Football: Kelly warns of a fans' revolt

Former FA chief executive is on the offensive in his new book
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WITH EARLY-SEASON attendance figures at some middle and lower Premiership clubs in serious decline for the first time since the "elite" league was formed, Graham Kelly, the former chief executive of the Football Association, has warned that top-class professional football should "take note of a shot across its bows, or take the consequences". While the richest clubs may continue to prosper, the rest are in danger of a spectator revolt against ever increasing ticket prices and "absurd" wage demands by players.

Ahead of the launch of his autobiography, Sweet FA, Kelly says that following his resignation - after what he believes was a conspiracy among some of the Premier League club chairmen - he now believes that the game at the top level badly needs to reassess its situation and take notice of independent opinion which suggests that fans are being divorced from their loyalties. But above all he is concerned about the power of the men who forced him out of the game he clearly loves.

"Yes, we still have democracy in the running of football," he says, "but it's democracy at a price." He claims in his book that it was "too much of a coincidence", that he, Keith Wiseman (the FA chairman who was implicated in the alleged irregularities concerning funds allocated to the Welsh FA in return for their support for his election to a vice-presidency of Fifa), Peter Leaver (chief executive of the Premier League) and Sir John Quinton (chairman of the Premier League) were all removed in a short space of time. Why? "We all exercised independence."

He maintains that the Premier League chairmen were not and are not seriously interested in the health of the game as a whole. "The more I thought about the entire situation the more I was led to the inevitable conclusion that there was a conspiracy. As with any conspiracy theory, you can't point to where the bodies lie, but I can't believe that the FA of Wales issue should have led to my having to leave the FA. There were other ways to deal with that. But it became clear that there were some very different agendas at work. Only looking back do I realise that there was a common theme running through what had been happening for some time."

He knew that the chairmen objected to his deep reservations about the Premier League having a "golden share" in the FA's constitution. "This would effectively give them the right of veto. The dangers are stark and very real, with the major concern being that the interests of the Premier League will rarely coincide with the broader interests of the game.We have the very real prospect that every decision will go the way the 20 Premier League chairmen want it to go."

He maintains that in all of his time working with the FA and Premier League, "Keith and I tried to take a moderate, wider view, but this didn't suit the aims of some ambitious people, be they in the Premier League or the FA. Since Keith had been re-elected unanimously in July 1998 and I was given a performance review in September 1998 when the FA pronounced themselves highly satisfied, something went badly awry very quickly."

He is adamant that the "money for votes scandal" was an excuse for his dismissal. The notion that in return for FA funds the Welsh FA would support the election of Wiseman to Fifa who would then be in a position to add his vote to the English bid for 2006 was nonsense since no one can vote for their own country. Kelly says that the effort to get Wiseman elected to Fifa at the expense of Scotland's David Will was inspired with Fifa's encouragement and was only about returning England to "the time when our word carried a lot of weight. But obviously it was in our interest to have someone in the corridors of power when it came to selecting the site for the World Cup."

Although early headline extracts from Kelly's book have concentrated largely on his criticism of Alan Shearer for what he describes as "childish behaviour" when threatening to walk out on England last year if he was charged with misconduct after seeming to kick Neil Lennon, of Leicester City, of greater significance are his comments on Sir Alex Ferguson.

He believes that Ferguson could have been persuaded to take over as manager of England ahead of Glenn Hoddle but was denied the chance of an interview because the Manchester United chairman, Martin Edwards, refused to consider an approach. Kelly says that Sir Alex later told him he was deeply disappointed at not "having the chance to discuss the post with me". Kevin Keegan will not need reminding of that.

Sweet FA is published by CollinsWillow (pounds 16.99)