The outside forces that could turn football upside down

by Tony Attwood

In the post earlier today (Restart is floundering as clubs, players, medics and league argue) I suggested that one factor that might cause a problem with the re-start of football is the incessant arguing that is combined by an element of bullying, as the various interested parties debate what to do about football in England.

There is of course nothing new in this, since dispute and argument has been the heart of English football since its foundation.   The Football Association which drew up the original rule book and set itself up as the organisers of the game, was formed on 26 October 1863.  And they had it all their own way until 17 April 1888 when the Football League was formally created.

The FA was based in London. the League was based in the north-west.   The FA laid down the rules of the game at meetings with their Welsh, Scottish and Irish equivalents and ran the FA Cup.  The League ran the league.

So there has always been a tug of war between these two organisations – but of course time has moved on and now we have Uefa, Fifa, and lots of people who are not actually English, engaged in the game.  And stuff can happen all over the world!  Indeed if you are a regular Untold reader you’ll know that Europe is agog at the antics of the Swiss in terms of their handling of the prosecution of senior Fifa officials, and at the doings of an Israeli bank which has just been fined $874 million to settle tax evasion claims, plus $30 million costs for its engagement with yet another Fifa tax evasion case.

These things don’t get mentioned in the English mainstream media, and because of that, the blogs don’t mention it either.   The rest of Europe knows all about it, but England –  well, no these funny foreigners are always up to no good.  Best leave them to it.  We sort out our own stuff.

And that attitude can lead to catastrophes as when the FA spent £21m of taxpayers’ money bidding for the rights to host the world cup again.  That £21m got us two votes.  A country needs 106 votes to get the rights for the world cup – so at the current rate that would cost £1.113bn to get the votes needed.

Why didn’t the FA realise they were going to look total prats in the bidding contest?  Because of the tradition of only looking inwards at England.

And yet we currently have a Chinese takeover over clubs in the Midlands (Birmingham, Aston Villa, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich).  Indeed before Saudi Arabian interests announced they were buying Newcastle, there was a Chinese group seriously looking at the club.  No one mentioned it.

The Chinese have even been getting involved in Swiss football in terms of Grasshoppers – the most successful Swiss club, and now, Etoile Carouge, a third division team from Geneva looks like it is going to be bought by “Game Plan Sports Group” from Abu Dhabi.  China vs Abu Dhabi in Switzerland!

What pulls all this together is that different nationalities have different traditions in terms of good practice and proper behaviour, but we ignore that.  Yes a little bit of notice was taken about Saudi Arabia buying Newcastle Utd, and the fact that Saudi Arabia has a pirate TV channel seemingly run by the state broadcasting Premier League matches unencrypted.  But it is “just foreigners”.

So when we have problems in England, such as how to restart football, we assume everything is going to be as it is now, and under our control, because we invented football so obviously we know how to do it.

But this inward-looking attitude can lead to total cock-ups.  This certainly was the case with the American purchase of Liverpool for example.  Following this, in 2013 Arsenal offered £40,000,001 for the Liverpool player Suarez. Liverpool made a lot of noise about how silly Arsenal were because there was no such clause and they didn’t have to talk to Arsenal.

The anti-Arsenal movement within supposed Arsenal support (the AAA as we called them) made a lot of noise about this uniting with Liverpool in the view that Arsenal were grossly incompetent in thinking there was such a clause when there was not.  Stupid Arsenal, no idea what they were talking about!  Arsenal: the laughing stock of football.

A little later at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference the Liverpool owner, a Mr Henry, announced quite openly that he had lied to Arsenal and the media and admitted there was a clause in the contract, but he knew if he denied it, the press would print whatever he said.

What Mr Henry found was that England is totally inward looking, and the media is willing to believe what a Liverpool owner says, without checking so the could lie with impunity.   And indeed they found that they could rely on some odd sources to back them up, for in August 2013 ESPN ran the story that Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the players’ union, had said that the club are not obliged to sell Suárez.

This followed articles in the Telegraph and the Guardian in which Suárez was quoted as saying that he had the legal right to force through a move to Arsenal, despite Liverpool’s rejection on 23 July 2013.  Suarez was right.  The English players’ union was wrong.

This history of inward-looking, means that there is an expectation that England will find a way to restart, and that circumstances will remain the same.   But that is unlikely to be the case.

Imagine if some clubs do run out of money, what then?  There are a lot of people and companies willing to buy football clubs, and they will come in with a completely different vision of what should happen next.   The attitude of “we’ll sort out our own problems, thank you very much” will not work, because there are all sorts of things happening in world football that affect all aspects of football in England.

It is unlikely to be as simple as the media is saying.