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How strike action has played a part in Bolton Wanderers' history

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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It could be said that Bolton Wanderers invented ‘player power’ when the great Tommy Banks stood up in front of the PFA and its members to issue a stirring speech repeated by his contemporaries for years to come.

The legendary Bolton and England full-back was in the middle of one of football’s most famous proposed strikes in 1961 when the union was balloting its members at the Manchester Grand Hotel in continued efforts to abolish the £20-a-week minimum wage.

The Bury FC delegate had just made a speech claiming strike action was wrong, and that his father – a miner – did not earn as much as he did.

Banks stood and his response, one recited verbatim by the likes of Gordon Taylor, Sir Bobby Charlton and Jimmy Armfield decades later, brought the house down.

“I’d like to tell your father that I know the pits are a tough life,” he said. “But there won’t be 30,000 people watching him mine coal on Monday morning, while there will be 30,000 people watching me trying to stop brother Matthews here.”

His words – and the reference to the great Stanley Matthews sitting a few yards away – swayed the argument back in favour of a strike, which was only avoided at the last moment.

Those efforts, spearheaded by Jimmy Hill and Cliff Lloyd, along with George Eastham’s case two years later, paved the way for better wages and transfer rights.

Fast forward to modern times and it is no longer a great shock when individual players down tools to force through a transfer or engineer a better contract.

Dimitar Berbatov, Pierre van Hooijdonk and Dimitri Payet have all hit the headlines for taking drastic action but cases of a whole team going on strike are few and far between.

On Friday night, Wanderers became the first club in EFL history to force the postponement of a fixture because of industrial action, which was backed whole-heartedly by the PFA.

Just eight months ago the same set of players downed tools to make a point over unpaid bonuses, which forced a pre-season friendly at Scottish club St Mirren to be cancelled less than 24 hours before kick-off.

It had been the second summer that Bolton’s players faced issues with owner Ken Anderson – although in 2017 the matter was cleared up quickly and away from the public eye.

This fight was very much a public one, however, and after players released a joint statement to The Bolton News informing fans of their decision the reaction from Anderson was swift and venomous.

The owner threatened to punish players and said he was not prepared to be “blackmailed or threatened”. The matter rolled on for a couple of weeks but, with PFA intervention, was thankfully settled before the season began.

It later emerged that while the players had been paid their bonuses for staying in the Championship, that luxury had not been extended to Phil Parkinson and his coaching staff, who are still owed money to this day.

When considering the action the EFL may now take against Wanderers it is important to note that we are in uncharted waters.

Middlesbrough failed to fulfil a fixture against Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day 1997 because of an outbreak of flu in the camp.

The club, then under the tutelage of Bryan Robson, were docked three points, fined and forced to play the game later in the season.

Instances of strikes are rare, and the most recent example is Scottish club Hamilton Academicals. In 2000, players refused to play minutes before kick-off against Stenhousemuir, citing that they had not received their wages.

The club was docked 15 points by the SFA, effectively relegating them to the Third Division, and ordered to pay costs to the opposition.

In 2011, former Wanderers midfielder Peter Reid was in charge at cash-strapped Plymouth Argyle when senior players threatened to go on strike because of unpaid wages.

The Pilgrims were due to play a game against Burton Albion but some players had not been paid their full wage in nine months.

"We've got bills to pay, houses to live in," said captain Carl Fletcher. "The only leg we've got to stand on really, to make a statement, is probably by not playing on Saturday.

"It's getting to the point that people are going to have to move out and sell their houses."

Fletcher and other senior players did play the game in the end.

In April 2017 the Republic of Ireland women’s team also threatened strike action after accusing their governing body of failing to provide the team with adequate support, including being forced to get changed in public toilets and sharing tracksuits with the youth squads. Again, a compromise was found.

Members of the Scottish Referee’s Association went on strike in November 2010 after claiming the Scottish Football Association was not doing enough to protect officials from criticism or the questioning of their integrity.

The SFA imported officials from Luxembourg, Israel and Malta to allow four top flight games to go ahead.

Spain’s La Liga, Italy’s Serie A and Norway’s Tippeligaen have both experienced player strikes, while MLS also narrowly averted a late start in 2010 after a dispute over contracts and the freedom of transfer.

And in January 2014, players at Racing Santander forced the postponement of a Copa Del Rey match against Real Sociedad after the refused to play, having gone without pay for several months.

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