By Kathryn Gill and Beau Busch 

Twenty-five years ago today, the football world was revolutionised by the Bosman Ruling.

Handed down by General Advocate Lenz, the ruling would split the history of football into the pre-and post-Bosman era. 

On reflection many years later, Jean-Marc Bosman captured the plight of the world’s footballers prior to the ruling handed by the European Court of Justice, sharing that he was “held captive by my club.” 

Bosman’s predicament highlighted the injustice of a system that made players the property of clubs to be bought and sold regardless of their contractual status. Despite his two-year contract at Belgian Club RFK Liege having expired, Bosman remained tied to the club who were unwilling to sanction a move to join French club Dunkerque. 

Unable to find a club willing to pay the 500,000 Euro fee Liege had placed on him as ‘compensation’, and unable to agree terms for a new contract with Liege seeking a 25 per cent pay cut from his previous salary, Bosman was suspended for the entire season in accordance with the Belgian transfer rules at the time. 

Bosman’s courage to stand up for himself, coupled with the support of FIFPro, the global representative for footballers, would result in a five-year legal battle that would eventually ensure his peers and all footballers globally were no longer the perpetual property of their clubs to be retained beyond their contracts against their most basic rights. 

Many of the current generation of Australian footballers may not be aware that they owe their freedom of movement to the first generation of PFA members, our homegrown pioneers who fought for their most basic rights, and not Bosman. 

Six months prior to the handing down of the Bosman ruling, led by PFA Champions and Life Members Brendan Schwab and Kimon Taliadoros, the players’ association secured a landmark ruling of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) that recognised the legal right of an Australian player, when out of contract, to freely negotiate with and join the club of their choice. 

In its ruling, the AIRC found that: 

  • the transfer system ‘operates in many instances unfairly towards players’;
  • has little or anything to do with the training and development of a player’;
  • it ‘treats players as if they were the property of their club’;
  • it impinges ‘on the freedom to choose one’s employer’;
  • it may not operate ‘to the [overall] advantage of … clubs … [and] the sport of soccer in Australia’;
  • its abolition ‘may lead to an increase in the remuneration of some players’; and
  • it may be an unreasonable restraint of trade.

In addition, the AIRC ordered the Australian Soccer Federation, the NSL Clubs and the PFA to negotiate all terms of the employment of players. A year later, the first NSL Collective Bargaining Agreement was agreed. No longer would players be at risk of having their contract terminated at seven day’s notice, no longer would they remain shackled to their clubs long after their contracts expired and no longer would a career abroad be the only option for those seeking the dignity that should come with playing the world’s greatest game for a living. 

Reflecting on the victory, Taliadoros would remark many years later that the spark of reform was always going to come from the players. 

“The PFA and the players had to start the reform process because the game was incapable of managing it itself. What we were seeking was accountability. Accountability to the law, accountability to one another and to the stakeholders in football and that is only possible if there is a framework.” 

As Australian football examines the possibility of re-introducing the domestic transfer and training compensation system, it shows we are once again at a crossroads. 

The game would be wise to consider Taliadoros’ words; we need a framework for its re-introduction. 

The most successful framework for our game has been collective bargaining. In partnership, we have built the industry for the mutual benefit of players and the game.

Taliadoros and his peers, like Bosman, paved the way for a genuine career path that now exists for footballers in this country. The current generation are now the custodians of their legacy; one that they will continue to honour by ensuring they also leave the game in a better place than they found it for those that follow.