Football employment contracts: are you headed for a shock defeat?

Employment contracts might not be the most riveting topic in the exciting world of football, but they might be your most valuable defender if you get into a dispute with your employee or employer.

As you might imagine, a properly drawn up contract will confirm the key facts: salary level, bonuses payable, holiday entitlement, benefits, length of employment and ‘what happens if…’

In other words, it is the fourth official if a dispute arises – and this is often when you discover if the contract you drafted is really up to the job. The question is: are you leaving yourself open?

Avoiding legal disputes

Over the years I have acted for employers and employees in Football and Rugby too, often reviewing their contract arrangements and sometimes advising on disputes.

Here are a few ideas on how to avoid problems with your contracts.

‘Be careful what you cut and paste’

There are a million things to do in running a football club so it is tempting to view employment contracts as a legal tick box exercise that you can carry out yourself without a Lawyer.

One such contract, issued in the Premier League, had obviously been ‘borrowed’ because the Fitness Coach’s terms confirmed his salary would be paid into the Assistant Manager’s account.

This of course rendered the contract useless, which in turn would have created costly problems in the event of a dispute. Get a specialist to draft and check your contracts.

‘Be specific about bonuses’

Paying a finder’s fee to staff can be a cost effective player recruitment tool, but only if you accurately describe what type of introduction would qualify for the bonus payment.

One contract I reviewed simply promised a bonus based on the transfer fee of any player the employee ‘had a hand in bringing in’, without any terms and conditions attached.

Considering the sums at stake this is a recipe for disaster.

‘Clarify who is entitled to what’

One club essentially handed a blank cheque (or at least a fuzzy grey one) to its contractor, by agreeing to pay them their remuneration on production of ‘suitable’ invoices.

This was the only line in the entire contract devoted to the payment terms, leaving the club and contractor open to disputes spanning the whole spectrum of who is entitled to what.

‘Fix your fixed terms’

Fixed term contracts are common in the sports industry, but one of the most important conditions they should cover is when the period of employment will come to an end.

Of course, you can also specify how and in what circumstances the contract might be extended or terminated, but this needs to be specific and not, as one contract asserted, if the ‘contract was broken and a mutually agreed solution could not be reached.’

‘Get proper legal advice’

Evidently aware that it had to offer holiday pay, one club specified that holiday pay would be 1/365 of basic salary per day.

The effect of this was to penalise the employee, as the law states that holiday pay should be based on working days, not calendar days. 1/260 was the correct figure in this case.

Given the high salary concerned, this potentially exposed the club to significant unnecessary expense should it have had to pay for holiday accrued but not taken.

Contracts are insurance policies

Whether you are buying a star striker or a fridge for the Boardroom you are entering into an agreement. The only way to define and enforce it reliably is through written terms and conditions.

In the case of football it is worth drawing up standard contracts with a lawyer for the positions you typically fill wherever possible. After which it is often a case of the lawyer amending and checking.

This involves a certain upfront and ongoing cost, but as some clubs have gone on to discover, disputes can be far more expensive.

If you would like advice about employment contracts, as an employer or employee, please feel free to get in touch.


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