A testimonial match or testimonial game, often referred to simply as a testimonial, is a practice in some sports, especially in football in the United Kingdom, where a club puts on a match in honour of a player for service to the club.
Clubs typically grant testimonials to players upon reaching ten years of service with a club, although they sometimes are given to players with less service as they approach retirement. These matches are always non-competitive. Typically, former greats for the club are invited to participate, either in the match itself or the surrounding festivities. For especially prominent players, some all-time greats of the game may be invited, or the opposition can be a national team. Alternatively, if a player is strongly identified with more than one club team, the testimonial may involve the player's current and past clubs. All proceeds from the match go to the player; depending on the country, the income may be tax-free to the player.
The practice started in the days when players, even those at top professional clubs, were paid far less than they are today. Few players were able to live on their club wages, much less save for retirement. The testimonial was a charitable gesture by the club; as testimonials were typically very well-attended matches, the practice of giving the players the proceeds from the match often enabled the honorees either to retire or establish themselves in another line of work once they finished playing. This is still the main objective of testimonials in Australia and some other countries.
In recent years, testimonials have been less frequent, especially in the top levels of European professional football and other sports in which the top players are able to make enormous wages, many times the average salary. Today's top-level players in popular sports often have far less need for the money from a testimonial than players from the past would have. Also, because of changes in the structure of the professional game, players are far less likely to stay with one club for an extended period of time than in past decades. Finally, many fans are disinclined to come to testimonials for top professionals, since they are often perceived as giving a huge windfall to a player who most likely does not need the money. However, testimonial matches for players who have given many years of service to the club (i.e. one club men) and are popular with fans and have a higher turnout.
Partly in response to this perception, testimonials in top-level football have increasingly become charitable affairs, in which the player gives part or all of the proceeds to one or more charities. For example, longtime Sunderland and Republic of Ireland star Niall Quinn donated all of the nearly-£1-million proceeds of a friendly in 2002 at the Stadium of Light between Sunderland and the Republic to a charitable foundation he started; the money went to children's hospitals in Tyne and Wear, Ireland, and India. Another high-profile charitable testimonial was that of England rugby player Martin Johnson, held at Twickenham on 4 June 2005. This event, which featured many rugby union stars, benefited children's and cancer charities. On 4 September 2010, a crowd of 35,682 attended Jamie Carragher's testimonial match at Anfield, after fifteen years of service to Liverpool, and helped to raise more than £1 million for the defender's 23 Foundation charity.
In September 2013, the Houston Dynamo announced the first testimonial match in MLS history for their retiring forward, Brian Ching. The match was played on 13 December 2013 and featured stars from the history of the Dynamo and the rest of Major League Soccer. Proceeds from the event were split between Ching's charity, "The House that Ching Built", and Habitat for Humanity.
- Benefit season, a similar concept in cricket.
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