David Conn: Revealed the culture of first-class tickets and free lunches that costs the FA dear

Click to follow
The Independent Football

This week, a former manager at the Football Association, someone who lost his job in the cull following Adam Crozier's forced resignation as chief executive in October 2002, rang me and talked - anonymously, by necessity - about what he described as the "scandalous waste of money" entrenched deep in the organisation of Soho Square, particularly servicing the endless meetings for the 91-man council and 29 committees.

"Not all councillors are ineffective, by any means," he said. "Quite a few have really served their time in the counties, have experience and are prepared to stand up for the grass roots. But many bring no real qualifications to the job of running what is now a multimillion-pound spot, and to me they seemed to be there to live off the very generous perks which go with membership of the council.

"You couldn't do anything without going through the relevant committee, so staff trying to get things done for the good of football would always get stuck in the quagmire of organising yet another committee meeting for a dozen or more people. For every one, a council or committee meeting, these men, mostly retired, come from all over the country to London and they get first-class travel or a flight, most get a hotel room, which has to be a good one, £145 a throw, they had a daily allowance of £70 and a lunch allowance of £10 - even when lunch was laid on!

"When I first had to approve a councillor's travel expenses and saw he'd claimed a lunch allowance, even though we'd gone to great trouble to serve them lunch, I thought it was a mistake. I queried it, but colleagues said it had always been like this and there'd be murder if he didn't get his £10 on top.

"Some of this sounds petty but it adds up to a great deal of money."

The FA council is English football's great anachronism, made up of 91 fairly senior men and, now, one woman: Susan Hough, representing the Women's Football Conference. Dating back to the original upper-class genesis of organised football, there are places, alongside 43 county FA representatives, for delegates from the Army, Air Force and Navy, independent schools, and Oxford and Cambridge Universities - just them, how quaint. The council meets six times a year, occasions when all these people have to be brought to, and serviced in, Soho Square, and enjoy a real bash, with wives invited, at the summer meeting. They also receive two tickets for the FA Cup final and every England match.

The FA's labyrinthine committee structure adds up to 29, meeting around four times a year, sometimes more often, plus reams of subcommittees, and there are other meetings periodically which the councillors attend. With councillors sitting on various committees, there are, in total, 309 people on the 29 committees.

"Organising, say, a weekend meeting, they would all get their first-class travel to the venue, the hotel would be paid for, all their food and a free bar, and they'd always have to have a little gift, cut glass or a special FA pen. It was always a real concern who to put in what room and what the gift would be. There was one councillor who was well known for seeking out the staff to get his gift - you were trying to get on with running football and it was coming down to whether some old men had got their cut glass. The bill for a meeting I organised, all in, came to £50,000.

"A summer meeting I attended in Harrogate was a real eye-opener. They all went for the weekend with their wives, stayed in a luxurious hotel, the meeting itself was pretty short, and then they went on all-expenses-paid trips, to the theatre, whatever.

"I do think that people who've given their lives to running local leagues or county FAs should have a reward for that, be treated and recognised, but I thought before I got there that it might be Cup final tickets or something, not a whole way of life. I heard one of them say - I'm not saying this is typical - knocking back a drink at a paid-for bar at a hotel during a weekend meeting: 'This is the best boys' club in the world, and they'll never change it.'

"It's like two parallel organisations, with the staff mostly dedicated to working for the game, and this body, the council, constantly having to be serviced. I never had much to do with the main board, and the impression always was that the big clubs' representatives were there to look after their own interests. If the councillors really stood up against that and defended the grass roots, perhaps you could forgive the scandalous waste of money and time which goes into them, but mostly, they haven't.

"You'd be in some meetings and several people would never even speak, and you'd wonder why they'd been brought down at great expense to be there. Even to pull a ball out of the bag for the draw of a competition, they'll fly a councillor down from the North, or wherever, if it's his turn to do it. There is no modern business practice about it - there is no responsibility to produce anything, or targets, and there is no transparency about how much it all costs. Someone told me it added up to £3m, but it could be more."

The FA would not tell me this week how much it costs to service the council, and the organisation's accounts hardly break down the figures; last year the FA turned over £86m, had £67m down as costs, plus £68.5m as operating expenses and £41m in distributions to the meat of its work, football development, the Football Foundation and various participation schemes around the country. The FA has to decide how it can remake itself into an organisation fit to be the governing body for the world's most popular sport in its original heartland. The message from the man I spoke to, who had seen it from the inside, was that it is a long way from that now.

"I used to go round the country visiting football people, who'd been running leagues from garages or front rooms for years, really given their lives to the game, with no help. They'd be worrying about whether they could afford an end-of-season presentation, or whether they needed a raffle, and if it might be one raffle too many if they did. Then I'd get back to base, Soho Square, in a lovely part of London with the pine and chrome and people living off the fat of the land, and I used to think it was like being somewhere in Calcutta, staying in a five-star hotel with air-conditioned luxury, overflowing fruit bowls, while outside there were beggars on the doorstep. It all needs to change."

Possible change is in the air. Lord Terence Burns yesterday closed his consultation period for the "Structural Review" of the FA and will produce a report in July. The council is certainly in his sights, and he is expected to recommend wholesale reform of it, the FA's decision-making processes, and the inclusion of supporters, players, managers, ethnic minorities, women and some whiff of the 21st century on the governing body. The council, still the ultimate power at the FA, will have to vote for change, and many see this as a stumbling block, because turkeys don't often vote for Christmas. Shrewdly, Burns has said he will publish his recommendations - in July - which will make them harder to bury.

He has, also, to think about the FA board, and what to do about the conflicts of interest at the very top of the game's governing body. Those, the Premier League representatives, are people with real money and power, not men who can be kept happy with a cut glass decanter or an FA pen

A manifesto for Lord Burns: How the FA should be restructured

1. Reform of the FA council to include representatives of supporters, professional and amateur players, ethnic minorities, women, and the removal of its anachronistic structure.

2. Reform of the FA board, to introduce independence but also to remove conflicts of interest from all directors.

3. Firmer financial governance of clubs, with sanctions.

4. Transparency in how the FA works and where its money goes.

5. FA to implement strategic review to agree a modern role, with particular accent on unifying the professional and amateur worlds, promoting the playing of the game, with much more significant redistribution of money from the Premier League.