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In football, no one ever talks about the real problem. It’s the FA.

By Tony Attwood

Some years ago I came across a company where the finance manager had been skimming off money for her own benefit for years.   She was found out when the firm changed auditors and the new auditor started asking questions the old auditor should have asked, but didn’t.

What happened next was interesting.  No one sued the old auditor for failing to do is job.  The old finance manager went on “sick leave” and refused to answer any questions.   The company then invited her to resign in return for no further action.  She accepted and walked away without a stain on her character, all the money she had nicked, and able to go and perpetrate the same scam elsewhere.

When I asked why the firm had allowed both the auditor and the administrator to walk away the answer was simple.  Any legal proceedings would reveal just how awful the directors control of the company had been.  Besides the auditor was a friend of the family.  So the directors, who were completely incompetent arses, carried on, and the cycle of events continued.

You can take this story as an example of what happens in football – and come to that in sport in general.   There is a total cock up of monumental proportions, but ultimately the same people run the same show and nothing changes.

Fifa is a perfect example – it is corrupt, bent and utterly unfit for running a window cleaning business, let alone a multi-national football operation, and yet it carries on.  The bodies below Fifa won’t act because they are as awful as Fifa and love feeding from the trough, and the people who could hold them to account (the advertisers who support them, and the broadcasters who pay them) absolutely won’t take them on.

It has been interesting to see of late that it is not just football that has this problem.  The world of athletics seems as screwed up, and is responding in the same way.  “Nothing really wrong old boy, just leave it to us, don’t you worry your little head about it, leave it to the grown ups.”

And then, what do you know, tennis is involved, and its the same again.  “Nonsense – if there was a problem don’t you think we’d be doing something about it?”

Well, actually no, largely because in each of the sports, all the bodies that are supposed to check on the other bodies, are made up of the same cronies who pat each other on the back and say nothing is wrong.  The auditor was a friend of the family remember.

Doping,  match-fixing, the curious case of the PGMO refusing to appoint more referees so we get the same refs over and over again, or indeed the case of the ref who actually scored a lower ranking in a match than if he had made decisions on a wholly random basis….   add such things to what we know about Fifa and the FA and the mess becomes so awful its hard to see a way through.

There are criminal matters going on here, but even with “unusual betting patterns” the civil authorities seem reluctant to get involved.  And we know that Fifa sees itself as a country, paying no tax, answerable to no national laws.

When we come down to local affairs, it is quite shocking to see that Greg Dyke is not seeking re-election as chairman to the FA, because he is seen as too reformist!   This man who has supported Fifa and Uefa all the way through, spent millions on bidding for a world cup slot that everyone seemed to know was fixed, is fixated with the wholly false notion that the number of home grown players playing in the Premier League has an impact on how well England play… is too radical in his approach!!!!

Apparently his plan to reform the FA Council was running into problems.  And just looking at the FA Council tells you why there is such a total screw up.  It has 21 Life and Senior Vice Presidents drawn from such bodies as Cambridge University FA,  Leicestershire & Rutland FA, the Independent Schools FA..

Then six vice presidents, eight representatives of the Premier League, eight representatives of the Football League, ten divisional representatives, 43 county association representatives, eight representatives of affiliated organisations, nine representatives of other football associations (such as the University of Oxford Football Association, and several organisations that have already got special representation in earlier mentioned sections), one supporters representative, one disability representative, two inclusion representatives, a chief executive officer and two independent non-executive directors.

Now this is not all bad.  One of the divisional representatives is a member of Poole Town, and I rather like that.  But otherwise…  And there is one representative of supporters.  Pretty much puts us in our place.

An independent report by Lord Burns recommended urgent change a decade ago, but hey, what’s a decade when your nose is in the trough.  (Apart from the man from Poole Town FC of course, who is undoubtedly doing sterling work).

It is no wonder that this organisation, when given money by Sport England to spend on grass roots football, then had it taken away again because it wasn’t doing what it should have done.  The FA blamed the weather.  Worse, not a single one of the media in England woke up enough to wonder what was going on.  Indeed they still publish Greg Dyke’s statements in which he claims he would leave behind him a “bold plan to build many more all-weather pitches”.  Except that the plan has no money inside it, despite the FA’s £30m cost cutting plan which incorporated  100 redundancies as it seeks to balance the books.

Above all, the FA backs Fifa.  It backed Blatter.  Then it backed Platini.  Now it will back whoever else comes along.  Because that is what they do.   It has criticised the head of the UK Anti-Doping agency for even suggesting football may have a performance enhancing drugs problem.   “How dare you say that of us,” sums up the FA’s vision of cheating in football.  They are rather down on Arsène Wenger, who for a long time has advocated tackling doping in football.

Mr Wenger claimed that Uefa supported by the FA “basically accepts doping.”  The FA’s director of football governance and administration, Darren Bailey said these comments were “unhelpful.”

So it goes on.  The Football Association has had to pay out £10m for the redundancy programme and made a loss in its last accounts.  It is also still trying to pay for Wembley, so desperately hopes it can do a deal with Tottenham and/or Chelsea for a year or three, to help bail itself out.

And behind all this is still the nonsense.   Dyke says, “Only a third of players in our top league last season were eligible to play for England despite millions of pounds invested in fantastic academies for, as yet, apparently little return … something is going wrong and I remain convinced of the need to do something about it.”

Curiously no one actually analysed what it was that successful football nations on the world stage had in common, until Untold did.   In an article I’ve quoted many times (because I was rather pleased with that day’s work) from 2010, and which has been republished without acknowledgement in the Telegraph in 2013, we showed that the key issue was the number of coaches in relation to the number of players.  If you are interested in this topic there is more on it here

In England the coaches figure is incredibly low, compared to most other countries.  Since then we’ve shown that this is because the FA charges so much for its coaching courses – many many times more than is charged in other countries.  They do it because… they are short of money.

Maybe if they just wound themselves up, and got out of the business of football once and for all, we’d all be that bit better off.

Two anniversaries

  • 1 February 2004: Arsenal 2 Man C 1.  The 23rd league game of the Unbeaten Season and the second game in a run of nine consecutive wins.  Man C scored an own goal and Henry got the second.  Anelka scored for Man C and was then sent off.
  • 1 February 2006: Arsenal 2 WHU 3, Sol Campbell substituted at his request at half time, and left the club for five days.  This was Arsenal’s second consecutive defeat after the 7-0 win over Middlesbrough.  Henry overtook Bastin’s goalscoring feat.

The Untold Books

The latest book from Untold is Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970 with an introduction by Bob Wilson.   Details of this and our other titles can be found Arsenal Books on this site.

The transfers… 

25 comments to In football, no one ever talks about the real problem. It’s the FA.

  • serge

    I hear that Arsene was jokingly asked if he would apply for the position Greg Dyke will be vacating.
    Are you sure it was Dyke who “spent millions on bidding for a world cup slot”? I thought it was Triesman, or have we made a bid that I missed?

  • Mandy Dodd

    Only a hunch, but get the feeling that despite what he says, dyke is going before he is pushed.
    Even something as incompetent as the FA must have their limits, and this guy must represent that.
    The media just seem to cover things up in football for some reason….perhaps because there is a huge amount of money invested in things appearing to be ok and above board in this country.
    As for Wenger and doping, the only thing that surprises me is that he has suggested there is not a doping problem in this country. Of course he knows more than we do, but I can think or one or two teams…..and managers…..who if you watch them over a season……

  • Josif

    The same Greg Dyke that called City winning the title ahead of Liverpool depressing?

  • Pete

    Number of advanced coaches – or the lack of – is absolutely the problem. And high costs for UEFA B and A are a key part of it. Unless you are attached to a professional (or semi-professional to a lesser extent)_ club it is prohibitively expensive. I also understand from a guy who went for UEFA B that he was failed because he wasn’t associated with a professional club (and I know he is a darned good coach) – old boys network.

    Makes the story of Warburton – once of Brentford now of Rangers – even more unusual and impressive.

  • proudkev


    A pretty accurate analysis.

    The FA has held us back in footballing terms for years. The list of charges it should face are huge but unfortunately, like FIFA, it is self regulating and nothing ever changes. The phrase I use often is dinosaurs; a term that describes how far behind teh rest of Europe we are – almost third world. It wasnt that long ago that Wenger complained about kids of 8 and 9 playing on full size pitches and the inevitable lack of technical ability – big athletic types being selected instead.

    Dyke realised the FA was out of conytrol I am sure. As a Manchester United fan he should know better than most how the FA worked.

    Tony Attwood: “the curious case of the PGMO refusing to appoint more referees so we get the same refs over and over again, or indeed the case of the ref who actually scored a lower ranking in a match than if he had made decisions on a wholly random basis……..”

    Well lets look at this. Thsi is the FA, their incredible arrogance regarding our referees. They have known for years we have a geographical issue in PGMOL but chose to do nothing about it. Keith Hackett warned them when he ran PGMOL. He has warned them again but nothing has been done about it. It really isnt a good idea that you only have 16 referees in the PL. It isnt a good idea that 30% of our referess herald from the North West. Not a single Southern referee, except the two that operate out in the South West area near Bristol. The South is huge from the South Coast up to the Midlands not a single referee. The excuse used is that they havent received the necessary ‘training’ from the FA. Really? How much money is generated by the South, where is it being syphoned off to? We now have the inevitable, regular refereeing of ‘home town’ clubs; something that should not be allowed due to the risk of local influences. Arsenal v Manchester United refereed by Anthony Taylor who lives a stones throw from Old Trafford. Is that a good idea?

    Keith Hackett said it was unfair for Mike Riley to cop our abuse because he can only promote referees at the top of the merit tables. The merit tables and the assessment program is run by the FA. The perceived ‘training issue’ reflects on the FA because they run the training progmas. Why have they done nothing about this obvious problem?

    A remonder of what Keith hackett said about this fiasco:
    “I do not attach any blame onto Mike Riley at the PGMOL he can only promote referees that are at the top of the merit tables. Geography cannot play a part in the selection process. Therefore who takes the rap……..sadly Neale Barry Head of Senior Referee at The Football Association who has failed to focus on this problem, despite years of warnings. In my time there were many officials from London and the South of England.The Football Association need to act”.

    Act? The FA is an organisation run by dinosaurs that quite frankly is unable to change. They interpret the rules of the game in a way that is different to the continent and ensure those rules are enforced through the assessment program and their merit tables.

    In essence, the FA are creating a style of play from the way they interpret the rules and by the enforcement of their referees. PGMOL apply the FA’s rules and can only promote referees that the FA provide them with, via the merit tables. Is this holding us back, I don’t know but it sure as hell makes me uncomfortable.

    There is no way a referee should officiate a home town club. There are just too many local issues that ‘may’ affect his decision making. It also leaves teh door open for the manipulation of game results and I dont like it one bit. When you have previous managers claiming the referee they had influenced the approach they would take to tackling, you know something is wrong.

    The FA are a bunch of old dinosaurs and we need change. But dont hold your breath, unless David Dein takes over.

  • Al

    Off topic
    Interesting to hear the boss’s thoughts on Iwobi here. Just what we were all saying after the match, hardly puts a foot wrong, looks like his future is bright. The FA lost out to Nigeria, or he would be turning out for England. Personally I think he has a better chance of winning things with Nigeria though, than with England. At least they have been known to win the AFCON every few years, well,they’ve won it 3 times since 1980. As for England….

  • nicky

    The problem today in football governance is that men of integrity are thin on the ground.
    Most associations, from club to country are so top heavy with “bums on seats,” that reformers stand little chance of their voices being heard.
    This overloading of bodies like the FA, to which Tony rightly refers, is a current barrier to reform and the vital weeding out of wheat from chaff.
    Until change can take place, the cohorts of the old guard will stand firm against any moves to alter the status quo.

  • proudkev

    Nicky, yep you nailed it.

    Self governance can and will never work. The FA needs a complete overhaul, weed out all the old codgers entrenched in what we all call ‘the old school’ and start again.

    It is no different from organisations lkike the over bloated BBC; jobs for the boys and the like minded.

  • Jambug

    Great article.

    As any UA regular will know I detest the media. Unfortunately I do live in the real World, and as such have to concede that they are alas a necessary evil.

    They do act as a counterbalance to a hell of a lot that is bad in this World. Unfortunately they are also complicit in a lot that is bad as well.

    Just imagine what politicians (corruption/fiddling the books) would get away with without the Media forever hovering over them like a spectre.

    Just imagine how some of the low life scum (child molesters etc.) would of remained hidden without them.

    When the media pick up the batten and deem a topic worthy of there time and effort, there investigative journalism can be devastating. They can hound the guilty, and sometimes alas even the innocent, to hell and back.

    The problem is whether they deem a subject worthy of there efforts, and that is where they often get it so wrong. To me they are so entangled with vested interests, and hell bent on self preservation that quite deliberately it seems to me, they fail to investigate what is right in front of there eyes.

    It is only because I have such an emotional investment in football that I can see how they palpably fail to address the real issues within it. I have no doubt that they are as remiss in other areas.

    But the fact is, until the mainstream media pick up on the kind of in depth analysis done by Tony and UA, will anything change, and it seems to me they just do not have the will to do it.

    There are too many snouts in the trough and nobody wants to rock the boat.

    Without doubt, without UA I would be as ignorant as all my colleagues, friends and family, as to the real plight of English football and the reasons behind it.

    If it’s not on Talksport, Sky Sports or in the Red tops they haven’t a clue.

    In conversation I have repeated statistics produced by UA on many occasions, but after an initial ‘blimey, I didn’t know that’ there eyes soon glaze over. They couldn’t really give a toss. All they want to do is get back to talking about who they are going to ditch or who they are going to sign in the next fantasy football transfer window.

    It really is an uphill battle, but a battle we must just keep fighting and one day you never know.

    There was the renaissance after all !

  • proudkev

    Jambug, Like you I don’t detestthe way the media acts. Most journalists are like little kids trying to provoke and petty point score. I understand they are all fighting for page views but where has evidence based reporting gone? The same is true of the TV and Radio output; I stopped listening to Talksport when a woman beater who fequented dogging sites, started his moral crusade against Wenger. I mean, who on earth do these people think they are?!!

  • proudkev

    *Like you I detest the way the media acts.

  • Jambug


    “I stopped listening to Talksport when a woman beater who fequented dogging sites, started his moral crusade against Wenger. I mean, who on earth do these people think they are?!!”

    Exactly. That station is lower than a snakes belly. Yet people like it.

    I read Jammie Rednap state that his favourite radio listen was Andrian Durhams drive time.

    Apparently it’s very informative !!

    What the hell that says about Rednap I don’t know, but given that mind set you surely cant take anything he says seriously, except of course Sky Sports do.

    Also, our players, current and ex, as well as staff from Arsenal dot com, regularly appear on it.

    What chance is there of stemming the flow of anti Arsenal shite when our own people endorse it.

  • Zedsaunt

    Another great article, many thanks.

    The governance of all sports exhibits the same ossified decay. Men in suits. Some outreach from the function of the state – knock up an association, let the worthies run it, enforce rules, take money from the punters, employ friends, run the media, swallow up TV rights.

    12 billion of public money goes to the Olympics. Refs from Manchester ref in their own home patch. Sooner or later, someone from the FA is going to have to defend the PGMO in public and explain how it can be that a hometown boy can be a hometown ref.

    Maybe that point gets reached when the penny drops for the public that these ancient worthies in suits are the very ones who pre-determine, in every aspect of the game, how the game gets played in England.

  • Zedsaunt

    As for the media – unless something has dramatically changed over the past few months, the National Union Of Journalists (UK), still has more members registered as working in PR as opposed to working in editorial content.

    From that – to be a journalist for the majority of journalists is to push the line that is demanded from the client.

    The investigative side of journalism disappeared decades ago. Ray Fitzwalter, editor of Granada’s World In Action for twenty-odd years, made the point at the end of the nineteen eighties that the outlets for investigative journalism had dried up, and those that remained were disappearing fast.

    Borrowing techniques and tactics from the function of PR journalists can sometimes create media storms out of investigations. These arrive quick and depart even faster. The stories that require indepth investigation, which has to be built on in-depth analysis, rarely occur.

    The measure of modern British journalism – Savile abused children for five decades. In those five decades he became Sir James Saville.

    Perhaps the greatest pain – people still believe, despite all the evidence of the last fifty years, that the trade of journalism still adheres to the code of ethics where the first and last duty of the journalist, is to defend the powerless against the powerful.

  • Menace

    Man City have ditched Pelligrini for Guardiola. Apparently Guardiola is wanted by every club in the world. I dont think Arsenal would want a fly by night glory hunter who moves to ready made teams with open cheque books.

    The person that any team in the world should want is Wenger. He takes the club forward as an entity. The whole club improves & makes money. Guardiola spends a fortune & wins a few trophies for already successful clubs at a huge cost. City are in the EPL, a whole different ball game to what is in Europe.

  • proudkev


    Come on, Jamie Rednapp isn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the box. Takes after his Dad, the tax fiddler who opened a bank account in his dogs name to hide his allegedly ill gotten gains/back handers/bungs. His defence claimed he could hardly read and write which was hilarious. He probably thought Spurs said Turds. Tottenham Hot Turds. How the media love him.


    Totally agree with you. Guardiola inherited a Bayern side that had won everything. The media seem unable to recognise that fact, they try to make out he went to some mid table team and made them great. The same as they seem unwilling/unable to differentiate between the resources available to Wenger during his difficult years.

    It really isnt that difficult to manage Barca and Bayern with the players and resources those two clubs had. Winning a domestic trophy for Bayern is hardly an achievement, especually when you go out and buy the best players from your only rivals. Lets see him do it at a team that has to make a profit on transfers. A very good manager but what has he really done that is spectacular?

  • proudkev


    I don’t beleive we have journalists any more. They know little more than the average fans; there is little evidence or fact used in the garbage they produce. They are just fantasy football fans, you only have to watch that Sunday Supplement show on Sky to see that. Too busy making stuff up to massage their egos and get reaction. Online media demands volume not quality. They simply dont have time to invest in research, so they just recycle the same rubbish they know will get a reaction.

    PS: I wonder if someone will also explain how it came to be that West Ham United could get a free stadium courtesy of the tax payer – and still keep the money generated from the sale of Upton Park. The media is ominously silent on this matter I notice.

  • Jambug


    Re Pep Guardiola.

    “Guardiola spends a fortune & wins a few trophies for already successful clubs at a huge cost”

    Indeed, and as I said elsewhere, as much as it will almost certainly be good to watch, although painful at times, I cant help but think it’s a really soft option he has taken. He, like almost anyone else who takes the helm at City is guaranteed success. Hardly enhancing his CV, or challenging himself is it.

    But, as we know, for some it is all just about the medals.


    Re Harry Rednap.

    He’s obviously not that daft as he got away with it I believe, but when you read Tonies recollections in the opening 3 paragraphs of his article, that’s hardly a surprise is it.

    I got chased for 5 years for a small tax fine regarding late payment that wasn’t even justified. My accountant pleaded my case endlessly to no avail. In the end, under threats of CCJ’s I gave up and paid.

    That is how it works. Google anyone?

    And then this:

    “PS: I wonder if someone will also explain how it came to be that West Ham United could get a free stadium courtesy of the tax payer – and still keep the money generated from the sale of Upton Park. The media is ominously silent on this matter I notice.”

    Sickening really

  • John

    Pep Guardiola is a brilliant manager who would certainly make arsenal a better team .Tactically he is very astute and he gets his teams to play the right way and most importantly WIN.Yes he spends money but all managers do ,some more than others,but watch man city improve next year.I bet 95% of arsenal fans would want him to replace wenger when he goes ,why wouldnt you want the best??Oh and menace football is all about winning trophys not about making money and fleecing the fans .You live in a dream world.

  • finsbury

    Re the old coaching scandal:

    It’s a good job old Dyke the old boy who did such a good job at the Bleeb has been doing such a Stirling job on behalf of our sweet sweet FA. In other news here’s some food for thought:

    “The last time the top-tier of English football was won by an Englishman was in 1991-92 when Howard Wilkinson led Leeds to the First-Division crown. The Premier League started the next season and no English manager has ever won it.”

    Nevermind the players eh?

    Of course we had the Auld Fitba Mafia in town for a bit what with the Scotttish hinterland being a pioneering beacon of football this last decade or so a bit like Holland in the seventies but suddenly like puff the magic dragon all of Fergie’s mates oops I mean the Scottish managers have all suddenly disappeared into smoke. Kazam! “Just like that!”
    Did I miss any of ’em?

  • finsbury

    Tika tactically speaking you’d have thought that anyone commenting on an Arsenal football blog regarding pep Guardiola would be capable of making the simple acknowledgement that Young Pep has been hoodwinked on every single occasion he bought a team to N5. Every. Single. Time.
    Huge errors. Winning the match and then he goes and make the sub AW had guessed upon on more then one occasion etc. Got away with completely the wrong set up was when Ozil missed his penalty (munchen lost the return leg that year I think?).

    Perhaps if you are an expert in gibberish (& a sad hapless troll too) you wouldn’t be capable of the above and hence therefore be fixated in an exercise of self ridicule? Each to their own I guess.

  • Tom

    Don’t waste your time trying to convince anyone on here about Guardiola’s quality. It’s simply a waste of energy.

    How ignorant, blinkered and agenda driven are some of these posters?

    ” Guardiola spends a fortune and wins a few trophies for an already successful club” , statement says it all really.

    Guardiola’s net spend during his three seasons at Bayern is about £ 52 M , about half of Wenger’s in the same time for Arsenal.

    Guardiola’s managerial brilliance is more than just about trophies, although five major trophies in two seasons ( thus far) is a respectable haul by any standard.

    The only knock on his trophy cv is the failure to win the CL for Bayern in his first two seasons (two semis). That’s rich coming from Arsenal fans btw. What are our accomplishments in Europe?

    Wenger, Guardiola – two brilliant managers in their own right.

    When sticking up for Wenger , the most frequent attribute put forth to describe his brilliance on here is the quality of football that’s pleasing on the eye , yet the same people will deny Guardiola the same even though his teams take it to another level.

    How pathetic!

    For the record :
    Wenger was never stepping down to accommodate Guardiola, as some had wished for.
    The man has stated time and time again that he wasn’t ready to retire and he has never broke his contract before in his life.

    I fully expect him to extend his current contract until 2020 , but if he decides to retire then , I cant think of
    a better manager to build on Wenger’s legacy than Guardiola.

    Reading some of these posts makes one wonder about the footballing IQ of their authors. Simply incredible!

  • para

    Hell, the whole world is screwed up, it’s only when one grows up that one starts to notice it. 🙂

    Many are living in a “dream” world, i once was too, and the media projects that same dream, but some do wake up and realise that nothing really ever changes that much, it just gets more modern, that’s all.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ finsbury – February 1, 2016 at 10:03 pm – SAF ‘s legacy lives on today , after all he inspired so many managers to take up the job . Some even on to foreign shores .

    We should not forget the greatness of Brian Kidd , Brian Robson , Steve McClaren , Mark Hughes , Roy Keane , Steve Bruce , Darren Fergie , Carlos Queiroz , Paul Ince ,Gordon Strachan , Ole Gunnar Solskjær , Henning Berg , the anointed , David Moyes ; and of late , Phil and Gary Neville , whose club are about to run away with the Copa Del Rey trophy !

    One day the Neville brothers and that famous class of ’92 , will come back to roost at United . Something to look forward to !

  • finsbury


    That’s quite a list!