AT A TIME when football faced even more problems than it does today but had the additional disadvantage of dealing with a largely hostile government, Ted Croker took on both in his role as the Football Association's secretary from 1973 to 1989. He tackled them with determination, optimism and mixed success. Memories of this most urbane and good- humoured of football administrators will be diminished or enhanced depending on whether one remark to Margaret Thatcher is interpreted as brave or misjudged.
After the Heysel Stadium disaster in Brussels, Thatcher called together a group of football officials and others closely associated with the game and asked what football was going to do about its hooligans. According to Croker, she seemed ready to have professional football banned altogether. While others timidly kept their opinions to themselves, Croker remarked: 'We don't want this made public, but these people are society's problems and we don't want your hooligans in our sport, prime minister.'
It was said that the reply could easily have been the last straw as far as the prime minister's patience in football was concerned and certainly it was not until the arrival of John Major, a football fan, that relationships with Downing Street recovered. Croker himself always maintained that the meeting served to confirm Thatcher's own lack of understanding of what was happening to the national sport, but most people felt that he had scored a significant own goal. Significantly, too, his predecessors received knighthoods while he did not.
Throughout his time at Lancaster Gate, the FA's London headquarters, Croker was regularly criticised for failing to grasp footballing matters as well as he understood their commercial aspects, but it was partly for his background in industry and quiet manner that he was taken on as secretary after many years in which his predecessor but one, Sir Stanley Rous, had dominated the FA and football in England generally.
At the time of his appointment, the FA had an income from business enterprises of only pounds 24,000 a year and needed someone who had a football background but above all could realise the potential of a sport moving into the television and sponsorship age without any real idea how to sell its assets, especially the FA Cup and international matches, without losing credibility. While showing them the way (when he retired the FA had reserves of some pounds 3m), Croker always refused to allow the FA Cup to be sponsored because he said it would immediately 'lose the magic'.
His own football career was hardly impressive but fulfilled the FA's requirements. He was a qualified coach and played as a defender for Charlton Athletic, admittedly more often for the reserves than the first team, but his career was ruined by injuries, including those received when he was an RAF flying instructor.
He had joined the RAF at 18, soon after leaving technical college in Surrey. In 1945 he was involved in a crash in the Pennines and broke both ankles. Nevertheless, in freezing conditions he crawled to get help for his colleagues and was subsequently awarded the King's Commendation for Brave Conduct. He resumed his football career and made eight first-team appearances in 1950-51 for Charlton as a defender, only to be recalled to the RAF during the Korean war. He later played for Headington.
His successful business career was in engineering. His company made snow movers and machinery for the ready-mixed concrete industry but eventually he sold out and was left free to apply when the FA advertised for a successor to Denis Follows.
When he arrived at the FA, England had just failed to qualify for the World Cup and the manager, Sir Alf Ramsey, was already being severely criticised. Although he was a member of the committee that sacked Ramsey, Croker played no significant part in the decision. However, he was more involved in the appointment of Don Revie, a controversial choice eventually leading to considerable disagreements within the FA and a far from amicable parting.
The problem of hooliganism remained with him all through his tenure as secretary. He presided over the abandoning of the annual match between England and Scotland, the oldest international fixture of all, and in his time the home international championship itself was abandoned. When the Heysel tragedy occurred he was involved in the decision to withdraw English clubs from European cup competitions.
Towards the end of his career he suffered from ill-health and he retired after Graham Kelly became the FA's chief executive in 1989.
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