Football: Own goal has Premier League reeling

The departure of two key figures in football reflects poorly on those who run the game. By Glenn Moore
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The Independent Online
IF PETER LEAVER, the chief executive of the Premier League, really did offer two former BSkyB executives, Sam Chisholm and David Chance, lucrative contracts to act as consultants in the next round of television negotiations, then there was no alternative to both his and the chairman Sir John Quinton's departure yesterday. But there remains a sense this morning that football has scored another own goal.

There is also an even sharper awareness of the monster the Football Association created when it not only allowed the Premier League to break away from the Football League but actively backed its secession.

There are some worthy men among the Premiership chairmen but not enough see further than their own clubs' interests and Leaver's departure, which is as much about personality politics as a lucrative and lunatic contract, underlines the difficulty of persuading them to act for the greater good. Neither he nor Rick Parry, his more diplomatic predecessor, managed to persuade them to do any more than pay lip-service to the rest of the professional game.

Football is widely regarded as being in a golden age, with stars from Gianfranco Zola and Dennis Bergkamp to David Beckham and Michael Owen lighting up our Saturday (and Sunday) afternoons but, increasingly, there is a feeling that boom will be followed by bust. While we have become worryingly accustomed to the regular pleas for help from impoverished lower division clubs the Premiership seems to grow ever-wealthier but, within the game, there are already rumours that one of these clubs is also struggling to stay afloat. The consequences, should the bottom fall out of the television market, are fearful to contemplate.

It is the mutually parasitic relationship between football and television which precipitated the departure of Leaver and Sir John. It appears it is not just kick-off times which are now determined by television, but the administration of the game, too.

Into the latest power vacuum steps David Richards, the Sheffield Wednesday chairman, a quiet mover and shaker with ambitions for the FA chairman's post. He replaces Sir John, while Mike Foster, the Premier League's secretary, temporarily steps up to the chief executive post.

A management committee has also been appointed, comprising Ken Bates (Chelsea), David Dein (Arsenal), Doug Ellis (Aston Villa), Bryan Richardson (Coventry) and Parry (Liverpool), who, interestingly, was on the committee that investigated the Chisholm and Chance deal. Dein, Alan Sugar and Coventry's Michael Jepson were the others.

The Premier League, like the FA and Scottish FA, will now head for the recruitment consultants. The difference this time is that, instead of ousting a "blazer", or life-time administrator, it has already experimented with outside professionals. Sir John Quinton, who joined the Premier League on its inception in 1992, was a senior figure in banking; Leaver, appointed in 1992, a respected lawyer. Does the Premier League now opt for a businessman, as the Football League has done with Richard Scudamore, or someone from within football? As Sir John kept a low profile and was not involved on a day-to-day basis, the focus yesterday was on Leaver. For the fan of the wider game he had his faults. He advocated a truncated professional game of 40 clubs, inevitably backed pay-per-view, and was on a collision course with the Professional Footballers' Association over the players' cut of the TV money.

But he was in love with the game enough to still be refereeing on a Sunday morning, was a key figure in heading off the proposed European super league and, occasionally, considered the interests of supporters before the clubs. He also had positive views on footballers' responsibilities as role models, on youth training and the need to preserve unity in the face of the Office of Fair Trading's assault on collective television bargaining and the prospect of a breakaway by the likes of Manchester United.

In the end he appeared to forget he was an employee of the chairmen. In an interview with the Independent on Sunday in September he said: "There is a great silent majority [of Premier League chairmen] who will be absolutely rock solid on any proposal I put up as long as I have satisfied them, which I try to do beforehand, that it is sensible."

On this occasion he appears to have forgotten his own golden rule and failed to get majority support before he acted. This enabled his enemies to push him out, for there was an abrasiveness about him which put him on a par with many club chairman that may, in the end, have cost him his job. The worry is that his replacement will be a cipher, acting for the chairmen's interests rather than the game's.

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