Football: A rare gift for the revolutionaries

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The Independent Online
A crisis," reflected the chairman of one of our elite football clubs, and a man who has had recent experience of such circumstances, "is also a moment of opportunity. There are two options when you're in a mess. You can either bemoan the fact and do nothing, or use it as a chance to do something different and better."

If ever the administration of the national game required a cleansing of the putrefying air of its past, this is it. From the minute Kelly's heroes went down in a blaze of ignominy there has been almost universal approval of their fate and how it must be a catalyst for change. The question is whether that determination will conquer the forces of reaction ranged against it. Many will see parallels with the Labour Party of the Eighties. The question for football as a whole is what it wants in the next Millennium - a New FA, or sweet FA? Perhaps the only real surprise was that there was absolutely no necessity for a bloody coup. The Football Association's chief executive Graham Kelly and chairman Keith Wiseman actually handed the ammunition to their opponents which resulted in the putsch. Maybe the cash-for-votes affair has not been the most heinous in international sport where "Going for a bung" is a regular gameshow.

But it was all that the revolutionary forces within professional football, including the influential voices of the FA councillors Dave Richards, of Sheffield Wednesday, Ken Bates, of Chelsea, and Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, desired.

They have long supported a modernising programme, and have been frustrated by the bureaucracy and poor decision-making of an organisation that has 91 FA councillors - of whom 43 are from county associations but only six from the Premier League - and an interminable number of committees. Indeed, of the 10-man executive committee who raised their hands in a unanimous vote of no-confidence in Wiseman only three - Ipswich's David Sheepshanks, who is also deputy chairman of the Football League, Dein and Richards - were representatives of senior clubs.

The antipathy to Wiseman is nothing new. When Sir Bert Millichip, now 82, stepped down as FA chairman, the Premier League decided to support Richards as his successor. Wiseman did not endear himself when he secured his nomination by other means and won the council's vote. Since then, it has been felt that the Southampton vice-chairman has not reflected the concerns of the clubs. When he and Kelly sanctioned the pounds 3.2m grant to the Welsh FA it was considered not just unacceptable behaviour but reflected a general malaise at the top of the FA.

On Friday, Wiseman, a coroner, was still attempting to vindicate himself. But while the cadaver of his regime may remain twitching until the council meeting on 4 January, there is little chance of resuscitation.

Leeds' chairman, Peter Ridsdale, one of many who will applaud his going, dismissed that possibility. "Wiseman is a lame duck, and David Sheepshanks is the only credible alternative," he said. All the evidence is that his view is widespread within the Premier League. Rarely has a Welsh leak tasted so good to England's Premier League clubs.

"Frankly, the FA have needed change and if the events of this week force that then it's fantastic," declared Ridsdale. "My only nervousness is whether the people who can now influence what happens next will grasp the nettle. It would mean some people would lose some of their power. It is a bit like turkeys voting for Christmas, but it's long overdue."

When Ebenezer Cobb Morley formulated the idea for a Football Association back in 1863 he could never have envisaged the monster he had spawned; nor the fact that football has become as much about passing the Pouilly Fume around the corporate box at Old Trafford as kicking a lump of leather around a muddy pitch on a Sunday morning.

Captain Nemo knew what it was like to be submerged under twenty thousand leagues. So will the new chairman and chief executive of the Football Association. "The FA has to be reformed. It's like a gentleman's club at the moment, with no one understanding what these people do or how they deserve to be there," said Ridsdale. "The professional game has got to have a voice in English football, separate from the amateur game, which is dwarfing it at the moment."

He added: "It is wrong that when we had to attend a hearing about the club's disciplinary record, there were people sitting in judgement over us who had no involvement with the professional game. I'm not trying to suggest that the amateur game is less important or more important, just that it is different. The grass roots of football in this country are absolutely crucial, but they have different requirements from the professional game. At the moment, with respect to the amateur game, it's the tail wagging the dog."

While there are already proposals for reform of the structure of the FA, it will require firm leadership to steer them through. "We need a credible chairman to bring about the revolution that the game's needed for years and nobody's tackled," insisted Ridsdale. "The FA needs two strands to it, one looking after the amateur game, one the professional, set up under the auspices of the same chairman."

One option circulating the Premier League is that Ken Bates should succeed Wiseman for two years, with the much admired 46-year-old Old Etonian and entrepreneur Sheepshanks as vice- chairman. The latter would then take over.

Though the chairman will have an important role in Europe and may influence the destiny of World Cup 2006, which England still covets, it is the chief executive who will be the driving force for the game as a whole.

"Internal options very limited. There's only one person I believe has got the skills, and that is Rick Parry [Liverpool chief executive]," said Ridsdale. Other names suggested are Richard Scudamore, the present chief executive of the Football League and there are also supporters of Peter Leaver, his counterpart with the Premier League, although the FA could decide to head-hunt in business and industry.

For at least the next three months David Davies, who was until last week the FA's Director of Communications, has control. It has caused consternation in some quarters mainly because of his participation with Glenn Hoddle in the much- criticised World Cup diary. The messenger, after all, is normally there just for shooting. But he is an articulate and able front-man and would be enthusiastic advocate for reform. Davies, like Sheepshanks, has maintained, for the most part, a diplomatic silence, and yesterday he would only confirm, "I intend to go home, discuss it with my family and consider everything and probably come to conclusion as to whether I should apply in January."

However, it is well known that the former BBC correspondent was frustrated by the inertia under the previous regime and is a believer in radical change. He also accepts that the professional game must have far greater representation. For the moment, one of his duties is to ensure that England's World Cup 2006 bid retains credibility. "Sure, it's been an unhelpful week in that regard, no one would dispute that," he agreed. "But this is a marathon, not a sprint and there are still 15 months to go. I believe we have the best bid and the best venue for the World Cup and we will come through this." Whether the FA does the same without a great deal of bloodshed is quite another matter.