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Exclusive: the real reason why Watmore resigned from the FA

The Football Association chief executive resigned on 18th March 2010 after about nine months in the job.   Like virtually all of his recent predecssors he  has simply thrown in the towel once he realised the enormity of the problem the FA faces.

No reason has been given for his departure, and at the moment I am writing this (the evening of 22 March) no one is even putting forward possibilities on the media.   Radio 5 Live in Britain ended up with the fact that “he probably found it quite hard to get things done.”  Sky played word games with the outgoing exec’s name.

I am going to put forward here a totally separate reason for his departure.  I don’t know what was said behind closed doors but these arguments have the merit of being consistent with all the facts of the case.

The top dog in the FA has two enormous problem areas to deal with.  First he is responsible for liaison with Fifa and Uefa, the relevant governing bodies.  The FA has to accept the rulings of these bodies and do their bidding.  Second he is responsible for the financial situation of the FA.   As with all top people who join an organisation, Ian Watmore at the FA had to work within the financial situation left by those before him.

I’ll deal with the finances of the FA first, and then the issue of Fifa.

Wembley is an unmitigated disaster for the FA.  Holding events at the venue cost a total of £83.8m, which is a lot.  Add in the interest payments on the debt incurred in building Wembley, another £39m a year.  Add in capital repayments of £11.8m and you have the total cost of running the stadium and satisfying lenders was £134.6m in 2008, of which the FA and English football’s clubs had to pay £86.6m.

Between now and 2012 the situation is not too bad since the interest on the loan has been fixed for that period at 6.9% but the total sum the FA must repay over the 15 years of the new Wembley loan is estimated at more than £930m.  In short the FA is in a worse financial state than Man U.

Shall I do that one again?  The FA is in a worse financial state than Man U.

And all this was avoidable, because most nations don’t have a fancy-dan home stadium of their own.  If the Ems is good enough for Brazil, might not England use it?   There is Very Old Trafford too.  And Newcastle.   They could even use Villa Park if they want to play North Korea or someone.

But no, they chose to go and build a vanity box.

As the scheme unfolded the FA did the only thing it could do.  It persuaded most football journalists to shut up and not talk about it.  It was a tough job, and involved lots of smiling, but they did it. If you don’t believe me, name the last paper that compared the Man U debt with the FA debt at Wembley.

So that by itself is enough to give anyone childish enough to take on the FA job a headache.  But let’s now turn to the other theme – dealing with Fifa.

One of my favourite moments in the history of football politics and economics came in 2006 – and you may recall me quoting the comments of a US judge that,  “Fifa lied and lied and lied again.”  In fact I have indulged myself many a time quoting and re-quoting this line in an attempt to show just how corrupt football is at the top level.  My apologies for boring you with it again, but it is relevant.

There’s a reason for returning to this court case today, but first some background.   Fifa were in court to answer charges that they were deceptive in dealing with Mastercard sponsorship of the world cup – it turned out they were dealing with Visa at the same time despite saying they were not.

In the end the judge slaughtered Fifa and revealed just how twisted and bent the world footballing body under Blatter had become.  Fifa was ordered by the court to pay Mastercard $90m, and as a result (guess what) none of the top crooks resigned, but four minor execs got the chop.

The judge had a particularly nice way of summarising the the senior negotiator at Fifa in the case, Chuck Blazer, and I am grateful to the Observer for reminding me of this, just this week.  “Mr Blazer’s testimony was generally without credibility… [his] testimony is rejected as fabricated…  Fifa’s slogan is ‘fair play’ … this constituted the opposite.”

The reason this is funny today is because Chuck Blazer, who is still an executive officer at Fifa, despite all his past corruption, says ethics regulations at Fifa (actually I didn’t know there were any, but there are) are far too tight and formal and should can be ignored.  Apparently he has said that bidders should be free to approach delegates in private, without press statements.

Now this is the body that the chief of the FA has to deal with.  And it is perfectly clear that to do so, you either have to take them on, which by and large means no national tournaments here, so even greater Wembley debt, or you have to kowtow to the crooks, the cheats and the conmen.

In short, if you want to work with Fifa you have to be crooked yourself.  Just follow the daily adventures of Jack Warner if you don’t believe me.  Type in Jack Warner Fifa corruption in Google.

So we might ask, how is it that the newspapers and broadcast media in the UK ignore this?  How come Sky Sports News today limited itself to “Watmore is no more”.   (Honest, that was the extent of their coverage).

The answer is in fact very simple and fairly obvious.  In fact you’ve probably guessed it already. Just as the FA needs Wembley as part of its bid for the world cup etc, so newspapers, TV and radio thrive on internationals.  They spend billions bidding for the games, and they want to write endlessly about the games.  They know that they are dealing with a corrupt organisation, and through this knowledge they are also aware that if they were to once rock the boat, they would not get accreditation for games, and they would not get the chance to bid for any rights.

Personally I would love this.  A media blackout on international football as a result of the media telling it like it really is would be the first step to stopping the corruption and stupidity in the game and reclaiming football for the fans.

But sadly we are a long way from that at the moment.

The FA, now so hopelessly in debt that it is unlikely ever to recover, will appoint another poor misguided person who will try and take the job on without realising the truth about Fifa and the truth about the debt.  They will be led into this minefield because the media will not publish the truth.

What we need is for the FA to find itself grossly incompetent, and go into administration.    They can sell Wembley to Mr Abramovich of Sheik Yermoney and we can be rid of the whole nonsense.  They can tell Fifa that we have had enough and we are setting up our own competitions which are not recognised by them.

Or they can sup with the devil, and become increasingly corrupted, and they can carry the journalists with them.

In the meanwhile we can praise one man for having the courage to walk out.

(c) Tony Attwood 2010.

Back to the Untold Arsenal index

27 comments to Exclusive: the real reason why Watmore resigned from the FA

  • AaronGSi

    What a brilliant, brilliant article Tony. I flicked onto Sky Sports News for 2mins earlier and saw their breaking news headline that Ian Whatmore had resigned (along with Arsenals appeal to Tommy’s red card), and I take my hat off to you that you already have the best piece of journalism that we are likely to see on the subject, up on the site already.

    I knew the FA were in the s**t to some extent, which is why they pimp the stadium to anyone they think will fill it for them (as well as hold FA cup semi-finals there now as well) but your article really brings the seriousness of their plight to the fore. I saw a little caption from Brian Woolnough in todays daily star commenting that the Ems has the best playing surface in the country, so what went wrong with Wembley stadium? Apart from the fact that he needs to go and do a bit of proper journalism for a change and tell us the reasons why, rather than just print the damn question, it does show what an absolute disaster the stadium really is.
    I guess that’s what happens when you get people like Ken Bates involved in getting the finance and design of the stadium together, so I have very little sympathy for them.

  • Toby

    With the massive finance Arsenal can bring to the Emirates through gate receipt we don’t have a problem paying the mortage off.

    However with Wembley shows not even half the matches Wembley does, cost more to build and is playing watered down F.A cup matches (semi’s).

    Add to which the pitch is terribly poor. I don’t know why they didn’t keep the old Wembley or even make it a proper national sport stadium like the one being built down in Stratford.

  • You are right – the pitch is dreadful – a disgrace in fact. The fact that the overwhelming power of the FA representing all football in this country can’t even get that right shows what a mess they are in.

  • Don

    May I thank you for bringing some much neded clarity to the shenanigans behind the scenes of said governing bodies.

    You have added some much needed meat to the bones of contention i have held about UK sports journalism and the FA, who I suspected were totally incompetent.

    Now that you have given me some financial facts, details of clandestine pacts with journalists/media organisations and a summary of the events leading to proven impropriety by fifa, I can take my conspiracy theories to new heights confident that there are facts to support.

    Great article.

  • Aussie Jack

    Thank you Tony for enlightening us on the F.A. situation. I can well imagine senior administrators walking off the job before the dirt sticks and they can`t get rid of the smell but these are not little school boys` are they? They would have a damned good idea what they are walking in to before they took the job or are they blinded by their own ego? I was taught that bureaucracies can only be terminated as a result of their own incompetence (fall on their own sword), maybe that`s just theory put out by L.S.E and the likes.

  • Paul C.

    Yeah, fantastic piece Tony. The shenanigans at the FA never cease to amaze and for someone like Watmore coming into that all must have seemed quite unreal. The Times are trying to blame it on the power that the PL have but really, the FA need no assistance to screw things up.

    The whole Wembley thing always seemed ridiculous to me. Why oh why England needed a dedicated national stadium when we had such great stadia throughout the country always amazed me.

  • GunningHead

    Absolute classic from the only journalist on all things Arsenal out there….the classic line….” The FA is in a worse financial situation then Manure” says it all really. Say this to the brian-dead pundits at talksport radio and I bet you’ll get a blank response of…well they need to buy ore players, Arsenal. These were the same pundits that were saying Chelsea will win the leage cause theyre a League of Gentlemen..Now they’re too old. I just wised they’d think Arsenal don’t have a chance of winning the league again so that we could win it. I’d hate being on the same page as Hansen or any other cousins of his, pretending to be intelligent analysts of the game…

    Arsenal FC is the only football club (and well, Barcelona) are the only teams where the fans actually have some intelligence…

  • Another wonderfully informative piece, Tony.

  • Brilliant Piece Tony.

    Corruption in football is a serious issue but one that is well-nigh impossible to eliminate. I believe at the core is the problem that football is popular around the world and corruption in most national federations would make FIFA look like saints.

    I know how bad it is in India and it’s not difficult to see why no development actually takes place. Moreover, in India, the corruption in football is linked to corrupt politics. And with due respect, I’m quite certain similar problems exists in most African federations and perhaps South American and Asian ones as well.

    Once you have a collection of some of the most corrupt administrators in sports it’s easy to understand why FIFA would be the way it is. The beauty of this mess is that you just don’t know where to start even if you really want to clean it up. What can a few articles about corruption do? Even if some administrators are sacked others who come in will be just as bad, after all they will have come to power after “buying” the votes that are being sold.

    I feel the media is the most influential and the most impotent industry in this world. What they publish makes a very big difference in public opinion. At the same time, they have no power to actually do anything to address the serious problems we face, not only limited to football but in general.

    On rare occasions when the issue can be narrowed down and the evidence is overwhelming, the media does make a difference. Perhaps I should say a few men in the media do make a difference. But by and large there isn’t much that they can do.

    Anyway, this is a really complex topic and I can go on and on. Let’s just hope good articles such as this one will lead to others and maybe in due course there will be more awareness and changes for the better.

  • walter

    I learned something new today as I didn’t know that the FA was in such a bad financial state. We had heard of the disasters when building the new Wembley but I did not know how deep the the troubles were.

    About being bent… football is bent. If you want to go to the top in football as a director in any Fa or Fifa or Uefa you have to be corrupt or you don’t get to the top. It is a snake pit as we say in Dutch and it is eat or get eaten.

    On the new Wembley, I visited the old some 10 years ago and took a tour and last year I took a tour in the new Wembley. It just is a bigger copy of the Emirates I think (looking from the outside) but I found the old Wembley better. But that is personal.

  • Rhys Jaggar

    Tony the 2008 audited accounts describe the bank loan as £340m. It’s nowhere near the £757m cost of construction. That was why they took so much upfront from Club Wembley bondholders. The annual repayment figures are £11 – 12m a year (p51 of the 2008 accounts).

    The net debt of the company decreased by £23m from £227m to £204m, in a fashion incredibly similar to Arsenal Holdings. Page 65 of the audited accounts. Note 24 part (b).

    Now I think you need to consider carefully that either those accounts of 2008 are completely at odds with what will be published for 2009, or you are saying that Arsenal’s net debt is worse than Man Utd’s, as it appears to be similar to the FA’s, when I think I read you saying that Arsenal’s financial position was the best in the country.

    Now if you possess confidential information which imply that the net debt has ballooned in 2009 and that the 4 year plan announced by Ian Watmore 3 months ago to bring the FA to stability by 2014 is bunkum, then I will ask you to present it.

    If of course, you are saying that parties wish to destroy FIFA and international football and hence destroy Wembley Stadium’s football-related income in the absence of handing it to the KGB, then that is another thing to be discussed.

    But I remain to be persuaded that the audited accounts of the FA for 2008 present a company in meltdown in the absence of significantly worsening trading conditions since then.

    I look forward to further information being presented in this regard.

  • Another blockbuster. i really admire how you keep shining light on football finance.

  • Rhys, my information came from the press release put out by Wembley and a series of newspaper articles. The press release quotes a loss of £35m or something like that for the year, and calls that an increase in profit – and I must admit at that point I thought, “this is a whitewash of something rather black”. I write press releases myself for companies, and while I have been asked to write things like that I don’t think I have ever done anything that is quite as awful as that piece.

    So I went to a file of bits and pieces on the project from the national press – not the most reliable place to look I know, but it is what I used. I went back through articles like these…

    October 2007, Daily Telegraph – Wembley has wildly underestimated the true cost of the project.

    November 2006 – Deloittes refuse to sign off the accounts of Wembley because of gross errors

    November 2009 – Wembley may default because of its bank debt (the Times)

    Guardian September 2009 – article by Matt Scott, which is the one that speaks about the £930m total cost of the project.

    As I say in my piece, there is no big problem repaying in the next year or so – but over time it is a huge drain on the FA, so I think my point that the FA need not have built the thing, and could have carried on playing in other stadia and thus had much more money each year (£30m in the last financial year) for football, is valid.

    Also the combination of the refusal of the accountants to sign the accounts, and the accusation that there has been a massive under-estimation of the costs, does suggest something is amiss.

    I fully appreciate the irony that I, as a constant critic of the press, should rely on the newspapers for the background on a piece I have written, but what got me started was the most curious way in which that press release is constructed. It just screams that it is hiding something – and it seems that some journalists have reached a similar conclusion.

    Of course none of this mentions the incredible court cases that have gone on, and are going on, over the project. I do find it amusing that these should exist, in exactly the same way that everyone blamed everyone else over the Ibrox disaster – except there it was the wrong kind of wood, here it is the wrong kind of concrete.

    And I do appreciate that the court cases will not harm Wembley and the FA, but they are symptomatic of a malaise within the project.

    So, overall, no inside information, just the usual file of newspaper clippings waiting for use, and the fact that as a person who is called upon to write press releases for all sorts of firms, I think I can see a rat when it is swung around and smashed into my face by someone who really ought not to treat his/her readership as a bunch of utter morons.

    That I guess is where we differ – and of course I recognise you might be right in taking the facts and figures as they stand. In which case there are no real problems. But to me (and as I have said, a few other people who write for a living) it just all looks completely wrong.

    It is interestingly rather like the situation soon after the takeover of Man U before every fact came out. Some of us were saying – this is crazy, but the official accounts told another tale.

    That doesn’t mean that because I was right over Man U I am right here… Its a blog and its just my view.

  • AaronGSi

    Rhys,
    Good info on the FA’s accounts, but what about the other £400m needed to finance the cost of Wembley? How was this raised?
    Was it raised by a bond issue? (is that what you mean by Club Wembley bondholders?) In which case when do the bonds mature and what interest to they yield? Is this interest part of the £11-£12m you have quoted?
    Or, if not:
    Was it raised by private finance? In which case who else owns Wembley?
    Was it raised through money the FA had in the bank? In which case is it not a scandal that all that money the FA had was not put to better use, such as in coaching and grass roots resources?
    Can anyone clarify this? Thanks.

  • Richard B

    I seem to remember it coming out at the recent AST meeting with Arsenals new Commercial Director, Tom Fox, that this year Wembleys non football bookings (mainly concerts) are at only 10% capacity. This was said in the context of the Emirates only having a two week window at the end of the season to hold such events as the groundsman then digs it all up to re-seed. Such care doesn’t happen at Wembley – which is another reason why it’s one of the worse pitches around.

  • Anybody interested in the mega corruption of IOC and FIFA should take a look at this : http://www.transparencyinsport. org/.

  • hartwick89

    That’s why kids it always serves to do the right thing even when people aren’t looking. I think Arsene is quietly amused at the lack of financial frugality imposed by the FA. It seems it’s just a matter of time before something disasterous happens. Maybe we should (Arsenal) sue for the recent attacks on Ramsay and Eduardo….And, as FA collapses collaborate with UEFA to create the “Super”.

  • Diaminedave

    Tony – great article and some very informative responses. Certainly looks ripe for someone to do some in depth research / expose to find out the discrepancy that Rhys noted.

    As you yourself have noted in using the press as the basis for these facts there is some use for them (the press). While I would never hold them (the press) up as examples of truth, honesty and virtue some of them do have the integrity to at least do some honest digging.
    One major problem is when offended parties start arbitrarily deciding that sections of the press who do them a disservice are exclude from grounds or interviews but continue giving those rights to more favoured sources. (Think of old red nose and the Beeb or grauniad and Leeds). That sort of censorship should be banned by law! A small step I know as there are many other subtle forms of influence at work as well! as you so often point out
    all the best
    dave

  • Finsbury

    From Building Design Online

    “Wembley architects fear ‘ruinous cost’ of ruling
    20 March, 2009

    By Will Henley

    While the stadium won critical plaudits, it was delivered more than a year late, went £300 million over budget and continues to suffer from snagging issues, according to Multiplex, now renamed Brookfield Construction.”

    *

    So, it’s safe to say, the true cost of the stadium is unknown, the key words being “£300 Million over budget”.

    That’d be over the original £300Millish figure. To explain how I think this arose would probably require an extremely boring mini-essay in construction design management.

    *

    Burp.

    Sorry, I meant Burton.

    *

    From BBC online, Friday, 9 October 2009:

    “There remains a strong commitment within the organisation to get the centre up and running,” said Watmore.

    “However, the project has to be financially sustainable.”

    – Ian Watmore

  • Archimedes

    I was sad to hear about the poor state of FA but money corrupts. It is commendable that you are exposing failures and corruption but I am afraid that nothing will change until professional football and sports agrees on enforcable rules on accountability. The clever people knew this at the outset and it is not a coincidence that international bodies are located in taxhaven and unregulated Switzerland, e.g. FIFA in Zurich pop 380k, IOC in Lausanne pop 130k, and UEFA in Nyon with pop a whopping 18k, away from intrusive investigative journalists etc. I don`t suggest that global financial markets and regulators are in much better shape but at least financial regulators together with self regulating industry bodies have been empowered with tools to control or if necessary, punish market participants. Part of the problem in professional sports today has been its success: the rapid growth enabled by technological innovation; growth of media in its wake; and the crave to fill it with profitable content. At the same time, sports is torn by on one hand, its grass root amateur tradition and on the other hand, the hard nosed, money spinning business it has become. To the same extent publicly listed companies are forced to comply with different sets of rules compared with unlisted equivalents, it would only be sensible to require different rules for professional football now or if incumbent governing body fail to improve, threaten to introduce a new, better governed version of the FA, or split it into an amateur FA and a professional FA, etc. Simply speaking, football can not be a business and a charity at the same time.

  • Consolsbob

    Right or wrong Tony, it’s well worth writing a piece on the Watmore resignation. Why should a man in a seemingly plum job that he successfully applied for only a year ago resign after 9 months in post?

    If you are wrong then it is a real mystery.

    A shame then that i have yet to see any serious efforts by the media to shine a light on the episode. Maybe the weekend press will do better. Someone should be doing their job.

  • Mark

    This is a great blog Tony…..but no-one seems to care much about corruption in this country any more. Just look at Mendelson and how that lying cheating toad now runs the country.

    Vermaelen’s red card has not been revoked…….

    surprise surprise

  • Mark

    I think the FA is in some sort of meltdown.

  • walter

    I think FA stands for Ferguson Alex….

  • Diaminedave

    I really like the style with the thread lists down the side and the recent comments showing up and which thread they are on. I have to read this blog in a different way because comments are coming into different arenas all the time.
    Just wanted to make the point that blogs like this will hopefully start making the press with the resources more honest – by that I mean actually having to answer well and with proof some of the questions that are being asked here and elsewhere.
    Amazing what stories can be asked and to some extent answered with the limited resources you have
    keep it going Tony

  • Clerkenwell Gooner

    Hah! I was going to post the Building Design piece (used to work for them a while back) about the contractor vs engineer lawsuit over Wembley, but Finsbury beat me to it.

    The BD article also mentions “11,000 changes to drawings” for Wembley. Since HOK Sport was involved with both Emirates and Wembley, and since Foster is no slouch when it comes to mega-projects globally, it does makes me wonder about the quality of the *coughs* client.

    Certainly, I think it would have been a brilliant stroke to go to a distributed national team stadium model, using stadiums around the country (spread the £££) for In-ger-land to play in.

    Spain manages it (Real & Atleti stadiums plus Valencia), but I can just imagine the sentimental backlash if the FA had tried this route, all the Save Our Wembley banners, John Motson crying on national TV &c &c.

    Shame, though. The saving could have been invested for the benefit of the game at schools/grassroots level, and as a result we’d be a happier and healthier nation and might actually have stood a chance at some future World Cup.

  • Haggs

    Why don’t the people of Britain go back to having their own rules.
    Tell FIFA to go and get })^%$.
    They have the best league in the world ” Premier League”
    All they have to do is invite anyone who wants to join and form a FIFA style organisation.
    JUST START FROM SCRATCH it’s easy!!!
    To get it up and running use the money from the sale of wembley.
    Ask each of the players to take a 5,000 pound pay cut and limit the amount of money you can pay as a Transfere feefor a player.
    (they get paid too much anyway)
    Form their own World Cup.
    The cricketers did it, broke away from tradition.
    Why not football??? I am sure the Fans would love it!!!