Offside, 5 August

We need an FA chief who doesn’t give a damn about private morals.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Yet again English football is mired in crisis and, needless to say, football has very little to do with it.

It is difficult to feel any sympathy for the beleaguered blazers at Soho Square. They have only themselves to blame for their inept handling of the Svengate affair. It beggars belief that any heads should have rolled over a harmless bit of rumpy-pumpy. After all, none of the parties involved in the Football Association (FA) love triangle committed any crime nor, as far as we know, violated any ancient sexual taboo. Even the charge of lying to one’s employer isn’t exactly a crime against humanity, is it? I mean, hands up any readers who have never told their boss the occasional porkie, when phoning in sick for example? And who tells the truth when listing their hobbies in a job application? ‘I enjoy beer, drugs and pornography’….

For the first time in my adult life I even found myself in agreement with David Mellor. ‘What should have been a fairly simple matter to deal with the problem of a single secretary and a couple of single men getting involved together has been turned from a drama into a crisis by the traditional mind-numbing incompetence with which the FA goes about its business’, said Mellor. It is indeed a sorry state of affairs when the FA finds itself being lectured to about incompetence from a former minister in John Major’s gaffe-prone administration.

Despite the acres of column inches that have been devoted to the subject, the FA’s plight isn’t something that I lose much sleep over. I do, however, think it’s rather fitting that the FA chief executive should lose his job after being caught with his pants down. The FA has been complicit in the relentless moralisation of footballers’ off-field conduct. Rather than insisting that players and coaches should be judged purely by results on the pitch, the FA has fuelled the moralistic climate, by sacking Glenn Hoddle and forcing the resignation of Terry Venables for non-footballing reasons.

Mark Palios was appointed as FA chief executive with a brief to clean up the game’s sleazy image. He sorted out the organisation’s debts and took a tough line on drugs, increasing the frequency of random dope testing. The long suspension handed down to Rio Ferdinand for missing a drugs test was clearly designed to show that the FA could stand up to the big Premiership clubs and their millionaire players. It’s a pity that Palios has never felt inclined to face down the media in the same way. The press has seized on every off-field misdemeanour, proven or unproven (usually the latter), in order to paint a picture of endemic moral corrosion within the game.

The search has now begun for a suitable candidate for a job that, like the role of England coach, has become something of a poisoned chalice. ‘What is needed…is new men and new principles. Principles like honesty and honour and a sense of responsibility that goes beyond a gutter instinct for survival’, wrote James Lawton in the Independent. ‘A start would be a real football man who hasn’t sold out to a culture of celebrity and profit, and who believes that the game is not some freewheeling vehicle for personal advancement, but something to be cherished and honoured’ (1). Blimey, that’s a tall order! If the Archbishop of Canterbury gains his FA coaching badge he might just make the shortlist.

I know it will never happen but I’d rather see the FA appoint a leader who was more bullish about defending the game against the moralists. ‘Sven-Goran Eriksson will not be sacked after reports of a roasting session in a Mayfair hotel’, the new FA chief executive told a press conference. ‘What the England manager does in his private life is nobody else’s business, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a prurient busybody who probably isn’t getting any sex himself’, he added. Now wouldn’t that make a refreshing change from the pious sermons to which we’re interminably subjected?

I’d also love to see the next FA boss refusing to indulge those moaners who ceaselessly drone on about how football has been ruined by commercialisation: ‘If English football is so rotten why are attendances at a 40-year high? Football is a rare example of a successful and dynamic British business’, said the new FA chief. ‘The game doesn’t need moral salvation thank you very much, so you can all kiss my arse.’ But the chances of that happening are, well…sweet FA.

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Topics Politics


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