By Tony Attwood
Last night at the Arsenal Stadium (as we have to call it on Euro nights) before the match I bought a bottle of water. The young man selling it to me removed the cap before handing it over, presumably on the grounds that I would otherwise throw the tiny plastic cap from the upper tier and hit someone in club level. I guess there must have been complaints.
I did ask for the water bottle cap back but he refused to give it. He was very pleasant, but he had his orders.
Meanwhile in the away enclosure, four flares went off as the teams came out. The stewards stood and looked and did nothing.
The contrast is simple: my plastic water bottle top can’t hurt anyone, while flares can maim, blind and even kill. One is dealt with via an absolute rule, the other is just watched by lots of stewards.
Of course neither the flares nor the lack of a water bottle top spoiled the match for me in the upper east; it just reminded me how silly the club I support can be in its administration, sometimes. The football was good, Theo was astounding, and my thoughts over the summer (about the benefit of having two strikers rather than just one high profile top goalscorer) have been proven right, so I felt rather self-satisfied. Alexis was good last night, but the ball just wouldn’t run for him. So Theo scored.
But the contrast between the water bottle top and the flares is symbolic of football’s organisation. Deal with the trivial nonsense in a firm and forthright manner while the organisations that are running football are as the Guardian rightly said, “self-perpetuating cliques sustained in various tax havens by other self-perpetuating cliques in member states.”
Mind you I don’t agree with the Guardian when it says, “Fifa was rumbled last year only when the media gathered enough evidence for Swiss police”. No, what happened was that the Swiss political structure had had enough and changed the law, allowing its police to act against members of international bodies – people who had previously existed in Switzerland with immunity. Untold picked up on that law change – the Guardian didn’t. 1-0 to us.
Corruption is endemic in football. Lord Triesman, as chair of the FA, knew all about Fifa corruption but still led the FA into bidding for the World Cup, and all the media supported this. None of the media outlets and pundits complaining about corruption today stood up and said, “we should not deal with Fifa until it is clean.” Everyone has known about what goes on for a long time but still we have instances of the FA trying to stop the BBC reporting on what is going on, and still the FA talk openly of co-operation with Fifa. The only thing to have changed is that today for the first time ever as far as I know the Guardian has commented that there might be something wrong with paying money to organisations that you know to be corrupt. Not much of a step forwards, but a step forwards.
Meanwhile the Telegraph continues its revelations about corruption in the English game – ranging from people I’ve never heard of such as the assistant manager of Barnsley through to the owner of Leeds Massimo Cellino, who discussed a way that his club could get around Football Association rules on third-party ownership of players; a man who seems to have been banned so often and been involved in so many ludicrous situations that his name alone starts people yawning.
But what I really want to know is who turned the Telegraph down. Who did they try and interview and offer bribes and backhanders to, who said “no?” Who then said to the FA and the League “I have just been offered money to do various corrupt things by these guys and I think you ought to investigate them?”
So we have to ask not only, what of the authorities, what are they doing? But also – is everyone in football so bent that no one given the chance of £20 notes in the pocket actually turns the Telegraph’s actors into the police?
The FA, the Premier League and EFL put out a joint statement but before you read it I suggest you stop eating or drinking, and sit down. Here we go…
“English football takes the governance of the game extremely seriously with integrity being of paramount importance. Any substantive allegations will be investigated with the full force of the rules at our disposal, which are wide-ranging and well-developed. In addition, should we find any evidence of criminality we would inform and seek the support of the appropriate statutory authorities.”
If English football took governance of the game seriously, the FA would have been wound up years ago.
Gary Lineker said corruption was “rife” in the game and demanded action. Well, yes, he does that. He’s good at posturing. If he really wanted anything done he could use his media dominance to get an independent production company to make a full programme on the issue instead of presenting programmes about the Fifa world cup which pretend there is no corruption involved. He’s one man who could do something, but no, there is the big fat fee to host another world cup series of programmes, and he takes it. Where is the difference between the man who breaks the rules, and the man who takes money to make fawning programmes about an organisation that breaks every rule?
Greg Clarke chair of the FA, in the Telegraph said he was “powerless to properly probe suspected wrongdoing”. Simultaneously he said he would overhaul its disciplinary processes which left me wondering what the point of that was, if he is powerless.
Richard Caborn, a trustee of the Football Foundation, said: “There now ought to be an inquiry into these allegations. You fetch a judge in, you fetch an investigating team in, you do that independently, it reports back to the FA in an honest and transparent way. The inquiry also comes out with a list of recommend powers that are needed to be able to regulate, in a systematic way, the managers and the agents in England.”
And the reply to that is, “you were sports minister, why didn’t you do it then. All the allegations against Fifa were there then.”
And yet, lurking away in all the talk and print today about the corruption in English football, there are two possibilities.
First, if the FA produced a contract which said that everyone had to do x y and z and not do a, b, and c and that breach of the rules would mean being removed from the right to participate in football in England, that would be a start. It would lead to appeals and the like, but it would be a start.
Second, the police could act as well, as they did when investigating racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic text messages that were sent by Malky Mackay and Iain Moody. But football hates to call the police in, and the old boys network will probably stop such an approach as a contract, because they know most of their number would immediately be in breach of their own contract.
Sports minister Tracey Crouch (always ready with a sound bite, and having used the card that says, “If the FA don’t sort themselves out I will stop giving them tax payers money,”) has now said, “The recent allegations regarding English football are very concerning and we will be discussing the matter with the authorities. All the evidence presented to them must be investigated fully and we stand ready to assist in any way we can.”
So that is all right I suppose.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs could go in, but they have repeatedly lost legal actions over what happens when football clubs go bust, and they struggled in the Rangers tax case too. They’re good at getting the little people, but faced with organised football, no.
The Telegraph says it has agreed to pass on relevant material to the police. Greg Clarke, the FA chair said the FA don’t have the means to deal with “financial impropriety.” The League Managers Association said it was “extremely concerned” by it all. So it goes.
George Orwell, whom I often quote (you may have noticed) wrote an article for Tribune, following the visit of Moscow Dynamo to the UK in 1945, including the match against Arsenal, called the Sporting Spirit. It is an article well worth reading if you have ten minutes, but here is the bit that most people quote, without really knowing the full context:
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
Today perhaps we should amend it to say,
Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with the ceaseless greed of old men and their disregard of all rules so that they can use sport to their financial benefit, while doddering old farts meander around wringing their hands saying, “we don’t have the power to do anything about it.”
- Corruption requires ineptness and incompetence and in football it is there for all to see.
- CL Arsenal – Basel 2-0
- How much longer must English tax payers fund the criminal idiocy of the FA?
Just how well do you know your Arsenal history?
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