1920s Swansea Town Cigarette Cards
Before the Second World War, professional footballers’ contracts were limited to one year and there was a maximum wage in force. This prevented a wage war between clubs and ensured they were not lumbered with long-term costs for players they no longer wanted. It also meant every summer they was a set of new negotiations with players.
In 1927, the whole of Swansea Town first-team refused to sign new contracts after the directors tried to lower their wages by a pound a week and make up for it by a bonus scheme based on the number of games played.
The players stated they were objecting to the financial loss they would suffer if they were injured. They claimed they didn’t mind if they lost money if were dropped because of loss of form, although this was probably a sensible public statement to ensure they did not lose popular sympathy.
In an act of solidarity, those first-team players who the change did not affect because they were already on lower wages, also refused to re-sign. The squad seems to have chosen its moment carefully making the decision the week before the club was due to leave for a tour of Portugal and Spain.
Despite the strong position the players’ collective action put them in, they failed to secure what they wanted. The next day, the press reported that many of players had re-signed, although it was unclear on what terms. By the following day, only two players had not agreed terms.
The club had held out and won. Once some of the players had broken ranks and signed the others were vulnerable. In the days of strict contract constraints, the only thing players had on their side was collective unity and that was not easy to achieve in the lower divisions where everyone was replaceable.
Sources: South Wales Echo, 5-7 May 1927.