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By Billy “the Dog” McGraw, gratefully released back into the community.
For our old pals at UEFA Arsenal is seen as the ultimate football club in terms of financial probity. We are the Gods. The people what gets it right. The moral high ground.
What UEFA tend to say a little less often is that the Football Association who oversee football in England and who pride themselves as being the founding fathers of the organised game (what with the FA Cup as the oldest competition, and England v Scotland as the oldest international) have finances that are so bad that you might actually believe that the managers of the Royal Bank of Scotland know what they are doing. (Try the link to their own report of their current horrendous losses – they’ve either taken it down or the Anonymous group has taken over their site once again).
Anyway, enough of our state owned bank. Back to the FA. They are teetering on the very edge with finances that are even worse than their own worst forecasts.
The problem for the FA is that they are in charge of three disaster areas. First there is England – the “team” (I use the word lightly) – an outfit that is so disorganised that it has more captains than the woman who lives at number 94 in my street has lovers which is going it a bit. They also don’t win things. Nor does their under 21 side.
Second there is the FA Cup, which is losing its gloss, its appeal and basically anything else it had. Over exposure, and declining interest, combined with insane TV coverage that suggests it is not what used to be. And what it used to be was a huge money spinner for the FA.
Third there is Wembley. There was no need to build the place – they could have sold it for social housing and cleared their debts. Many other countries don’t have national stadia, but use the biggest and best of the club grounds. But no, this is the FA. Money no object – we have to have Wembley. Prestige of the national game. Nation’s honour. We’ll let the banker johnnies sort out the finances what?
So awful is the situation in the FA that for six months the FA had no sponsor. Nationwide finally had enough and got out after Rooney attacked England fans in South Africa. No one but no one would pay a cent to have their name associated with such a grotesque group of failures and incompetents and so there we were, the greatest football nation in the world (TM), the home of football (TM) and no sponsor.
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Worse still, people are not going to the new Wembley. Where they do fill the ground (and doesn’t TV make a lot of fuss at the “sold out” signs) it is generally because they do £5 tickets for school kids and locals. That’s good – I like discounts for school kids and local people. But it doesn’t actually cover the fact that Wembley is bringing in far less money per game than predicted.
There is now a real chance that the FA will fail to pay the money it owes on its debts as they fall due. That will mean that they will stop their main function – giving money to the lower levels of the amateur and professional games in England – which surely all of us want. We might support Arsenal, but everyone must recognise that we need a whole hierarchy of football in this country so that everyone who wants to play can, and people who choose to can still support their local team. Torquay United will always be a lower level team – but I want them to be there and not disappear, even if only a couple of thousand people turn up for each match.
I am told that Barclays are being approached over an extension of the credit it gives to the FA. But Barclays don’t do unsecured credit. So if they do have their arm twisted (and they are such jolly nice chaps), they are going to pile on the agony with interest charges that will just about sink the FA.
So what are the old duffers that run the show doing?
Simple – they are going to play the FA Cup semis at Wembley, to get more money in. I don’t mind this too much – I was there when we played the Tinies in the cup semi (and lost), so there is lots of precedent. But it is getting to look very much like a last throw of the dice.
However it is always good to have a joker in the pack and this time it is Sir Alex F-Word, who is no friend to the FA (or anyone else come to that). Sir F Word said that this decision to play the semis at Wembley will lead to “absolute chaos” as supporters of four north-west clubs “converge” on London. The F Word wanted matches in Liverpool and Birmingham rather than have Man U Man C Notlob and Stoke Cloggers come to our great capital city.
What was so funny of course was the notion that Manchester United fans will travel from Manchester. Cornwall yes, Kent, maybe. Some live in London anyway. So actually the amount of travel for a lot of Man U supporters for the game at Wembley will be far less than for a normal Man U home match, thus saving vast amounts of fuel, saving the nation’s environment but wrecking the nation’s economy due to the decline in petrol tax that weekend.
The papers didn’t get this joke – but then most people don’t get Sir F Word jokes. Only the jokes about Sir F Word. Like this old timer: Arsene Wenger speaks six languages, which is six more than Alex Ferguson.
Ah, the old ones are the best.
OK, please yourself.