Football: FA advised to protect game's integrity and reputation

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The Independent Online
The Football Association yesterday welcomed a report which called upon the game to "put its own house in order" before regulation was imposed upon it.

Glenn Moore, Football Correspondent, considers whether the FA have either the desire or the power to take heed.

Sir John Smith may have made his name as a Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner rather than as a professional footballer but it has not taken him long to grasp the essential nature of the game. Football is in the dreams business and his FA-commissioned report, "Football, its values, finances and reputation", is as aspirational as a 10-year-old's vision of playing for England.

While the report contains a number of sensible and overdue suggestions, it also has some which, though perhaps desirable, are either beyond the will or the desire of the FA to adopt.

Chief among these is the suggestion, prompted by people within the game, that "no person should own more than 10 per cent of the stock in any football club - thereby defeating the possibility of a single person treating a club as his, or her, personal fiefdom."

On the face of it, this is an admirable idea. Bournemouth, owned by a community trust, are the ideal but they are a rarity among the plcs and private clubs. Supporters of Brighton, Doncaster and any other club whose followers have been at odds with their board or chairman would agree with the proposal. But where would Newcastle be without Sir John Hall and Blackburn without Jack Walker? These questions are largely academic as the idea is a non-starter, difficult to enforce legally.

Almost as unlikely is the recommendation that the FA reforms its decision- making process. There are those within the organisation who have been arguing this point for years - Graham Kelly, the chief executive, admits the current structure "is not designed for speed" in this month's Match of the Day magazine. However, they have been unable to persuade the 90- odd backwoodsmen of the ponderous FA Council to vote themselves out of posts that guarantee them regular junkets and Sir John's advice is unlikely to make the difference.

Enough negativity. There are some practical and achievable recommendations. These go from the superficial, a code of conduct applying to "all aspects of the game under the FA's jurisdiction" to the hard-hitting - a call for an FA "compliance and monitoring unit" to "oversee the game's integrity and reputation" by monitoring finances, dealing with complaints and investigating irregularities. This unit would include outsiders with legal, accountancy and investigative skills.

This is long overdue, all the recent cases of alleged and actual wrong- doing, from the George Graham bungs, the Tottenham illegal payments and Swindon betting incident have been exposed by the media. Such a unit would need teeth including the right to enter any club to scrutinise the books and call witnesses under oath.

To do this the recommendation that "agent's licences may only be granted to those who agree to be contractually bound by FA rules" might be extended to anyone working within the industry - if legislation permits.

Other suggestions, rather than recommendations, are that directors should oversee the financial aspects of transfers (as is increasingly common) and that directors therefore should be vetted to ensure "they were a fit and proper person" to be involved in a football club.

Sir John said: "Recent inquiries by the Premier League [into the Graham case] and my own report into betting [after the Grobbelaar trial] have created unease about the effectiveness of the structures and rules which football has in place to deal with financial misconduct.

"Any company or business which hopes to remain successful has to tackle areas of concern about its integrity. Football must put its own house in order, if for no other reason than to obviate the prospect of public authorities stepping in to regulate football from the outside."

The FA welcomed the report and will review ways of implementing it. They are still considering whether to press charges on individuals following the Premier League's bung inquiry.