John Cameron was born in Ayr, Scotland on 13th April 1872. He worked as a clerk for the shipping line Cunard and played football as an amateur for Queen's Park in the Scottish League before joining Everton in September 1895. He made his league debut for the club in a 5-0 win over Sheffield United in October 1895.
The Football League had impose a maximum wage of £4 a week. At the time, most players were only part-time professionals and still had other jobs. These players did not receive as much as £4 a week and therefore the matter did not greatly concern them. However, a minority of players, were so good they were able to obtain as much as £10 a week. This proposal posed a serious threat to their income.
Some of these top players joined together to form a trade union. This included John Cameron, Bob Holmes and Jimmy Ross of Preston North End, John Devey of Aston Villa, John Somerville of Bolton Wanderers, Hugh McNeill of Sunderland and Harry Wood of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Other players who took a leading role in the union included Tom Bradshaw (Liverpool), James McNaught (Newton Heath), Billy Meredith (Manchester City), John Bell (Everton), Abe Hartley (Liverpool), Johnny Holt (Everton) and David Storrier (Everton).
In February 1898, these players announced the formation of Association Footballers' Union (AFU). Jack Bell became chairman and Cameron became secretary of the union. Cameron pointed out that their main objective was that they "wanted any negotiations regarding transfers to be between the interested club and the player concerned - not between club and club with the player excluded". John Devey added: "We're not taking up the question of wages and we are not talking any strike business."
The AFU was badly wounded by the decision of several members of the committee, including Cameron, to seek higher wages in the Southern League. Cameron joined Tottenham Hotspur in May 1898. While at Everton he had scored 12 goals in 42 games.
Cameron was an extremely intelligent man and in February 1899 he was appointed as player-manager of the club. One of his first signings was George Clawley. In 1900 Cameron led Tottenham to the Southern League title.
The following year Spurs beat Preston North End (4-2), Bury (2-1), Reading (3-0), West Bromwich Albion (4-) to play Sheffield United in the final of the FA Cup at Crystal Palace. The directors of their opponents, Sheffield United, promised the players a £10 win bonus. However, Spurs was on a promise of £25 a man if they won the cup. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. However, Spurs won the replay 3-1 and became the only club outside the Football League to win the competition.
The following season the team reached the final of the 1901 FA Cup Final. The directors of their opponents, Sheffield United, promised the players a £10 win bonus. However, Spurs was on a promise of £25 a man if they won the cup. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. However, Spurs won the replay 3-1 and became the only club outside the Football League to win the competition.
Under the leadership of Cameron the club finished as a runners-up in the Southern League in 1902 and 1904. During his career with the club, Cameron scored 139 goals in 293 appearances.
Cameron also wrote about football for several newspapers. In March 1907 Cameron resigned as manager of Spurs and took up a coaching post in Germany.
John Cameron died in Glasgow on 20th April 1935.
In my opinion, the FA have not acted with their usual discretion over the wages question. Surely the matter of wages is for club legislation alone? Every club knows, or ought to know, what it can afford to pay and if they go above their means I should certainly call it bad management and the club who does that deserves to be stranded. I noticed with a little amusement that it was those clubs that had paid more than they could afford that fought hard to carry the new measures through. Now look here, how would any man in business like to have his wages reduced by 25% if his employers could well afford better terms?
Time has made the system almost indispensable to the League clubs. Their finances are wrapped around it for their players are looked upon practically as assets; and when a club is paid a large sum of money for a player you cannot blame them for so doing. They say the system working from the club point of view is a good one, for it gives the clubs a great hold upon the players and perhaps saves a wholesale shifting of players every year which would not be good for the game.... I admit there is some truth in that, but the price is much too heavy on the players. In the Southern League there is no transfer system and yet Southampton, Portsmouth and my own club Tottenham Hotspur and others retain their players year after year; so why not the League?