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Untold’s submission to the FA enquiry: “sort out the coaching, sort out the FA”

In September Football Association chairman Greg Dyke announced a commission to ascertain why so few English footballers make it to the top level.

As we did with the Parliamentary commission of enquiry into football, wherein Phil Gregory wrote Untold’s reply, Untold has now made its submission to the FA.

This time I wrote it, and in doing so I greatly widened the terms of enquiry, and took on the FA itself.

Here’s a copy of my report to the FA.

———————————————-

On 9 June 2010 I published an article on the Untold Arsenal blog which sought to answer three simple questions:

a) Why is England so bad at football?

b) Why does Arsenal under Wenger use so few English players?

c) Why does the Netherlands, with its small population seem to do better than England at football?

I did the research, wrote my answers, and the resultant piece remains on line at http://blog.emiratesstadium.info/archives/5146

Interestingly, this article has been used as the basis for articles by other writers in a number of places ever since.  Indeed a piece in the Telegraph a few months back bore a remarkable resemblance to my piece, and used my research.

What made the piece of interest I believe is that I don’t think anyone before analysed the population of various countries, the number of registered clubs, the number of registered male players, and the number of coaches with the top  qualifications, and then compared these factors with the success had in world cups.

And that is my main point here – and one that will occupy me all the way through this.   I did this research from information I could find in reference books and on line, and did it during the course of one day.  Anyone could have done it, but a detailed on line search suggested no one had done it before.

There were loads of opinions out there – many of which concluding that we needed more coaches, but no one had done the analysis to prove the point.   And that is the point.  Football is full of opinion.  But who is out there doing the research?

It is a point I will come back to at the end of this submission, but for the moment I will move on.

My analysis of the numbers found that the only correlation there is between world cup success and various countries, is the number of coaches in each country.   Everything comes down to this simple point, and you might now expect me to stop at this point saying, “well I told you so three and a half years ago.”

But in fact there is something else, and it is something that makes the present situation far worse.

Allied to this fact, and the ability of top clubs throughout Europe to bring in players from across the EU, (or in the case of countries such as Spain where registration of non-EU players is much more relaxed than in the UK, players from all over the world), there is the issue of changing attitudes within England to the national team and the national game.

You only have to look at many an England game to see that the supporters are not people who support top English clubs, but they are supporters of smaller clubs from lower divisions.

Of course there is nothing wrong with this.  I support Arsenal because I was brought up near the ground.   But I also support Poole Town, because my parents moved to Dorset when I was 11, and I went to watch my local team, and I support Torquay United, because theirs was the last ground I visited with my father on several occasions in the last years of his life.  Also, when there is no Arsenal match for my pal and I to go to, we go and watch local non-league and lower league clubs.

So I support competitive league football in my part of the East Midlands, and I support Arsenal, and I support Poole Town and Torquay United – but I don’t support England, even though I am a citizen of the UK born and brought up in London, and then Dorset.

And in this I am not alone.

Now I think you should be considering this point, uncomfortable as it may be, because I believe my position is widespread, even though it is not one that is widely recognised or reported in the media.   I support football, I don’t support England.

There are four key reasons why I, and many others, don’t support our native country at football.

First, in terms of quality, the football I watch as a season ticket holder at Arsenal is far better technically than the football I see England play.

Second, time and again I have seen players of the club I support injured and so removed from my club, through playing for their country.  In this complaint I make no particular suggestion about England, but think of any country.  Belgium and Vermaelen, the Netherlands and Robin van Persie….  When it is an international break, all I do is hope and hope that none of the Arsenal players involved is injured playing for his country.

Third, I am horrified by the actions and attitudes of Fifa, to whom the FA give allegiance.  The corruption, the vast sums of money taken from host countries, the total lack of ability to deal with racism, the sexist attitudes… everything about Fifa horrifies me.   And if I were not horrified enough by Fifa, the action of Fifa in arresting and imprisoning for several days half a dozen young women in South Africa for the crime of wearing t-shirts advertising the wrong beer, was the final straw.

Of course it is not the FA’s fault that Fifa is like this – but the FA gives allegiance to Fifa, and the argument about changing Fifa from within is ludicrous – there is not the slightest chance of this, even with the UK’s special position within Fifa as the founding nation.

Fourth, if I had any faith in the FA as an organisation able to deal with the politics of football I think I lost it during the bid for the world cup where, we were told, England had a strong chance, and then actually got two votes, which I gather were the votes cast by England and Australia.  It is a bit like the Natural Law Party suggesting it has a chance of winning the general election, and then being surprised when it loses its deposit in every seat.  It was obvious to everyone else that the England bid stood no chance and yet vast amounts of money that could have been spent on football was thrown at the bid.

So there it is.  The coaching system is unresolved, the quality of international football is not as good as that which I see at Arsenal, international managers worldwide act irresponsibly with players, the FA gives credence to Fifa and is naive in its dealings with Fifa.   As a result the FA has lost any sense of credibility as an organisation capable of running football.

The situation is however redeemable.

First, the coaching needs sorting out.

Second, stop wasting precious funding on gifts to Fifa representatives or sending delegations to Fifa.   Be part of Fifa if you must (although I’d prefer it if you were not) but stop pitching for tournaments and use the money you generate entirely for the football clubs whose interests you look after, and to lobby other European countries to take a new stance about Fifa.

Third, sell Wembley, cut your losses, and use the money for grass roots football.  I know you spend money on grass roots football – I want you to spend more.

Fourth, respect the fans who ultimately pay for the FA, by refusing to play international friendlies at times that interfere with the league calendar – even if Fifa says they are designated international weekends.

Fifth, recognise that you have a credibility issue.  The fact that on your form that I have filled in to offer these thoughts had no box to tick for “writer on football” or “blogger” shows how out of touch you are with the way things work these days.  I run Untold Arsenal and the History of Arsenal sites, with a few friends and we get over 750,000 visits a month to the two sites.  It is a huge audience, and we put out a message akin to the recommendations given above on a regular basis.

And yet you don’t even recognise the blogger or the writer on football as a person who might be able to contribute to your debate, and so I am left registering myself as a season ticket holder and  “other”.

The power base of football debate has moved on.  It is no longer in your hands, nor even in the hands of the media.  If you read some of the blogs you would know how bloggers are leading the debate in many cases and running rings round the media.

If you think back to the demise of Rangers FC in Scotland, you might recall that while the media all towed the party line that there was nothing wrong at Rangers, the bloggers publicised the criminal activity in the club day after day.   When the tax case finally exploded the papers jumped on the bandwagon but no one was taken in.  It was the bloggers who reported the truth day after day.

Now one of the biggest talking points in Premier League football is the bias of the referees, and many detailed analyses of the persistent bias of the refs (reports prepared by referees) have been published by blogs such as mine.   Even Mr Wenger referred to us in this regard a few weeks back.

The media hardly touch this, although they are just starting to see that they might doing another “Rangers tax case” job to themselves.

So my point is that if you believe that the mainstream media are really at the heart of the debate of the future of England as a footballing nation, you are looking in the wrong place.  The real debate, engaging massive numbers of hard core fans, is happening elsewhere.  And if you want to re-engage with football supporters all over the country you need totally to re-think how you address the football world.

Which leads to this final point.  A point that is symptomatic of all that is wrong with the FA and the way it runs football in England (and hence by implication the way it handles the England team).

A month ago I went onto the http://www.thefa.com/fa-youth-cup/more/history site to find out a little about the history of the FA youth cup.  I had been disappointed that you did not record on your site all the results for this season in the youth cup, but a good look at the history section I thought might help me out with my research.

The site says

FA Youth Cup Winners
Check out the full list of winners of The FA Youth Cup since the competition began in 1953. Click here for more

FA Youth Cup History  
It’s the competition that puts the stars of tomorrow in the shop window, but how did it start? Click here for more.

Back In Time  
United had Beckham, Butt and Scholes, but it was Leeds who triumphed in 1993 in front of 60,000 fans. Click here for more.

There are six links there.  None of them work.  I wrote and told the FA a month ago.  The FA didn’t reply.  The links are still broken.

And that takes me back to my opening point about research, and my final point about caring about fans.  If the FA can’t even provide basic information about a competition it runs, if the FA can’t actually get its web site to work on the minimal amount of information it has about one of its own competitions, then what faith can any of us have that the FA is going to do anything in terms of research or get anything right?

So, to give you an answer in one paragraph: Revolutionise the coaching, and look at yourselves from top to bottom – from your association with corruption via Fifa through to your inability even to provide minimalist information on your web site.

The answer is

a)      sort out the coaching

b)      do proper research

c)      recognise that the people you need to liaise with are the fans, not the media, not the high and mighty.

 

The fans have voices now, and you have lost their goodwill.   You have to win hearts and minds, and you are at the moment not even on the starting blocks.

 

The situation is not static, waiting for you to act.  It is a mess, and it is getting worse each day.

 

Tony Attwood

Untold Arsenal

 

19 comments to Untold’s submission to the FA enquiry: “sort out the coaching, sort out the FA”

  • WalterBroeckx

    If this would have been a speech I now would be standing up applauding you Tony.

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Tony,

    Well said, I couldn’t have put it better!

  • Richard

    Fantastic article!
    I have been following your sites for a while and am fascinated with the results of the refs. I have followed Arsenal since I can remember (79 Final) and am amazed with the bias against us!
    Sometimes I thought it was my rose tinted glasses that obscured my vision but thanks to your stats I can see that we are constantly robbed.
    I just watched the manure game and sure enough they had 5 calls go their way that should have gone to Norwich, in the first 20 mins!
    Twice this season, that granny shagger who looks like shrek has violently kicked another player from behind, while making no attempt to win the ball. He of course gets no card yet Jackie gets 2 games for the finger!
    It seems to me that the ONLY time the video BS committee gets together is when an Arsenal player is involved. They make me sick, almost enough to stop watching but my love for Arsenal is too strong!

  • I’ve noticed that a lot of older, ‘traditional’ companies and organisations still don’t ‘get’ the internet. They don’t get that every broken link; every awkward, non-intuitive web page; and every uncorrected typo have a negative impact on their company’s reputation.

  • Wooby

    Tony, bravo! A well-reasoned, thought out article/submission.

    Probably another reason for the establishment to hate Arsenal. 🙂

  • soglorious

    I hope the FA listens.

  • Gf60

    Great paper Tony. We’ll never be able to get back the tennis ball games we held in the streets…too may cars occupying the “playing fields”.

    But what may be worth while further researching is the decrease in competitive schools football. This has been caused by successive governments/councils seeing those real playing fields as a wonderful site for a supermarket or similar. And we won’t even mention the limp wrist brigade’s thoughts on how competition is a bad thing for the under 16s!

  • nicky

    A masterly dissection of the ills of modern-day professional football.
    As I see it, the causes began as the World slowly recovered following the outbreak of peace in 1945.
    The standard of living improved for many and with it the desire for the material objects like cars, washing machines, televisions and owner/occupier homes,etc.
    In the more developed countries, leisure time became important and professional sport via the TV screen(and particularly satellite coverage) began to wield increasing influence as time went by.
    Inevitably, active participation by many in a sport like association football has given way to world-wide “watching”.
    More people now are glued to TV screens than attend live games and play themselves and with the advent of advertising, the professional game is now big business. No longer merely a game on grass between two teams in semi- friendly contest.
    In this world of big business, therefore, the attendant sharp practices and “dog eat dog” attitude have, over the years, steadily corrupted what was once a honest sport, so that now we have global crime from clubs to FIFA (with match officials in between).
    If the game is going to survive and prosper in a fair and honest way, there must be a ruthless pruning from the top. FIFA’s corruption must be so exposed that a fresh “whiter than white” body can be formed to take on big business and return the game to a more level playing field for all.

  • shedzy

    Excellent and insightful piece.

    Bravo.

  • phil Gregory

    excellent

  • JL

    tony,

    while i agree that the number of qualified coaches does make a difference, i think that the idea that england do poorly at an international level is a bit of a misnomer. i also do not believe that it is a result of foreigners.

    in Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s excellent book ‘Soccernomics’ they explore this idea of englands supposed failures at an international level. they study a contries size, socio-economic status, and experience of playing at the top level in football. based on their findings england actually overperforms slightly at an international level given its size, wealth and experience.

    possibly more of a case of misguided expectations than england being rubbish. while i do believe that england needs to reform its structure (i would point to germany as a good place to start) i also think that the media, and the english in general, seem to feel that football is ‘their game’ and that therefore they should be best, while utterly ignoring the facts of why they arent….

  • OMGArsenal

    Ah Tony….your erudition and fluent arguments are surely like throwing pearls before swine, ultimately wasted and inopportune!
    The FA, a rabid collection of prawn-swallowing stuffed suits, whose main claim to fame is their enormous belief in themselves and their grand historical illusion of having founded Association Football 150 years ago( a false claim for sure) and f**ked it up ever since, is not likely to change until stuffed pigs fly.
    However, cudos for this well thought-out argument, as pointless as it is to offer it to the gallery of stooges that so remarkably resemble Parliament!

  • Nelson Wong

    Arsenal have a bunch of English players that are allowed to kick more often than not.

    The thing that mystify me is that they seem to think “English football” means kicking people, doing high tackles and so on.

    Since most English players play in England and there are fewer of them making a hit in other countries unlike the South Americans, Africans, Germans and Spanish, English players got injured far more often than the others.

    So who is to blame for the lack of players avaiable because of injury?

    Don’t ask Wenger why Wilshere is out. Ask why other teams are allowed to break his limps and walk away.

  • Stuart

    Great report Tony, hopefully they will take it on board. I personally have found the FA and UEFA to be ignorant and dismissive any time I have contacted them and on the extremely rate occasion I have had a response, it has reeked of arrogance explaining how basically I should like it or lump it so I doubt this will go any further than here. I hope they prove me wrong.

    Another factor is related to the physical aspect taught at grassroots as opposed to skillful ball play taught elsewhere which England is unable to deal with. Any skillful players we would have had are filtered out at a young age and removed from the game in preference for the bigger bully types who soon find they can’t bully at international level.

  • KH

    Another good piece Tony buttttt .. I believe the problem of referees in EPL and UK is even deeper than your statistics show. The style of play in EPL is 100% influenced by the refs decisions. Yes the AFC’s of the world continue to TRY to play modern day football but they are pissing in the wind due to EPL’s referees appalling “IM IN CHARGE” arrogance, clear bias and sheer incompetence. Every time an EPL ref referees a game he is in effect defining how that particular game is played and thereafter the game itself in EPL. Smart teams change their style to suit the ref of the day.

    Keep up the great work Tony,

  • Gunjan

    wonderful !!! Keep doing your honest work and hope the game we all love will be pure again !!! Regards from Nepal

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Well done ,Tony ,do hope some fool in the FA is able to digest
    all this and not file away for a later cold winter’s night reading .
    Not that I care an iota for England FC ‘s future !

  • Gord

    Nice report Tony.

    I am still wading through data from 1992/93. Which means looking briefly at every wikipedia page for every player that has scored a goal in the EPL. It looks like half of these players go into some aspect of soccer management: coaching, training, scouting.

    In the past, I’ve had the chance to watch ex professional athletes who have become “personal trainers” at gyms that I have belonged to. Just because an athlete was capable of being trained, doesn’t make them capable of being a trainer. Do these people need actual theoretical and practical study in order to go into soccer management?

  • South Wales Gooner

    I think the point about coaching is absolutely essential.
    However I also think indoor facilities in which to carry out coaching throughout the year are equally important.
    The FA should make every effort to channel more of the money that is flowing into the Premier League into providing these things.
    The fact that so much money is going into the pockets of players and agents and not actually making a difference to the long term future of the game is criminal.