Flawed FA boss falls on his sword

Football Association crisis: Resignation of chief executive leaves chairman under pressure over Welsh financial deal
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ON ANY given Saturday, Graham Kelly is as likely to be found standing behind the goal at a non-League football club ground as he is to be seen in the directors' box of a Premier League club. At 52 and still an enthusiastic centre-forward, he is in his own way as much a football man as the Fergusons, Grahams and Dalglishes.

But, somewhere on his rise from being a Blackpool bank clerk to becoming the most powerful administrator in the English game, Mr Kelly appears to have lost touch with those grass roots. In allowing Keith Wiseman to involve him in this ludicrous votes-for-cash scheme he has committed a fundamental error of judgement.

The only redeeming feature of this squalid affair is that, unlike the FA's bumptious chairman, Mr Kelly has had the humility to fall on his sword.

Though his public image is that of "Kelly the Jelly", his television performances hide a sharp mind and engaging personality. He once memorably responded to being crowned, by the fanzine When Saturday Comes, "the man who has done the most damage to football", by turning up to collect the award in a dinner jacket.

His ambitious streak was revealed when he unexpectedly jumped ship from the Football League to the FA and oversaw the emasculation of the former in the creation of the Premier League. Having done this he failed to control the clubs and allowed them to push him into a larger league than envisaged. The consequence has been a steady increase in the gap between the top clubs and the rump which sits uneasily with the FA's duty to foster the whole of the game.

His supporters point to the (belated) overhaul in the coaching structure, the more pro-active and media-minded administration, and the enormous increase in revenue. His detractors say that the FA has become more interested in commercial activity than football. Even the changes in grass-roots have tended to be aimed at an elite of future young players, rather than at the mass of Sunday morning footballers.

It was Mr Kelly's head for figures which first brought him into the game in 1968. With his playing career stalled in goal for Blackpool's third team, he moved into banking before the job of accounts assistant came up at Football League headquarters in Lytham St Annes. He rose to the top position of secretary in 1979 before moving to the FA ten years later.

The Hillsborough tragedy was his first appearance in the spotlight, he did not handle it well and an image was formed. Despite losing weight, swapping his bouffant look for a sleekerhairstyle, and sharper clothes, he has never truly lost it.

This led to his being a symbol of the FA's perceived lethargy when he was actually a leading proponents of change.

The archaic bureaucracy needs streamlining but the danger of concentrating power in the executive is that you are dependent on the quality of the few individuals concerned. This is where Mr Wiseman comes in. A compromise candidate on his election as FA chairman, he moved quickly allied himself with Mr Kelly.

However, his position was successively weakened by the revelation that he had made a paper fortune from the sale of Southampton, his failed attempt to make his position salaried, and his humiliation in the Uefa election. The cumulative effect was that, instead of strengthening Mr Wiseman by linking him with Mr Kelly, it fatally weakened the latter.

Mr Kelly's organisational skills and contacts should earn him another job soon enough, either on the board of a club or with another administrative body. Nothing has become his decade at the helm as much as the contrast between his departure and Mr Wiseman's resistance.

For all his faults, the FA can ill afford to lose Mr Kelly.

Graham Kelly Fact File

t Graham Kelly worked in a bank until 22, then joined Football league accounts department.

t Assistant to the legendary league secretary Alan Hardaker, who he described as "a cross between Napoleon and Genghis Khan on a bad day".

t Moved to the Football Association in February 1988, nine weeks before the Hillsborough disaster, which he witnessed.

t As a goalkeeper was told by Emlyn Hughes, former Liverpool and England defender: "You'll always be a banker."

t Played centre-forward for the FA's staff, "Kelly's Heroes".

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