What year is it? This is only partially a rhetorical question, because it seems that professional football clubs still think it’s a year when people should work for them for free. They wouldn’t expect their starting goalkeeper to play for free; the CEO won’t be turning up for ‘exposure’; and the physios aren’t there just for the experience. So why do Watford FC think their new Performance and Data Analyst positions should be filled by unpaid interns? Because they’re exploiting a system that lets them, despite (currently) being a Premier League football team worth more than £100 million.

Watford are not wrong to describe the positions, sorry, ‘placements’ as ‘exciting’ – many people dream of working in football or professional sport – but that doesn’t mean clubs should be allowed to exploit people in this way. Especially when Watford are asking for applicants who bring specific skills with them to the role.

Among the ‘Must Have’s for the Performance Analyst placement, Watford are asking for undergraduates (they have specifically said they cannot accept applicants who are finishing their degrees in 2022) that are studying towards a “degree in football or sport and/or equivalent”, have the ability to commit to the 2022/23 season, and hold a full UK driving licence, or have “ability to travel to various locations due to the demands of the role”. The Data Analyst will need to be studying towards a “degree in computer science, mathematical or sport science and/or equivalent degree”, and also requires “experience of working with complex data sets”, and “experience of working with data visualisation and analysis tools (eg. Tableau)”. Is that all?

Committing to either of these roles probably rules out the possibility of having a second, paying job – or ‘at best’ risks overloading them with studies, a paying job, and their work for Watford – whilst the successful students will presumably be expected to run their cars on Craig Cathcart’s thanks, all while Watford prey on students whose course requires a ‘placement year’ as part of their studies.

I feel compelled to ask again what year we’re living in where a professional sports team will uphold a system which expects people, with skills, to work for free? Studying for a degree in, say, mathematics or sports science takes time, and hard work, to say nothing of the need for students to actually live during their time at University – food and housing alone are essentials to any human, being at University does not change that, whilst the opportunity to have an outlet for social and stress relief purposes should not be dismissed. Many students already need to work whilst studying to ensure they not only survive, but can make it to the end of their course in one piece.

Therein lies perhaps the greatest shame in all of this: these unpaid placements almost automatically rule out huge swathes of potential candidates. A talented computer scientist, with a passion for football, in Newcastle might tick all of the required boxes – he or she might be the best candidate based on talent – but the geography rules them, and many others, out unless they are fortunate enough to have a financial fall back. Many don’t. A problem even more pronounced when asking people to work for a club in and around the nation’s capital, with all the additional financial burdens that can entail. For less than what Watford pays some of its players per week, the club could have offered decent remuneration for both positions for the whole year (even with an additional bump to allow for London living). But they haven’t. They’ve chosen to hook into the ‘placement’ patter, and will pretend they’re doing everyone a favour.

Ultimately what we have here is a professional club, content to pay Dan Gosling to not be a part of their Premier League squad, which has chosen to limit both its own potential talent pool to pick from, whilst at the same time denying opportunities to young people based on their ability, or lack of, to work for a multi million pound business, in a multi billion pound industry, for free. Watford are not the first professional sports team to do this, they are unlikely to be the last, but as part of English football’s elite they are one of the wealthiest; and at a time when other, more serious, geopolitical events are already shining a light on football’s morals, this decision further highlights how bankrupt the professional game is, and how far it has strayed from its working class roots.

Rob McGregor (@SamuraiPizzaRob)