By Tony Attwood
Earlier this year there was talk that the FA was going to reform itself. I must say that I didn’t really hold my breath in expectation, we’ve heard it 100 times before and the FA never reforms itself. We’ve covered the stories about how it has wasted huge sums of money on a world cup bid that could never work, endlessly supported the corrupt regime of Fifa, had money removed from it by Sport England because it refused to use it for its proper purpose, made a third of its staff redundant, and constantly promised investment in grassroots football which has never been funded and so never happened.
And all this before the case of Enfield Town in which the FA made a mistake in recording details of a player’s booking, repeatedly spelled the player’s name in different ways, had Enfield point out the error to the FA, took action in banning the player for a couple of games and confirmed to Enfield that no further action would be taken… and then charged Enfield with fielding an ineligible player because the man who wrote the email saying “no further action” although an employee of the FA, was not entitled to write that email. Enfield were thus denied promotion.
I know it sounds like I made that up, but really I don’t have a warped enough imagination. The full story was covered on Untold.
Meanwhile we have proved (and even a couple of newspapers have concurred subsequently) that there is a direct link between the percentage of top level coaches in a country per number of players and yet the percentage of coaches in England against players remains ludicrously low. In response the FA… has put up the prices of its coaching courses, leaving those who want to earn coaching badges to toddle off to Wales, where the courses are cheaper.
But sadly it is by and large another one of those tales that the media in the UK seem very reluctant to take up – perhaps because within their contracts to broadcast or report England matches is a deal that says they should lay off the FA. I can’t prove that is the case, but it seems a likely explanation.
And so instead they continue to report that reform is in the air. Except it isn’t
Occasionally reforms are put on the table which everyone knows will never be pushed through, they are blocked, and then nothing much happens, except one failed administrator resigns and is replaced by another.
Occasionally people resign from the FA (such as Lord Ouseley, the chair of Kick It Out) because of their abject refusal to reform. Nothing changes.
Two years ago Untold reported that the FA wants to invest more money, building 150 “football hubs” across England to transform football. Greg Dyke, said he would deliver a “radical new approach” to grassroots football that “would reverse years of neglect of waterlogged council facilities by investing £230m in new 3G pitches and overhauling its approach to youth coaching.” Do let me know if you have noticed any change. (In fact there was a plan, but no money. It was a con.)
Quickly dropping that wheeze he said later he wanted a more representative FA council that would “better reflect the balance of the modern game”. Nothing has happened.
Three years ago he had an even whackier idea – a quota system for English players in the Premier League.
Then at last, the government’s culture secretary, John Whittingdale, stirred himself from the swamp that is British politics (and his own personal swamp of which more in a moment) and said he would withdraw the government’s £30m funding if there was no reform in the way the FA runs itself.
The FA has now called the government’s bluff.
Heather Rabbatts, who is still just about part of the FA commented on this latest government threat by saying “Look at Uefa, look at Fifa, look at athletics, look at cycling. Everybody is looking at how they improve their governance. Sport has been run on closed systems for such a long time. If you have people sat around those tables for 15, 20, 25 years, you are building in a problem. That has to change.”
It was perhaps not the best set of examples, as Uefa responded by saying that it doesn’t trust the World Anti-Doping Agency to draw up lists of banned drugs properly so would ignore their list and draw up its own. It doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence, any more than the actions of Fifa under the new President do.
One of the biggest problems with the FA of course is that it is tied not only into a 19th century model of football in England and has a history of such crass stupidity that it to catalogue it would take up half a dozen thick tomes, it is also tied to the utterly appalling Uefa and Fifa and won’t consider breaking out.
I always get the feeling that when it faces a crisis such as John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, or Luis Suzrez and Patrice Evra or the aforementioned abject failure to invest government money in building new football pitches on the grounds that the summer was a bit wet (and oh, we spent the money on servicing our debt), it doesn’t just muddle through, it actually believes it is doing something.
But then Ms Rabbatts says funny things like this: “We talk about the development of English players, but there is also an interesting question about how we develop English managers, whatever their ethnicity,” Rabbatts said. “The top clubs are not managed by English managers. Of course we want the best in the world, but we want English managers to compete with the best in the world.”
The issue of the nationality of managers in the professional game in England is nothing whatsoever in any way or at all, to do with the FA. The FA doesn’t run the Premier League or the Football Leagues. The FA doesn’t employ league club managers.
To start introducing quotas or persuading clubs to take on managers because of their nationality is not only ludicrous in itself in a multi-national country, it is also ludicrous when the FA makes use of Fifa rules that allows it to select as “English” a player whose grandfather was English, or whose mother was passing through and gave birth here, or who was born and brought up in the Channel Islands, which are not only not English, but not even part of the European Union.
So now, our only hope lies with John Flasby Lawrance Whittingdale OBE, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport who worked on international privatisation at NM Rothschild in 1987 and in January 1988, became Political Secretary to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – a job for which he got his OBE.
On 12 April 2016, it was reported Whittingdale had been involved in a relationship with a female sex worker between August 2013 and February 2014 but claimed hadn’t realised what her job was when he met her on Match.com. A week later, it emerged that Whittingdale had accepted hospitality from the Lap Dancing Association in 2008 at which time Whittingdale and two other MPs visited two clubs in one evening, while the industry’s licensing was under investigation by the Culture, Media and Sport select committee – his department. The hospitality was hidden away not declared in the register of members’ interests, which it should have been, and again wasn’t declared later when Whittingdale spoke out in the Commons against new regulations introduced by the Labour government – which it should have been.
Perhaps we could say that the Rt Hon gentleman is a trifle forgetful. But let’s hope that he sees dealing with the FA as a way of redeeming himself.
However I am not holding my breath.
- REF REVIEW ARSENAL – NORWICH: interesting observations or just coincidence
- 1 June is the day football changes. Here are the new rules, and some that the authorities missed.
- Unbelievable Transfer Shock; Arsenal sign £20m striker in secret.
From the anniversary files
- 2 June 1985: As a result of the attack by Liverpool fans on Juventus fans at the Heysel stadium Uefa banned English clubs from playing in Europe. The ban prohibited Arsenal from playing in the Uefa Cup in 1988 and 1991 even though Arsenal fans had not been involved in any European crowd trouble.
- 2 June 2005: Ashley Cole was fined £100,000 for having illegal talks with Chelsea. He claimed he had done so because he was made to feel physically sick by the lowness of Arsenal’s offer in its contract discussions with the player.