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October 2016
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What organisations and what people really have the power in football?

By Tony Attwood

Power in football – now that is an interesting topic and I am obliged to the Daily Telegraph by thinking about writing an article on it.

It is a bit of a tough read because there is so much puffing up of themselves and all their collective work in coming up with the list, but the idea is still a good one.

Before reading the article I thought I would try and do my own top ten – or at least top five – and then see how it compared with the newspapers.   And at once I hit what throughout the contemplation of this article seemed to me to be the big issue.

For the Telegraph presented “The 50 most powerful people in English football” and I immediately wanted to change this to the “50 most important sources of power” because I wanted to include organisations.  And in doing that I ended up with organisations dominating my top list…

Of course I would love to have included Untold, but I know our influence is so tiny compared to some of the monstrosities in the list you’d need a microscope to see it, but even so, we have highlighted the issue of refs, explained why England fail (our explanation written years before anyone else tried it is now moving into the mainstream), exposing the way transfers really work, exposing how stories such as “Arsenal have the most injuries” and its early 20th century rival “Arsenal have the dirtiest team”) were total myths but became mainstream beliefs, right down to how last week the Guardian has nicked our Tax Payers Stadium name and used it as their name for WHU.   So there are tiny hints that we are quite widely read, but influence?   I think I’d be kidding myself.

In the end organisations rather than people did dominate my top list…

1: PGMO.   Their decision to run refereeing on a model adopted by Italy during its corruption crisis is just about the biggest there has been in football in the last five years.

2: The FA.  Not because they do much but they do one thing – they support Fifa and that warps the whole of football in England.  By supporting the FA it means all of English football supports corruption and we are forever stopped from moving on.

3: Successive Sports Ministers in the UK government who could have cut off FA funding and so started the journey to reform, but who have each said, one after the other, “Make no mistake, I will not hesitate to… blah blah blah.

4. The media en masse for perpetuating their story about what football is and “what the fans want”, and for supporting Fifa.

5.  Members of all the FA sub-committees who have for 50 years successfully stopped all change in football.

6.  Arsene Wenger who not only transformed Arsenal, but the whole approach to the way football can be played, and who has stopped the media sniggering every time a football manager says a word with more than one syllable in it.

7.  Fifa, the most corrupt sporting body in a world of corrupt sporting bodies

8.  Sky TV who have set the approach for football coverage, decided what is to be shown and what must not, and then so dominated the market that the other broadcasters have failed to challenge it in any meaningful way.

9.  The national press, desperately trying to hang on in the era of social media and so endlessly running round in circles trying to find what will bring readers in.   And occasionally, they do it.  Although mostly they lead us down false trails.

10.  Social media, which has been the hunting ground for the aaa and the post-truth mob.

It is however interesting that PGMO does get a mention in the Telegraph’s list, with, at number 43 Mike Riley being listed.  Of him they say,

“A former referee and now head of the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL). Riley is primarily responsible for determining who referees your games every weekend and whether standards are being met.  As the game evolves, rules tweaked and the clamour to use more technology grows, Riley is currently the most influential voice of officialdom in England.”  Not quite how I would put it.

The Telegraph’s top man is Richard Scudamore who runs the Premier League.  After that we have Pep Guardiola for inventing tiki-taka and then super-agent Jorge Mendes followed by Jose Mourinho presumably nominated for the triple achievement of taking Chelsea out of the Champions League, making Chelsea the laughing stock by picking a pathetic fight with the club doctor, and being a bit of a prat.

Interestingly in fifth place the Telegraph has Roman Abramovich, but I wonder if that is really valid.  He had a world-changing idea – spend the money he’d got from buying cheap shares in Russian oil and gas on a football club that prior to him had only won the league once.  Successful for a while, but now…   If he does however ultimately show us that money can’t buy everything, that will be a great achievement.

Sheikh Mansour the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates is sixth.  This presumably recognises his involvement in the maintenance of Sharia law, flogging and stoning, forced disappearances and torture, the suppression of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and women’s rights, migrant and labour rights and the support of human trafficking and child labour.

Maybe the man has had a huge impact on English football, but it would be good to remember what else he has done when writing about him.

Seventh comes Arsene Wenger.  Here’s what they say…

“Easily the longest serving manager in the Premier League and, while some believe that he is a fading force, still enormously influential in our national game.  Was the Football Association’s first choice to succeed Roy Hodgson and is still regarded as ideal for the role should England look beyond Gareth Southgate….

“His early impact here had a huge influence on how other clubs now operate, both in the transfer market and their preparations, and he remains one of football’s most respected voices on a range of issues. Will also be coveted when he retires from the dugout in boardroom roles and, even if he never becomes England manager, the FA, as well as Arsenal, will surely seek to harness his talents to some sort of role.”

Then the list gets a bit more debatable with Ed Woodward of Man U, Jurgen Klopp, and Gary Lineker making up the top ten.

Lineker I could include in the most influential people list because of his own personal agenda relentlessly pushed through his media profile, an agenda that is endlessly against reform and pro-status quo.  It could be that in years to come when people look back at this era and think about why football could not reform itself, his name will be there.

There are some players in the list too.  Mesut Ozil is at 48: “Arguably the most revered footballer in the Premier League today… Can be classed as one of the few truly world-class players to be plying his trade in England.”

And at 44 Thierry Henry…

“Unquestionably the most entertaining goalscorer to play in the Premier League era. Henry’s pace, panache and style made an indelible mark on the English game that continues to this day.   His role as Belgium coach and Sky Sports’ marquee pundit means his influence will continue to be felt for some time.”

But some of the listings are just bizarre.   Karren Brady is at 41 because she’s a woman, although I guess she could be in there for being the person who has made just about the biggest PR gaff in football so far this century.   She will, I think, be remembered for the phrase “make no mistake”, and it won’t be in a good way.

Other funny entries include Marcus Rashford at 38, and at 32, David Gill, part of the three-man FA group with Martin Glenn and Dan Ashworth who appointed Sam Allardyce.  Now there is influence and there is influence and there is David Gill.

Daniel Levy of the tiny totts is in at 28, having been chair of 15 years at the club during which time has persued a remourceless approach of changing managers at every turn, and as a result has taken the tinies through…

Season League FA Cup League Cup Europe Round
2000–01 12th SF R3
2001–02 9th QF R/U
2002–03 10th R3 R3
2003–04 14th R4 QF
2004–05 9th QF QF
2005–06 5th R3 R2
2006–07 5th QF SF Uefa Cup QF
2007-08 11th R4 W Uefa Cup R 16
2008–09 8th R4 R/U Uefa Cup R 32
2009–10 4th SF QF
2010–11 5th R4 R3 Champions League QF
2011–12 4th SF R3 Europa League GS
2012–13 5th R4 R4 Europa League QF
2013–14 6th R3 QF Europa League R 16
2014–15 5th R4 R/U Europa League R 32
2015–16 3rd R5 R3 Europa League R 16

Yes Tottenham have won a trophy in the last 15 years: the league cup.  Their highest league position is 3rd (once) and 4th (twice).    The Tottenham supporting Telegraph says of Levy “He even almost saw them finish above Arsenal.”

“Even almost”.  I love that.

Sir Alex F Word is in at 25, but his support for Allardyce surely must be a significant downer on the way he is remembered, at least until the standard histories of the era are written which will write out the Large One and re-promote Sir F Word.

Some are actually rather amusing, like Martin Glen at 18, the man who “Has headed up a quiet revolution at the FA”.  So quiet I missed it.  Or was part of it appointing Allardyce?

But perhaps my biggest chuckle came with number 31: Harry Kane.  “Carries much of the hopes of the England football team…”   That would be last summer would it?

However my overwhelming thought on this exercise is that ever since the days of Margaret Thatcher (who most infamously said, “there is no such thing as society”) the thought processes of commentators in England have been focused on individuals, not on groups.  And yet as ever it is groups, and the power structures that emanate from them, that is at the heart of how things happen.

Individuals do stuff, but when they get together in groups and form organisations they have much more power, and often it is quite hard to see.   And indeed that is what makes something like football so hard to change.

I still keep PGMO at the top of my list.

Recent stories from Untold Arsenal

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 


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We want our Arsenal back

Revealed: the psychological condition behind the anti-arsenal-arsenal

Referee Appointments and Results Matchweek 06 – with video evidence

The handball discussion

How WHU changed from being the darlings of the media to being the most toxic of brands in the space of two months.

Style and Steel: the rise of the polyvalent player


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