By Tony Attwood
When you ain’t got nothing to say, but everyone is saying lots of stuff, then just say what your predecessor or your boss said last time and hope no one notices.
Thus goes the thinking of Sports Minister Tracey Crouch. In May 2016 the FA was warned that if it didn’t reform itself it would lose government funding. That was from the Culture Secretary John Whittingdale. Which was the re-run of a speech made by Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe in September 2009 which demanded the FA act on recommendations made in a 2005 review of the organisation by Lord Burns. Which in turn was a rerun of the speech in November 2007 by the culture secretary, James Purnell, calling on the FA to reform or risk losing state funding.
OK you probably get the idea. By and large sports and culture ministers in the UK are people without too much grasp of how sport and culture might be enhanced. The probably think that both sport and culture are “good things” and they might even once have seen a Shakespeare play and turned on the TV to watch a cup final. But beyond that, well… (although to be fair to Tracey, although she is of the repetitive mode, she does know about football).
So when the word is out that in return for the ministerial salary of around £100,000 a year (about a fiftieth of the salary of your average Premier League player) the Rt Hon person ought to say something, the Rt Hon does the obvious thing, and re-runs the last speech – probably not quite aware that this was a re-run of the speech before which was a…….
Anyway, Untold runs it every time, not because we like making government ministers look like idiots (they do a jolly good job of that without our help) but because the message they run over and over and over and over and over again is right. The FA should lose all its government funding. Now. And it should be made to pay back all the money it has had for the last 50 years on the grounds of taking money under false pretences.
The only thing the people on the eternal jolly in Parliament don’t get right is the fact that they never do it. So here it is again, this time from Tracey Crouch, Her Majesty’s minister for Sport.
“I’m not shy to say to the FA ‘if you don’t reform your governance structures, I will give that money to other bodies that deliver football’.” She was a bit vague on how much of our money she dishes out to the FA but thought it was around “£30m to £40m of public funding”.
She needed to speak because former FA chairman David Bernstein recently decided to copy Untold by saying what we said eight years ago (when we started) that the FA was outdated and needed reform.
“We have a massive problem in this country at the centre of English football. I’m talking about an outmoded structure which is not modern enough and not independent enough,” he said.
To which the minister, grateful not to have to remember any more lines said, “I share David’s frustration. That’s why we’ve made it clear that all sports governing bodies have to reform their governance codes. The FA is not excluded from that, and if they don’t, they won’t get public funding. It’s as simple as that. If there’s no move whatsoever, and at the moment we are seeing nothing from the FA in terms of progress, they are likely to lose some public money or it will go elsewhere in the delivery of football.”
If only it were true. Sport England withdrew its funding from the FA. Why not the government?
She went on, “That can include county FAs if they have reformed governance structures at county level; I will take it away from the centre and give it to the counties – at the end of the day, public money goes to growing football.
“I think it is really important that public money goes into the grass roots of the game; I want to see continued investment in football but it has to be done in line with proper reforms at the top.
“New public-funding rounds begin in 2017 so I want to see progress happen very quickly – I appreciate reforming an entire structure is not going to happen overnight but if the direction of travel is in the right place then they may well continue to get their funding.
“If there’s no move whatsoever, and at the moment we are seeing nothing from the FA in terms of progress, they are likely to lose some public money or it will go elsewhere in the delivery of football.”
But as the BBC reminded us, “A report from the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2013 called for reforms in English football – and outlined concerns including financial management as well as the balance of power between the Premier League and the FA.”
The FA declined to comment, although a spokesman did ask if anyone knew where the FA actually held it meetings as he was due to be there but had got lost because all the streets in London look the same.
I did a piece on the FA back in February in which I pointed out that the FA has 21 Life and Senior Vice Presidents drawn from such bodies as Cambridge University FA, Leicestershire & Rutland FA, the Independent Schools FA…
Then six vice presidents, eight representatives of the Premier League, eight representatives of the Football League, ten divisional representatives, 43 county association representatives, eight representatives of affiliated organisations, nine representatives of other football associations (such as the University of Oxford Football Association, and several organisations that have already got special representation in earlier mentioned sections), one supporters representative, one disability representative, two inclusion representatives, a chief executive officer and two independent non-executive directors.
Above all, the FA has always backed Fifa. It backed Blatter. It backs Uefa. It backed Platini. Now it backs Infantino. Stout fellows all.
The FA has criticised the head of the UK Anti-Doping agency for even suggesting football may have a performance enhancing drugs problem. They criticised Arsène Wenger, who for a long time has advocated tackling doping in football. Now they are supporting the fact that Uefa has rejected the Word Anti-Doping Agency’s work.
The Football Association has had to pay out £10m for the redundancy programme and made a loss in its last accounts. Meanwhile in England the coaches figure is incredibly low, compared to most other countries. Since then we’ve shown that this is because the FA charges so much for its coaching courses – many many times more than is charged in other countries. They do it because… they are short of money, because they wasted most of it getting two votes in the bid to win the rights to stage the World Cup.
Maybe if they just wound themselves up, and got out of the business of football once and for all, we’d all be that bit better off. Or maybe if the Sports Minister stopped quoting what has been said for the last goodness knows how many years and stopped funding the FA, we might get progress.
- Do other clubs get the same level of constant sniping and negative reporting or is it just Arsenal?
- Arsenal’s anniversary today, Henry Norris and the strange case of ‘Dr’ Crippen
- The food and match report from within the invisible away end. Lens v Arsenal
Untold Arsenal has published five books on Arsenal – all are available as paperback and three are now available on Kindle. The books are
- The Arsenal Yankee by Danny Karbassiyoon with a foreword by Arsene Wenger.
- Arsenal: the long sleep 1953 – 1970; a view from the terrace. By John Sowman with an introduction by Bob Wilson.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football. By Tony Attwood, Andy Kelly and Mark Andrews.
- Making the Arsenal: a novel by Tony Attwood.
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal by Mark Andrews.
You can find details of all five on our new Arsenal Books page