By Tony Attwood
If you are a regular reader of my ramblings on Untold you might recall that a while back I reported that Sport England had decided to cut funding to the FA by £1.6 million a year after participation levels among adult males in England dropped.
Now our national press did its regular thing at this point, taking a press release by an interested party and turning it into a report that pretended to be investigative reporting, but was in fact just a word for word reprint of the press release.
It took me, just a regular football supporter who not only goes to the big games at Arsenal, but also to little games involving my local non-league clubs (and Guernsey, for reasons that will not become clear at this point), two minutes to show that the FA’s response to the cut, as so faithfully reported in the press, was just a self-serving pack of gibberish which didn’t add up.
I won’t bore you with the whole story again, but one lead point was the FA’s claim that it was hardly their fault that they had not been able to do much when the weather had been so bad. In fact even a cursory glance at the facts would show that the Sport England judgement was made long before the rains of last winter came. The money was taken away from the FA because they had no coherent plan to meet the targets they agreed to when taking Sport England’s money.
Now, having got away with their first round of bleating, and finding that their utterly ludicrous excuse was actually accepted and printed in the press, the FA is at it again. And, worse, the press are reprinting the FA’s briefings once again, undoubtedly grateful that they can fill some more column inches without doing any work.
Bizarrely, in its latest pronouncement the Football Association fears English football being damaged for “the next 50 years” unless more is done to overcome the crisis in grass-roots facilities.
Actually that is not so bizarre, because it is in fact a realistic statement of reality, but the cause of the collapse is not Sport England but the FA and the local authorities. What we need to do is to get football pitches out of local authority control, upgraded, and rented out to local clubs at prices that the clubs (and ultimately of course, their players) can afford.
But hold on. The FA is saying that the problem is brought on by what it calls government “austerity measures”. And here we are back to Sport England’s cut in funding to the FA by £1.6 million a year.
Now when we consider this we have to remember is two things.
First, as I have suggested, the FA had its money cut because it did nothing when it had the money, to reduce the collapse in participation. It didn’t even manage to present to Sport England a credible plan for a few months which it could then carry out.
Second, it made an insane excuse about being affected by the weather, and not having had enough time to get things going, when the weather was fine during the period that was measured, and the FA knew from the moment it took the money that its progress was going to be measured up to last October.
If it thought that it didn’t have enough time to get things together it could have protested to Sport England at the start, and simply turned the money down. That would have embarrassed Sport England and allowed the FA to puts its case in public.
But let us also not forget that when in 2009 the FA were in deep financial difficulty, having decided to go into partnership with Setanta and ITV, they proposed cutting £2m from grassroots funding – while at the same time giving Chelsea, who were hardly in need of the money, £2m for winning the FA Cup!
That is the sort of thing the FA really don’t want any of us to remember.
Why we may ask, should the FA Cup winner get anything for winning? They get the prestige and the gate money, so why is there this vast funding from the FA? It is nonsense.
Perhaps the biggest catastrophe for the FA, and all of us who care about football at all levels is that Wembley cost £850m to rebuild, and the biggest drain on FA finances is the interest on the mortgage.
Worse, in the last set of accounts available (December 2012) we see that the FA get £107m a year. And has bank loans of £274m outstanding.
In a sense we have to feel sorry for Kelly Simmons, the FA’s director in charge of this fiasco, because she has nothing in her hand to play with. The excuse of the floods made the FA a laughing stock among those who bothered to look beyond the headline, and the fact that local authorities are cutting all their funding is something that has been known about since the last general election four years ago.
It is hardly Ms Simmons fault. Except that she took on the job, and really needs to come clean. The FA has a massive income but spends it. £25m sucking up to Fifa in order to get two votes to run the world cup, hundreds of millions wasted on Wembley and now being paid out in bank loans, millions to the winners of the FA Cup…
The FA bleats that the government is at fault because it doesn’t accept that there is a link between a lack of investment in grass-roots sports and obesity problems.
That is nonsense. The government knows this as well as anyone. But this government in the UK is running an austerity programme because in the past it de-regulated the banking sector in the UK (it was called The Big Bang) and allowed the bankers to do what they like. In countries that have done that, there is chaos and crisis. Only countries like Canada that did not deregulate, has there been no banking crisis.
So what is the FA up to? “We are looking at midweek leagues which would suit ‘busy dads’, people who are working and can’t commit to weekend football. There is potential to grow the veterans’ leagues,’’ said Simmons.
And everywhere the FA message is, “give us more money so we can spend it on Fifa, the world cup and Wembley. True, the FA is also encouraging more parents to take coaching badges. Great. Except the price is £150 for level one and £350 for level two. Not having bid for the world cup could have allowed 150,000 people be trained for free. Or it could have build 2000 new artificial turf pitches.
But worst, even the embarrassment of the disgraceful bid for holding the world cup in England has never once brought an apology or a willingness to consider opting out of Fifa and its sponsorship of a tournament in the slave state of Qatar. Amazingly and crazily Simmons actually said, “A successful World cup will definitely boost us.’’
With such attitudes it is clear that there is unlikely ever to be a way forward until there is total reform of the FA, and a withdrawal from the morally bankrupt Fifa. With that, we might see some progress at last.