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Players vote for strike

last updated Thursday 08th November 2001, 7:59 AM
A substantial majority of England's professional footballers are believed to have voted in favour of strike action in the Professional Footballers' Association ballot, which closes at midday tomorrow, presenting a real possibility of league football being hit by industrial action for the first time.

By yesterday afternoon the PFA had received more than 2,500 completed ballot papers, from the 4,000 sent to its members two weeks ago. While votes are being counted by an independent body, PFA officials are confident of an "extremely positive" outcome as they continue their battle with the Premier League for a more generous share of television income.

The strike would stop all games being covered by television. This would obviously apply to those fixtures scheduled for live broadcast but matches in the lower leagues, covered by a sole camera that provides footage of goals for highlights programmes, would also be at risk.

Even if the players vote in favour - and a simple majority of returned votes is all that is required - a strike might not be the outcome. In accordance with employment law the PFA would have 28 days from the closure of the ballot to commence action. This includes a mandatory seven-day notice to employers, meaning that the strike must in practice be called no later than November 30 and be operational by December 7.

The PFA insists that a strike will be avoided if at all possible. "There is some time available for negotiations," said a source yesterday. But in the past few weeks intensive negotiations have resulted in little more than a feeling of mild depression.

"They're not your Graham Kellys, that have been in football for a long time," said the source of the new breed of football executive. "They are businessmen really."

Should the expected outcome be confirmed tomorrow, the Premier League is expected to seek an immediate injunction preventing a strike, moving the dispute to the high court.

The PFA insists that it should receive a similar percentage of this year's improved TV contracts to that which it has in the past; the Premier League says the PFA needs no more money to protect players' education and welfare. Many club chairmen, meanwhile, believe the strike is unenforceable because the dispute is with the governing body rather than with the players' employers.

The FA Cup second round, scheduled for the weekend of December 8, could be the first casualty. Sky is due to televise two Cup games that weekend, as well as Arsenal's Premiership fixture against Aston Villa and Chelsea's visit to Sunderland.
Source The Guardian by Simon Burnton
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