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August 2021

Why will the media not hold the FA to account?

By Tony Attwood

Day after day, as anyone who ever glances at a newspaper will attest, sports journalists sharpen the knives, and night after night as they prepare the next day’s publication they throw them at their favourite targets: mostly specific clubs and specific managers.

Yet at the same time, some targets that really should be called to account big time are left alone.   I wonder why.

Take the current big story: the Football Association has just had its four year public funding (dished out via Sport England) of over £30m cut by £1.6m.

And what is the analysis of the FA to this sudden chopping of funds?  The action of Sport England was seen (in the words of FA general secretary Alex Horne) as “disappointing” for basically the FA has done nothing wrong.  It was, it seems the fault of the weather.

Now if you have never lived in England you might not know it, but England has always had erratic weather conditions – it comes from being surrounded on three sides by water, with the increasingly erratic gulf stream warming us on the west (sometimes), and the polar weather conditions coming down from the north.  And as we are in the era of climate change, the erratic result is now even more erratic.    Four seasons in one day isn’t the half of it – more like four seasons every 30 minutes.

So blaming the weather is a bit like calling the flooding of a home built on a known flood plain “an act of God”.  No, in England the weather happens.  A lot.

The FA’s man on the spot went on to say that the cut was unfair as the funding only started last August, and analysis of what the FA had done was made in October.

But the reality is, there were years of talk and planning before the money (which is supposed to ensure that we have a long term benefit from the billions thrown at the London Olympics) was handed over, and the October analysis was clearly known about by the FA way before the money arrived.

What’s more the weather between August and October was actually fairly normal for England.  The real down turn in the weather actually started in November and the really bad flooding came later in the year.

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In fact either the FA didn’t have plans to hit the ground running the moment the money poured in, or they are are just making excuses, or both.  The obviously conclusion is “both”.  Especially when you see this statement:

“A combination of severe weather, increased pitch hire costs and reduced maintenance spend has made this a very difficult time for clubs seeking to complete their fixtures and for individual players to value and enjoy regular football.”

What is so desperately sad is that, because this is the FA and because the rule of the media is that one must only not ever hold the FA to account, I can’t find a paper that has picked up on the lunacy of this statement.

It is rather like the two votes we got to hold the World Cup after putting over £20m into the bid.  Everyone knew Fifa was bent, everyone knew Fifa had turned against the FA, everyone knew we didn’t have a chance.   But still the FA continued ploughing money in, getting minor royals and David Beckham to do their stuff – and then they were surprised we didn’t win.

But back to the cut in funding.  On the one hand the excuse is “they measured us in October” and the other is “severe weather”.    For the first, the FA always knew they were going to be measured in October, and for the second, the exceptionally bad weather came after the measurement.  With the FA even the excuses are a sad failure

Even more laughably, the FA then said, “This challenge – to ensure a much better provision of quality affordable grassroots facilities – is one we are determined to address.”

And one might say, “when?”  Or “how?”  Or “pull the other one”.

The problem for football is that the number of people playing the game (measured as those who play at least 30 minutes a week – a low figure chosen in order to include small scale 5 a side games) has shown a significant drop, and is now at 1.84 million down from 2 million in 2006.

And this at a time when reports are showing that over half of the popular are overweight (that percentage is higher among the under 18s) and the incidence of overweight related illnesses such as diabetes, asthma, musculoskeletal problems and heart disease are on the rise.

Sadly this cut in Sport England funding won’t even cause a board meeting at the bloated FA as £1.6m represents less than 0.5% of its total income.  The FA can, and will, shrug its shoulders at such a cut and say “they don’t understand us”.  It is the eternal cry of the incompetent.

But this represents a lot of the money earmarked for grassroots projects.  Most of the FA money goes on keeping the England team going, paying Fifa, bidding for the two votes we got in the world cup, paying for Wembley stadium (on which massive loans are still outstanding) and paying for the bloated bureaucrats    Only around 13% of the money it gets is spent on grassroots football, even though this is the bit that could help reduce the nation’s overweight problem, gives huge levels of pleasure and psychological balance to those involved, and contribute to giving people who might otherwise be at a lose end something to do.

The benefits of the membership of Fifa membership is jollies around the world for the bloated.  The benefits of grassroots football is mental and physical well being of millions.   The former benefit to the few is maintained, the latter is cut.

The truth of the matter is that before it cut the FA’s funding, Sport England looked not just at participation numbers but also at the plans of various sports to increase  grassroots activity.   And this is where the FA failed – as it always fails.  It’s plans were a shambles (which you will have guessed as they were blaming the bad weather before it even got bad).

The problem facing grassroots football is that the government in the UK has cut the funding to local authorities dramatically, and it is the local authorities that have to fund local sports facilities.  So the authorities have started to cut – because they are not allowed to go into deficit.  Some have increased the fees they charge local associations – often putting costs up by double or treble (although the average is about 10% per year every year – about three times the level of inflation).

It is the way the government in the UK works – it cuts the funding to various bodies, and then blames them for not providing facilities.

Of course grassroots football is not a disaster everywhere.  The nearest town to where I lived benefited hugely under the previous government’s spending, including have every secondary school and the town’s college totally rebuilt – and that included putting new floodlit all-weather pitches on each site.   These are used by the schools in the day, and by local five-a-side teams at night.

In fact given that the county council has turned off many of our street lights, in a desperate attempt to save money, most of us now navigate around the town with torches, and by the light from the five-a-side pitches.

Our tragedy is that football could make a huge impact on cutting obesity and illness rates, but instead football money goes to the most appalling of all organisations – the FA.

So I come back to my main point.  Why is the media in England so soft on the FA?  Is it because the journalists love to go on these overseas trips, just as much as the bloated bureaucrats that run that utterly pointless, outdated, outmoded organisation, with its endless, endless, stream of failures?

I think maybe it is.

7 comments to Why will the media not hold the FA to account?

  • collins Elechi

    @ Tony,
    Nice article as always, you see that just as rotational fouling was introduced to disrupt free flowing football from arsenal by teams who were anti- football as assisted and actively supported by the media. So has the media used a rotational fouling and attack system to focus on trivial issues, choosing to dodge and ignore important issues as perpetuated by corrupt organisations like the F.A and FIFA in combined effort to see that nothing good or noble is achieved either in sports or other related aspect of our lives.

  • HenryB

    That is a superb Post, Tony.

    I read it with rapt attention, because you put a lot of info in there,

    In a way that perhaps might go some way to explaining the rather tepid reporting of the funds being cut, because papers like short, snappy stories as it is mooted that the attention span of their readers is so short.

    The other consideration is that there are so many other cuts being introduced across the board, together with the increased cost of living that directly affect people’s livelihoods, the funding or lack thereof FA and sports activities, in general, rank fairly low in their concerns.

    Thank you for the effort you have put into this and to producing a fascinating article.

  • HenryB

    It is a mistake, I think, to brand all journalists as ineffectual and careless, as the first blogger, today, implies.

    FIFA is carrying out a ‘root and branch’ investigation into the corruption and fraud allegedly perpetrated by the World Cup committee in awarding Quatar the hosting of the championship, and that has happened because of journalistic investigation by the Times, and has already led to the suspension of one or two of the committee members. And it is ongoing.

  • bob

    As to the FA’s (F’in Appalling nature), today’s Guardian has a columnist writing quite well (but not complete enough) against FA’s worse than Fanatically Authoritarian nature. Worth a read:

  • andy1886

    Tony, I think that you are onto a winner here, who in their right mind would defend the FA? I saw this yesterday and if I recall correctly there was a piece on 5-Live too. My reaction was simply that I couldn’t believe that an organisation like the FA would EVER get financial support from ANYONE. These self appointed governers of our national game are little more than parasites in my opinion. Too far up their own backsides to give a damn about the ordinary fan or the health of OUR game (not theirs). I played three times a week as a younger man (five-a-side, Friday night, Saturday afternoon and Sunday mornings). As I matured (cough) I took up refereeing for a while, now I still play indoors sometimes with other old crocks. When have I ever seen any positive input to the game at grass roots by the FA? Never, there’s not one single thing that I could point to. Why would anyone give these people funds? It’s a mystery to me.

  • Macduff

    I need to respond to this for those of you not exposed to the British media daily and are likely to be misled by the article.

    Firstly, I am no fan of the FA and agree that it is an outmoded organisation in serious need of overhaul, greater transparency and some fresh blood, much like our club. However, to say that FA are not held account by the media here is just not true. Just off the top of my head, the FA have recently come under attack in the media for issues of leadership, lack of action on issues of race, gender, equality, the review system, to name but a few regular complaints. They have come under fire for their handling of the Suarez/ Terry/ Anelka/ Pardew cases and lack of retrospective actions. The FA’s managerial appointments are always greeted with the utmost contempt in the media and even the newly appointed Football Association commission members set with the task of reviving the national team have been described in the Press as “poor selections”, as “utterly pointless” and “sexist”. They are painted in the press as an ‘Old Boys Club’, and rightly so. In fact, the FA’s and FA employee Roy Hodgson are under constant attack when the national team play and there is no PL distraction.

    Further, to say that “everyone knew we didn’t have a chance” to get the WC is also untrue. There was massive public backing for the bid. In fact not getting it left many in shock. How can you criticise and blame the FA for not getting it when the country that did got it through unfair means by paying a bent organisation with oil money- something this site regularly accuses clubs in England of doing and using it as an acceptable excuse to justify Arsenes failure??????

    The truth is that the current government here has cut practically all public funding, even old age pensions, just to meet interest payments on the national debt- much of which has been caused by the previous government’s public spending, for which the area you live in has benefited hugely. Now we are seeing the consequences of the spending, even the local councils are turning off street lights- is this the FA’s fault?

    One of the standout points in this article which I find quite humorous though is the authors belief that the FA should be tackling the country’s obesity problem with their £7.5 million per annum funding when there is billions spent annually on the NHS. Surely as parents it is our job to make sure our children are healthy, not the FA’s.

  • Jim Harbaugh

    A very curious article – but in a pleasant way. Bravo. Offering you a retort RE: obesity. “Our tragedy is that football could make a huge impact on cutting obesity and illness rates..”

    NOT A CHANCE..not until we are weaned off the sugar and saturated fats that pummell and ponder the diets of many; indirectly, hidden in foods and directly, not hidden in foods.

    Just look at all the special offers for junk food in stores. Its a national scandal.

    Biggest killer, biggest drug……………….SUGAR.