Football: Administrative bungling is a tradition at the FA

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A PERSONAL favourite among numerous scornful tales about officers of the Football Association concerns a quarrel over gifts following an international match in Turkey.

To the astonishment of their hosts, three of four committee men chased the other to his hotel room, demanding aggressively the return of a coffee set that had been erroneously presented.

It is not the intention here to make light of a matter that has brought about Graham Kelly's resignation and will make it difficult for Keith Wiseman to remain as chairman, but an impression long held about the FA is one of dedicated buffoonery.

Things may be better than they were, maybe not, but this latest episode, one that may have put paid to England's hopes of staging the World Cup finals in 2006, fits a history of administrative bungling.

Take, for example, the error in accountancy that caused pounds 500,000 of profits from the 1966 World Cup finals to be lost in taxes when England's victorious squad shared only a pounds 22,000 bonus. Take also the effect of pedestrian development and arrogant presumption.

The trouble is of the FA's own making. Alone, it has pressed for privilege in the expansion of European club football. With the pragmatic support of New Labour it has shamefully reneged on a deal, reached with Germany by its past chairman, Bert Millichip, for England to have Euro 96 in exchange for the 2006 World Cup.

Let us go back a bit. When Sir Stanley Rous became Fifa president in 1963 the obvious candidate to succeed him as FA secretary was Walter Winterbottom, who had stepped down from managing the England team and as director of coaching.

Winterbottom, an academic who was held in great respect internationally, would have been ideal. Instead, the FA Council, doubtless fearing an extension of Rous's autocratic influence, chose Denis Follows, thus denying English football the benefit of Winterbottom's vast experience.

One name leads to another. "If one of our senior officials has a friend there with whom his wife can stay for nothing, I would think it possible," Alf Ramsey once said when asked about the possibility of England playing in north Africa.

Recriminations that did for Ramsey after England's failure to qualify for the 1974 World Cup finals were brutally consistent with the antagonism he aroused at Lancaster Gate after causing the selection committee to be dismantled. "I suppose I'd better inform those people," he said typically one day in the west of Scotland, making off towards a group of powerless senior officials with belated word of the team he had picked.

A later candidate for the post of England manager quickly realised that it had been a mistake to let his name go forward. "Everything I'd heard about the FA, and worse, was true," he said.

Nothing quite so outrageous as the suppressed charge of sexual harrassment that was laid gainst a leading FA official, long dead, by an airline stewardess. "If it had been a player, that would have been the end of him," the England manager of that time said.

During his term as FA secretary, the late Ted Croker took exception to an article I had written for the Uefa bulletin suggesting that a strong case could be be made against the historical separation of British football. "If I'd known about the article beforehand, I would have tried to prevent its publication," he said.

Seeing things suddenly in a different light is not an unfamilar experience to me personally, but from then on I paid much more attention to what people in other countries felt about the administrators of English football. Unsuprisingly, the general consensus was that, while most were honourable men, few were up with the pace of progress.

It is anybody's guess how things will shape up at Lancaster Gate, but we can be pretty sure that a gang was waiting at the gulch for Kelly and Wiseman. If the FA remains consistent in one thing, it is factional malevolence.

Not much sympathy can be held out for Kelly, none for the crassly ambitious Wiseman. But we are not talking big scandal here, just the gormless behaviour for which the FA is universally famous.