Ex-rail chief Bowker in the running for top job at FA

Britain's former top rail official, Richard Bowker, has emerged as a contender for the job of running English football.

Mr Bowker, who quit as chairman of the Strategic Rail Authority in September, is due to be interviewed today for the vacant post of chief executive at the Football Association.

The former rail chief is among a "long shortlist" of 10 candidates being interviewed this week by a special FA committee, set up to find a replacement for Mark Palios, who was ousted over the "Faria-gate" affair. Mr Palios was forced out of the FA's Soho Square headquarters after it emerged that he had slept with Faria Alam, the FA secretary who had an affair with the England manager Sven Goran Erikkson.

An avid Blackburn Rovers fan, Mr Bowker faces stiff competition for the job from several other high-profile candidates including Trevor Birch, the former chief executive of Chelsea, Leeds and Everton, and David Bernstein, the former chairman of Manchester City, and Brian Barwick, the controller of sport at ITV.

One of Mr Bowker's former colleagues said: "He has to be a serious contender for the job. He has an eye for a messy situation and what the FA needs above all is someone with skills in organisational leadership and a good commercial brain. Whatever else you say about the SRA, he left the railways in a far better state than when he arrived in 2001."

However, another said: "I'm not sure if it is the kind of job he should take. It will require the patience of a saint and the skills of a career diplomat and Richard is neither of those."

Mr Bowker left the SRA in September after the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, decided to abolish it as part of the Government's major rail review and to take its responsibilities back into the Department for Transport.

During his time at the SRA he is credited with creating a more coherent framework for Britain's railways and successfully restructuring the map of train franchises. But he was frustrated in his efforts to bring forward a number of big projects, such as a new high-speed north-south line, and was resented by department officials.

Since leaving the SRA, Mr Bowker has taken on a non-executive directorship with the British Waterways Board. He has also become a father for the first time, his wife, Madeline, giving birth eight weeks ago.

The FA made a profit of £9m last year on turnover of £186m and, as well as being the governing body for every level of English football, is responsible for the new Wembley stadium. The four-man FA selection committee, led by its chairman Geoff Thompson, plans to draw up a shortlist of three from the 10 candidates and make an appointment early next month.