For some he will always be the man who brought Roland Rat to our TV screens, but in nominating Greg Dyke to be the next Football Association chairman, the FA Board have made one of their better decisions, one which could have significant ramifications.
Having been director-general of the BBC, Dyke, 65, knows what it is like trying to negotiate a national institution through political and media minefields. He is also a genuine football man. Asked by The Independent in January to compare his current role as non-executive chairman at Brentford, and a previous one as a director at Manchester United, he said: “This is more fun because it is real football. It is not the beautiful football you see at Old Trafford, but it is real football. I love this.”
In that interview Dyke also expressed disquiet at the way the Premier League had developed since its inception 21 years ago, in part as a consequence of a revolution in television coverage of the sport he helped ferment when managing director of London Weekend Television in 1990. Dyke, who set up the initial meetings of the cabal of chairmen who would eventually push for the new league, said, “I don’t think it was ever the intention the Premiership would be owned by foreign owners, managed by foreign managers and played by foreign players, yet that is where we have ended up. It is a great league, but I don’t think it is great for English football.
“A number of foreign owners don’t understand either the culture or history of the game. I think that is worrying, but I’m not sure anything can be done about it. I remember when Manchester United changed the badge and took the words ‘Football Club’ off. The supporters said, ‘But we are a football club’. They went ahead anyway.”
Dyke, recalling the Premier League’s formation, added: “The clubs decided they would only break away if they could get the FA onside. They went to see Bert Millichip [chairman] and Graham Kelly [chief executive], who didn’t ask for anything. They so hated the Football League they were just happy to shaft them. It was ridiculous; they could have had anything – a league of 16 clubs, players released for England, a quota of English players… I’m surprised the FA hasn’t tried to assert itself since a bit, but there are moments… and they missed theirs.”
Yesterday he said: “I do see one of the most important tasks for the FA is to make thoughtful changes that will benefit the England team. The FA has made a great start by rebuilding Wembley and developing great facilities at St George’s Park but it is essential it finds a way to ensure that more talented young English footballers are given their chance in the professional game at the highest level.”
Dyke’s succession is not guaranteed, it has to be passed this summer by the FA Council and its assent cannot be relied upon. The FA only needs a new chairman because David Bernstein, who has been an effective and stabilising influence, has to retire this summer when he reaches 70 years of age. The FA Board had hoped Bernstein could stay in office but the move was vetoed in January by the Council – many of whose members are well over 70 themselves.
Assuming Dyke is given the nod, he will have to relinquish his role at Brentford and also his non-executive directorship at German broadcaster Pro Sieben. It is not clear whether he will also step down from other roles. He is chairman of the British Film Institute, the children’s TV company HiT Entertainment and the theatre group ATG, and is chancellor of the University of York, the institution he attended as a mature student four decades ago.
Either side of his studies he was a local newspaper journalist but soon progressed to television, famously introducing Roland Rat to TV-am in 1983. He became DG at the BBC in 2000 and soon described the organisation as “hideously white” having discovered management had very low representation from the ethnic minorities.
He left after the BBC was strongly criticised by the Hutton Report into the death of David Kelly, the biological warfare expert who committed suicide in 2003. The furious staff response underlined Dyke’s outgoing, approachable nature. That should be a boon at the FA as much of the chairman’s role involves getting on with people. He may, though, have to rein in some of his straight-speaking to avoid offending the precious egos at Fifa.
Dyke’s enthusiasm for football was sparked watching his brother playing for Brentford’s juniors. He progressed to following both Brentford and Manchester United, a duality of support that may seem anathema to some hard-core football fans but is more common than many like to admit.
Mark Palios, one of Bernstein’s many recent predecessors, said yesterday that Dyke was “a good choice” and added: “He is a very experienced guy in terms of being in a public position, which is very important.” His tasks, according to Palios, were to improve the FA’s standing in the world game, to liaise effectively with Government and, most of all, to try and get the FA Board working as a united body, not “a collection of vested interests”. “If you get those right all else follows on.”
If. It is a demanding in-tray, but Dyke is as well-equipped as anyone to take it on.