Football needs fixing: an open letter to the FA

To the Football Association, from Simon Bailey


I am writing to you as a concerned supporter of both England and of a Premier League football team.

The history of football in England is rich and diverse, but at the root of it are the clubs that make up the leagues. Clubs that have existed more than a hundred years, that have become synonymous with the community in which they exist. Clubs that collectively have millions of fans locally and billions internationally.

In spite of this, I firmly believe that all is not well in the English game. I believe we have lost sight of the ideals that foster all that is good and are embracing many evils in the quest for glory at any cost.

It is unlikely that it has escaped your attention that football is increasingly covered in equal amounts on the front and back pages. All too often it is for the wrong reasons.

The constant exposes depicting one player or other acting disgracefully off the pitch is balanced by the ever present mention of poor refereeing decisions, financial irregularity, criminal actions, and violent conduct on the pitch.

We are well acquainted with the alleged activities of our ex captain and the considerable coverage and embarrassment that inevitably follow such situations.

Whilst it is true to say that you cannot control the press, what you can control is the symptoms of the problem itself. With so many aspects of our modern game broken, it is no wonder that some overpaid stars act the way they do.

One of the biggest problems in the modern game is how it is refereed. I am not for a moment going to imply that the four officials that come to matches are in any way sub standard. With the pace of the modern game it is ridiculous to suggest that these four men are going to see and remember every single incident in 360* vision for 90+ minutes. And then agree with each other as well. As the game evolves into an ever faster spectacle, their job will become harder and harder, and even more game changing decisions will be made in error. Introducing technology is simple, relatively cheap, and essential. I urge you to implement such changes as soon as possible.

Another issue central to refereeing, is how referees interpret the rules. This is mainly an issue of violent play and how it is allowed to escalate during a game, sometimes with horrendous consequences. Allied to this is ‘rotational fouling’ where members of one team will take it in turns to foul the same opposition player, avoiding any sanction from the referree. The number of injuries suffered by players in the Premier League is staggering and the inevitable result is that teams have to have bigger squads to cope with them. I urge you to give more guidance to your referees in this respect.

Bigger squads means more money. Clubs have to spend more and more money on transfers and wages, often money that simply isn’t there. It is true that under your stewardship, the English League has become the most wealthy in the world and attracts talent that I as a fan feel privileged to watch week in week out. But in the process, it has also become the most indebted. With the recent demise of Portsmouth in the Premier league and countless teams in the other leagues it has become clear that something must be done to combat this worrying trend. Clubs must be financially viable and live within their means and I urge you to give this matter serious consideration.

At the other end of the scale is the financial doping of teams. Whether your team is personally financed to the tune of millions by a private individual, or leveraged to the hilt in the quest for short term gains then any victories they win are undoubtedly hollow. Limits need to be introduced defining the maximum percentage of income that can be spent on players wages.Clubs must be able to show that they are financing their operation from current income. Clubs should not be put into debt by caretaker owners and managers  to finance the purchase of players. Full accounting disclosure concerning every aspect of the clubs ownership and current financial situation should be mandatory and I ask that you attend to these serious issues.

Club ownership is another area that needs your urgent attention. I firmly believe that your ‘fit and proper persons’ test is simply not working.There have been many instances lately concerning clubs in many leagues where the test has failed to prevent what were in hindsight not the correct people being involved in our game. A new test must be introduced, the process of which must be fully transparent and the information held in the public domain. These tests must address financial as well as moral issues. A similar test must be introduced for all high profile employees of the FA.

As the most successful league in the world I believe that we should cement our presence in Europe rather than diminish it. The introduction of a lottery for the fourth place Champions league position will introduce teams that are not the best that we can offer. I fully understand your wish to release the stranglehold that currently exists, but as is becoming clear this season, it may end naturally, and we still send the best we have to offer. The proposed introduction of financial regulations by UEFA concerning this matter should also be noted.

As the guardians of the game I love, I urge you to start to guard it and the clubs and supporters that make it what it should be today.

Yours Sincerely,

Simon Bailey


Recent financial stories from Untold Arsenal



  • “Making the Arsenal” – the novel.  The most extraordinary book about Arsenal ever.  And that’s unofficial.  Available from and from the publishers direct.



Wild celebrations in FIFA today, with the news that the building of the WC Final stadium (that’s just one stadium) is $500m over budget.   The whole plan of FIFA is to get countries to pay FIFA officials NOT to give them the WC contract and for this plan to work it is vital that, as with the Olympics, each and every event leaves the host nation bankrupt.

John Terry has been elected Chairman of the North Korean Communist Party.   Described in a speech this morning by Fabio I-dunna-paya-taxa as “The Great Leader” Terry will have a choice of sixteen female members of the People’s Farming Collective Central Committee each weekend.


The sound of a billion fans saying “What happened?” as the EPL destroys the economy of the UK is copyright © Untold Arsenal 2010.

14 Replies to “Football needs fixing: an open letter to the FA”

  1. What an excellent letter Simon. Congratulations for writing it.

    Tony: I wonder if there is any way that this letter can be hosted somewhere where fans of any club can sign it, if they wish?

    It would be a good guage of how much support Simon’s lucidly expressed opinions enjoy and would undoubtedly lend much weight to its impact, if indeed it were the opinions not of one luminary, but millions of fans.

  2. The rule of might mentality will always be favorable and a contrasting change may be seen, perhaps subconsciously, as losing the national identity.

  3. Simon – I am not sure why you bring players conduct into this letter. Wake up, we are in the 21st Century and it is a time of mass media everywhere. In sport, business, entertainment and everywhere else there are scoundrels and their behaviour sells newspapers, magazines and TV time. As others have said, any news is good news and you dont think Golf execustives are drooling at the TV ratings that Tiger Woods first tournament back is going to draw? “With so many aspects of our modern game broken, it is no wonder that some overpaid stars act the way they do” – no, they act the way they do because they are human. They have always acted that way. The difference now is that the media catches them and exposes them. It is naive to think that “back in the day” everyone acted honourably, or do you actually believe that JFK was a noble, loyal, committed husband? Players behaviour has zero to do with the “modern game” and everything to do with human behaviour and the profusion of the mass media telling us about it. By starting your letter with this point it devalues everything that follows.

    The majority of injuries are still those strains, pulls and aches caused not by tackles, but more often than not caused during non-contact situations (training sessions, sprinting, stopping suddenly). We see the big, dangerous tackles causing injuries but in the big scheme of things those kinds of injuries are extremely rare. So big squads would not be seen as a result of poor refereeing letting “dangerous” tackles go, but rather the physical demands of the modern game, with players being ultra-fit and would up tightly. And the idea of “rotational fouling” is one that fans of only one club complain about. Be careful about seeming like a moaning Arsenal fan.

    The issue of the use of technology is one most would completely agree with.

    “Clubs have to spend more and more money on transfers and wages” – really? Do they have to? Who forces them to? Be careful of making generalisations. Clubs make the CHOICE to spend that money in order to stay at the top tables. But they do not have to do it and there have been many cases of clubs that have won promotion and decided against overspending and mortgaging their future. “Clubs must be financially viable and live within their means” – why must they? We love the fact that Arsenal do this but should there be a law that says that clubs must do this? If someone wants to risk their business should they not be allowed to in a free society? Clubs should certainly be encouraged to live within their means and I have no problem with UEFA saying that only financially viable clubs can play in European competitions, but if I own a club and want to spend my own money on that club then why the heck should someone be able to stop me from doing that? Jack Walker’s lifelong dream was to see Blackburn win the League. They did because of his money. Do you honestly think every living Blackburn fan feels that achievement was “undoubtedly hollow”? Or that Chelsea fans feel their wins were “undoubtedly hollow”? Sorry, but I just dont believe those fans feel that way and if not, then your comment, and indeed that entire section, loses its value.

    Unfortunately Simon, much of your “letter” sounds like an Arsenal supporter complaining about things that might be stopping Arsenal from winning. We all know things like TV technology, the “fit and proper” test for club ownership, and leveraged ownership of clubs are bad and those things would form the basis of a very strong letter, but those core and important ideas have been diluted by some of the other points addressed. That is just my opinion as I try and read that from a neutral point of view.

  4. I have learned the hard way in life, and history will support me on this, that major changes in life and society come mostly from financial pressure, so I believe that unless the premier league actually starts loosing money from these factors, nothing will change.
    I can see where Simon is coming from and I feel a lot of what he is saying (as a gooner myself) but I do have to admit that Paul has some very valid points to be considered.

  5. This is an excellent letter, Simon. I agree with Rhys that it will be very good to publish it somewhere with the proviso that anyone who wants can sign it. I am willing to append my signature.

  6. I think it is a great letter.
    And I also think that Paul has a valid point at some things.

    As it is a letter from an Arsenal fan I think it is fair that he can talk about the things he did.

    Maybe you could write 2 letters ? One like this and another one where a lot of fans from other teams could agree on.

    But, we are Arsenal fans, so forget the others…

  7. Absolutely Walter, dont get me wrong, I was taking the devils advocate approach on this and trying to imagine what a critic of such a letter would say. I am from an academic family so critiquing and editing come naturally to me.

    I dont think the whole “players behaving badly” thing needs to be mentioned at all. That is meaningless and irrelevant to this letter as that is a societal issue as opposed to football. You want to stop men cheating on their wives then you have to do much more than change the rules of football. And to mention that point first is a huge no-no in terms of essays. The strongest point should be mentioned first, or one that cannot be argued, or else the impetus to continue reading is lost somewhat. Remember, only one team has had its Captain arrested and imprisoned for drunk driving during a season and that is Arsenal, and that was 20 years ago. Footballers have always behaved badly, what has changed is the media coverage of the game.

    But with regards to all those financial statements, you can’t just say “these things shouldnt be allowed”. Why shouldnt they be allowed? What impact do these things have? Why shouldnt clubs be free to choose their own armageddon? Why shouldnt individuals be free to spend their money as they wish? Why shouldnt clubs, like businesses, be allowed to go bust if run improperly? Why shouldnt rich men be able to buy clubs and invest in them? And very importantly, why should the FA care who owns the clubs? That is a very interesting debate in itself. And why shouldnt leveraged buy-outs be allowed? In business they are considered fine, so why not in football? What are the arguments for and against? After all, in 10 years time, after a few more ticket price hikes and natural inflation of revenue, the Glazers will probably own Utd outright, with little debt, and be of the opinion that their investment was worth every single penny. So should clubs be run more for fans than owners? That is an interesting debate in itself as well, and goes to all kinds of legal and moral issues.

    When writing it is vital that generalisations are not made and that every statement has supporting evidence or else it is simply an opinion piece and therefore irrelevant as an “open letter to the FA”. If this was simply a blog posting by a biased Arsenal fan (as most of the posts are) then those points do not hold. But by presenting itself as a “fans” concern rather than an “Arsenal fans” concern it opens itself to critique.

    Personally, as an Arsenal fan I don’t care if other clubs are run poorly. We are not and we will still be standing at the end of the day. I just think we have to be careful to think that other fans necessarilly share our concerns about, for example, “rotational fouling”, or club ownership and debt issues.

  8. I agree that the letter should be somewhere where it can be “club neutral” but I am sorry to say I don’t have such a web site.

    Anyone can of course buy a name and build a blog, and if you think you have the time to develop a club neutral site which covers such stories and want some help with hosting the blog etc I can offer that.

    But I must confess my personal energies beyond the working day are taken up with this site, and and writing a second football novel. It is about the collapse of the EPL – but has the same sort of humour as in Making the Arsenal.


  9. Oh and incidentally sorry for the outage this morning (UK time) for about an hour. One of my company’s sites got a huge level of traffic suddenly – a bit like a mini denial of service attack – and the server shut itself down. The mysterious people who call themselves the IT team ordered pizzas, so it must be a biggie.

  10. I just bet the servers were missing me as I was not able to come on the internet today. 😉

  11. Thanks Simon for the letter. It is a proactive piece and I hope it starts some good fires at the right places. Some say “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. However this is not true of leading or successful systems such as the EPL which is very much a great international brand from England. The only way to keep it so is to keep looking at it well before it becomes broke and to keep tweaking it such that it continues to be better and more successful.

  12. I think we should leave off the John Terry bashing, I just don’t see the point of it.

    He’s never crippled or maimed any opponents, so I’m thinking he might be a decent bloke.

  13. cheers paul, youve raised some good points there. i agree with most of them. i might go back and re-do it after the match on saturday.

  14. Simon – so glad to see you took my comments in the right way. I was very nervous you might think I was “bashing” your piece. Well, I was in a way, but I could see you wanted it to be a very serious “letter” and I took the view of “well, if I worked for the FA and saw this letter, what would I think?”.

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