FA urged to buy TV rights to England away games

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The Independent Football

One of the Football Association's most influential figures yesterday suggested the FA should ensure competitive England matches overseas are available to a mass television audience even if it has to subsidise the cost.

One of the Football Association's most influential figures yesterday suggested the FA should ensure competitive England matches overseas are available to a mass television audience even if it has to subsidise the cost.

David Dein, the vice-chairman of Arsenal and a member of the FA's executive board, was one of thousands of England fans who were unable to watch last week's World Cup qualifying fixture in Helsinki because of problems with u>direct, the pay-per-view television programme provider reported to have purchased the match for £3.25m, a record for a single game.

"I am on the warpath over this," said Dein yesterday. "The FA cannot allow this to happen to supporters again. I appreciate how they felt because it happened to me. I did not travel to Finland and, although I registered the night before the match, I was unable to watch the match at home. I understand that the Finnish FA has the right to sell to the highest bidder, so in future the FA may have to buy the rights and ensure they only go to stations which are widely available."

Although the FA's current television contract sold live coverage of qualifiers to Sky, which runs a subscription service, the channel is not permitted to broadcast matches on a pay-per-view basis. Furthermore, the new television deal, which begins next season, ensured the home qualifiers with Albania and Greece next autumn will be live on both BBC and Sky simultaneously.

However, rights to away matches are the property of the home country and the FA cannot dictate who they are sold to. Its good relations with the DFB [German FA], and similar television market conditions in both countries, enabled them to broker a deal which means the return in Munich in September will be screened live by both the BBC and Sky. Other countries are more problematic and, while the World Cup qualifier in Albania in March will be broadcast live by Channel 5, rights to the June tie in Greece have not yet been sold. With u>direct, and similar services likely to be interested, the FA may have to step in with cash, rather than contacts, if the games are to reach a wide audience.

While Dein's suggestion will be popular with supporters, the FA's accountants are unlikely to be as enthusiastic. u>direct were following a well-established pattern, started by Sky, then Channel 5, in which a fledgling company pays over the odds for live football to build the brand. To outbid them, or any similar competitor, the FA would have to pay far more than it could possibly recoup through the normal channels.

Dein has a more immediate concern - he is a member of FA's advisory panel which is helping the chief executive, Adam Crozier, select the new England coach.

Since Arsÿne Wenger, whom Dein brought to Highbury, is among the favourites, several observers, including Crozier's predecessor Graham Kelly in The Independent yesterday, have suggested he may have a conflict of interest.

Dein refuted that yesterday. "I do not consider I have a conflict of interests," he said, adding: "If Arsÿne is discussed I would withdraw from the room, as would Peter Ridsdale [the Leeds chairman] if David O'Leary is discussed. I did the same when Arsenal were considering bidding for Wembley stadium and FA discussed its own bid.

"The chairman, Denis Hill-Wood, has said Arsenal would not stand in the FA's way if they wanted to speak to Arsÿne but he has already made his position clear."

This was "No, at least not yet" and Dein added: "He said he would not break his contract and he is the most honourable man I know in football." Wenger's contract, incidentally, runs until 2002 and recent suggestions that it may be extended appear to have been shelved for the time being.

Although the advisory panel has spoken informally it has not met as a seven yet, said Dein, and speculation so far was "rubbish". With Dein and Ridsdale in Europe this week the first meeting is likely to be on Thursday. "I feel I have a lot to offer in choosing the manager and look forward to helping," added Dein.

Meanwhile, supporters of Terry Venables were given a lift yesterday when Nationwide, the building society which sponsors the England team, said it would have no misgivings if he was given the manager's job. "It's a matter we're leaving fully to the FA," a Nationwide spokesman, Chris Hull, said.

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