Football: Revenge of the blazers

Click to follow
The members of the executive committee of the Football Association met in the Harewood Room at the Kensington Park Hotel, in London. A seasonal smattering of Davids: Dein, vice-chairman of Arsenal; Richards, chairman of Sheffield Wednesday; and Sheepshanks, the Old Etonian chairman of Ipswich and deputy chairman of the Football League. Behind them, the representatives of the county associations, the council elders: Ted Powell, 73 now and a member of the council for 30 years; Terry Annable, 31 years a council member and recently retired as secretary of the Nottinghamshire FA; and Barry Bright, at 51 the youngest of the county men on the executive committee. Normally, they would gather for their monthly meetings in the oak-panelled splendour of the FA headquarters at Lancaster Gate, but the building is still being renovated after a fire last summer and the committee, like most of the FA staff, have become refugees.

The good mornings had a frostier tone to them that day because everyone round the table knew this would be no ordinary meeting. The day's agenda assured them of that, not the normal menu of reports and minutes and matters arising, but just one item: the report of the sub-committee investigating a grant to the Welsh FA. "Sad, sombre", as one member described the mood.

The committee had known for some weeks that the report looking into the circumstances of the grant would be deeply critical of the roles of Graham Kelly and Keith Wiseman, chairman of the FA, but few outside the room had anticipated that a little local difficulty would explode into a full- scale issue of resignation and scandal which would leave the FA scrambling desperately to protect their credibility within the game and the integrity of their bid for the 2006 World Cup. "We didn't just go into the room at 10am and come out three hours later with Graham gone," as another member said. "We knew quite obviously what we had come to discuss. We had known about this payment for a while and expected some answers."

In the FA press office, the only sign of impending furore was an unusual flurry of activity in the offices of David Davies, the director of public affairs, two floors below. Nothing spoken or specific, just a sense of tension. It was not until 4.20pm that news of Kelly's resignation reached the office. A press conference was hastily arranged for 6pm.

The text of the press release read out by Davies took up the last hour of the meeting. Every line was scrutinised, read and reread for hidden meaning, but most interesting is the balance of the statement. The end of Kelly's 10-year reign as the supremo of English football was dealt with in a brutal three lines: "The executive committee has... accepted the resignation of Graham Kelly. They have thanked him for his 10 years of dedicated work at Lancaster Gate and wished him well for the future." Wiseman's refusal to resign after a vote of no-confidence in his chairmanship took two paragraphs. Nothing dispels the overwhelming belief that Kelly, loyal to the last, copped the bullet aimed for Wiseman's head.

The accepted reason for Kelly's departure was an unapproved grant of pounds 3.2m to the Welsh FA. In return, the Welsh would switch their vote for the British place on the executive committee of Fifa, the world governing body, from George Will of Scotland to Wiseman, whose election to a similar position within Uefa, the European governing body, had ended in such ignominious failure only months earlier. Kelly truly believed that he was acting in the interests of English football, which had ceased to have a voice in the higher echelons of the game since the retirement of Sir Bert Millichip.

An ambitious man, Wiseman was desperate to gain such power and Kelly, mindful of the need to lobby for the 2006 World Cup which would have been the crowning glory of his painstaking career in football administration, was prepared to play the stooge. Kelly and Wiseman put the proposition to David Collins, secretary general of the FAW, at a meeting on the morning of the FA Cup final. The same day a similar deal was rejected by the Northern Irish.

Kelly and Wiseman's move might have been successful had not three of the executive committee's members - Bright, Dein and Frank Pattison of the Durham FA - also been on the highly influential finance committee, chaired by Sir David Hill-Wood, which should have been consulted on a grant of such a significant sum.

"It is definitely not true to suggest that the finance committee would have sanctioned this payment if they had known about it," said a member of the council. Within an institution as monolithic and essentially outdated as the FA, procedure is everything.

Strangely, for a man so well versed in the art, Kelly for once in his life forgot the importance of playing the system. Quite what possessed one of football's arch-bureaucrats to sign a letter endorsing the grant to the FAW is a matter of confusion, not least to his colleagues at the FA. The deal, completed behind the backs of the relevant committee, reopened old sores.

The last-minute switch of FA support for Sepp Blatter's election to the presidency of Fifa instead of Lennart Johansson was taken largely without consultation with the executive committee, while the increasing influence of the professional game within the predominantly amateur ranks of the FA - and Kelly's role in establishing the Premier League - renewed tensions which had been rife in the days of Kelly's predecessor, Ted Croker. Caught between the professionals wanting a greater say in the running of the game and the counties anxious to stress the FA's wider role, Wiseman and Kelly had little chance.

Kelly's impassioned plea to an earlier executive committee meeting - and his later brief statement to the media as he left Lancaster Gate for the last time - showed how far he had strayed from the remit of his job. "There have been various interpretations put upon the arrangement [with the FAW]," Kelly said. "But it was in the best interests of English football pursuing the legitimate aims of the FA. English football needed to be enhanced both in Uefa and Fifa but I have been unable to convince my committee of that."

Like the chief executive of a borough council, Kelly is a servant of his committees. He is appointed by and is responsible to the council. Not the man to push reform from the inside, Kelly had increasingly begun to work above the heads of the councillors. Once he had forfeited the confidence of his committee, Kelly resorted to correct procedure and resigned. Wiseman, more tenacious and less honourable, refused the hint and will cling to his job - the one he wanted pounds 75,000 to fulfil - until his inevitable expulsion at a full meeting of the 91-strong FA Council on 4 January.

Despite the protestations of pain within the executive committee, few would be dismayed by Wiseman's demise. At the last election to the FA chairmanship, David Richards, the Premier League representative on the council, was regarded as favourite for the role until comprehensively and unscrupulously outmanoeuvred by Wiseman. Wiseman, having gained his place among the nominated candidates through the back door, skilfully placed himself as the compromise candidate and gained the votes of both amateur and professional ranks. Richards, though, remained a highly influential member of the executive committee along with Sheepshanks, widely perceived as Wiseman's most likely successor, who is ambitious and, since stepping down as chairman of the Football League, in effect jobless. Wiseman's cocky approach to power alienated many of the more traditional members of the committee, who had been used to Millichip's more benevolent, if rather eccentric, leadership.

Whatever his faults, Kelly was the one member of the FA with strong contacts inside the corridors of Uefa and Fifa. Wiseman cuts a forlorn figure outside Lancaster Gate and it will be a minimum of three months before a successor to Kelly is appointed, much longer before he gains access to the right ears. Through this critical period, English football will have no effective voice in the international game. In pursuing his aim of restoring England to a position of power, Kelly has in effect cast us further adrift and it is that thought which will upset him long after the blood has been wiped off the carpet of a bleak conference room in a Kensington hotel.