifth level of the English pyramid, they will only receive their full salary for six weeks if they are injured before the legal salary kicks in.
Salary cuts will automatically apply unless individual clubs decide otherwise, with players having to register when signing agreements.
Players also risk having their contract terminated, on three months’ notice, if a club-appointed doctor finds they cannot play for four months. This means that those with long-term injuries like Achilles ruptures or ACL tears could be released.
A letter, signed by all 24 National League club captains, has now been sent to FA CEO Mark Bullingham and National League chief executive Mark Ives.
In it, the players expressed their surprise at being informed of the changes by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) instead of FA or League chiefs, and demand urgent talks.
Oldham’s Peter Clarke, who is on the PFA’s players’ council, said earlier this week that players could go on strike over it.
The letter from the National League captains read: “As a collective, we are writing to you on behalf of all National League players who are shocked and frustrated by the significant proposed changes to the non-league standard contract.
“If implemented, these changes will have a serious and negative impact on the rights of players, especially those suffering from injury and illness.
“22 of the 24 teams currently competing in the National League are fully professional. For us, football is more than just a game. It is our livelihood and the only mechanism to support our families financially.
“Our clubs expect us to put our bodies on the line each week. Naturally, this comes with a constant and serious risk of injury and mental health pressures. The apparent decision to allow clubs to easily rid themselves of players who get injured or suffer from illnesses is unacceptable.”
He continued: “We understand and support the need to create a sustainable financial structure within the football pyramid.
“However, we fundamentally disagree that this should involve an erosion of the duty of care a club owes its players.
“What is most concerning is that the very people who are put at physical and financial risk by this proposed decision, the players themselves, have been left out of the decision-making process. This is completely unacceptable. .
“These changes give clubs the option of terminating a player’s contract or reducing their income to statutory sick pay in the event of injury or illness. This makes an already unstable job even more unstable, to the point where for many, it will be unsustainable.These changes put players under significant stress, knowing that we are still at risk of losing our income and not being able to work.
“We are seeking urgent talks with the FA and the National League to clarify the situation and provide an acceptable solution.”
An FA spokesperson replied: “We have updated the standard non-league contract form after a period of consultation with relevant stakeholders in the game.
“It has been introduced to better reflect current employment legislation and to help balance the interests of clubs and players. Under the new contract, clubs and players can still agree that the player receives full base salary during the period of any injuries.
“We have now also introduced a minimum period during which the player must receive their full basic salary if they are ill or injured, which depends on the stage of the National League system in which the club plays.
“This change establishes a new layer of protection for players compared to the previous version of the contract.”
The PFA does not represent National League players, but the vast majority are former members who played in the EFL.
They offered advice and support to the players, who had many discussions this week, and told the FA they could not support the measures.
James King, the PFA’s general counsel, said of the changes: “It’s really worrying. One would think that employment conditions should improve over time as a company develops. So to see something go backwards is a very unusual step. We had hoped for a better position in the contract, not worse.
“We feel like there’s a misunderstanding about the position a significant number of these guys are in and the fact that it’s their livelihood, their mortgages are on the line. They’re the support of their family in very difficult economic times.
“We hope the FA will listen to players’ views and think again. Just to drive home the point, we had warned the FA that we needed to notify players of the changes and we didn’t think that would be happily accepted.
“To see their rights diminished in this way struck a chord.”
talkSPORT host Jamie O’Hara, who played and managed Billericay Town, reacted to the news: “Just read this and it’s a shame.
“@PFA must act and protect players in lower leagues, seeing too many players being treated like dog shit** at this level.
“You sign a contract, you have to honor it regardless of injury, it’s full time pro league @TheVanaramaNL.”
Swindon striker Charlie Austin also expressed his fury: “It must be a joke! Whose idea was it to sit around a table and think you know how it sounds…all agree yes, let’s do it!! Seriously, this is a real embarrassment! To all players who play outside the league and this document applies to you so I’m sorry!!”
Macclesfield, who play in the eighth tier, have announced that they will ensure their players choose to be paid their normal wages during an injury spell and will honor contracts even if they are seriously ill or injured. .