David Conn: Salutary lessons of history suggest Barwick must tread warily at the FA

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The Independent Football

Brian Barwick has apparently been spending time talking to significant figures at the Football Association before easing himself into the chief executive's ejector seat at Soho Square, starting on Monday. Barwick is said to have impressed with his understanding of the challenge awaiting him, so perhaps he has made himself sufficiently familiar with the cautionary tale of Adam Crozier, his predecessor but one.

Brian Barwick has apparently been spending time talking to significant figures at the Football Association before easing himself into the chief executive's ejector seat at Soho Square, starting on Monday. Barwick is said to have impressed with his understanding of the challenge awaiting him, so perhaps he has made himself sufficiently familiar with the cautionary tale of Adam Crozier, his predecessor but one.

Crozier arrived at the FA in January 2000 having been the joint chief executive of the advertisers Saatchi & Saatchi, his appointment portrayed as heralding a new future for the FA, from hidebound tradition to commercial dynamism - out with the blazers, in with the suits.

Few concentrated then on what has become the defining feature of the FA's dysfunctionality and division; the restructuring which took place after the previous chief executive, Graham Kelly, was sacked. The new arrangement was intended to foster peace at the FA between football at large and the Premier League clubs, who attract the television money but had long complained about being sidelined from the commercial decisions over the FA Cup and the England team.

The Premier League agreed in 1999 to trickle five per cent of its next, massive TV deal down to haggard grass roots facilities, and in return Frank Pattison, representing the amateur "National Game", agreed to the establishment of a new FA main board, with six National Game representatives balanced by four from the Premier League and two from the Football League. The board would be responsible for commercial deals, including television and sponsorships, bypassing the 92-member FA Council, which has become an anachronistic embarrassment.

Crozier swept into all this with the wide-eyed glee of a young man entering his dream job. When I interviewed him, he waved away concerns about the game's politics: "We have to get away from all these divisions."

Briskly, he produced a plan for all areas of the FA's responsibility, from England to financial regulation, Wembley to junior football. The FA was given a unifying purpose - "To lead the successful development of football at every level" - and a vision: "To use the power of football to build a better future."

This was basic, professional chief executive's work, but many at the FA were greatly heartened; it was, remarkably, the first ever plan at the FA, a genuine strategy for football's governing body.

The Premier League's reaction to this broad-hearted statement of purpose was instructive. It was not happy. Its four FA directors, David Dein of Arsenal, Dave Richards, the Premier League chairman, Ken Bates, now of Leeds and Monte Carlo, and Peter Ridsdale, lately of Barnsley, grumbled that they had been bounced into Crozier's plan because they did not approve it in a meeting.

"Many of the proposals require the consent of the clubs," said their then spokesman, Mike Lee. "We were not consulted as thoroughly as we would have liked."

After that slap, Crozier set about implementing change, to general praise that he was "modernising" the FA, symbolised by the move from stolid, fetid Lancaster Gate to Soho Square's pine, chrome and cappuccino. The FA began to market its "brands" aggressively, and the new National Game Division was established to regenerate football, through the amateur clubs and facilities, as a sport to play. Crozier was drawn into the Wembley morass, where he supported the removal of Bates as chairman, and took much credit for the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as England's manager.

Trouble, however, was round the corner, as the TV bubble had reached popping point. The Premier League and FA were looking from 2004 at saner possibilities than the £1.6bn the Premiership reaped in 2001, and the £405m deal the FA achieved. Crozier came to observe that the Premiership clubs consider there is one TV pot, an amount which Sky and the terrestrial channels budget to spend on football. So, he believed, they see the FA as a competitor, not a partner - which means their elected representatives on the board have a major conflict of interest.

Crozier began to find himself in constant scraps with his own board. Then, in the autumn of 2002, he faced a demand from the Premier League clubs for more influence in the FA, through the establishment of a new Professional Game Board. Crozier would not entertain it.

The bright young hope suddenly became forced resignation material. Many of the arguments were arcane - over the England players' pool, or advertising hoardings, but the enmity was naked, the anti-Crozier press briefings vicious.

Crozier was accused of presenting the board with faits accomplis; he in turn was convinced the Premier League representatives were hostile. All six professional representatives now wanted him out, and Crozier was portrayed as a financial simpleton who had plunged the FA close to insolvency.

On 31 October 2002, Crozier emerged into Soho Square to tell the encamped media that he had resigned. The FA's chairman, Geoff Thompson, whose leadership is invisible, acknowledged Crozier had "a difference of opinion on how the game should be run and regulated".

The truth, which never emerged then, was that on 4 October 2002 Crozier had received a letter from Richards, on Premier League notepaper, enclosing a draft contract which Crozier was asked to sign. The contract, which I have seen, would give the Premier League much greater control over "all commercial decisions" affecting the FA Cup and England team. It also wanted a Professional Game Board, independent of the FA Council and effectively free of control.

In return, Richards was proposing the Premier League's clubs would commit to the FA Cup and Community Shield "for five years". Crozier is understood to have seen that as a clear threat of withdrawal from the FA Cup. Richards' letter said the Premier League's representatives would come to a meeting on 21 October, where they would "have a mandate to go further should we not reach our objectives".

Crozier refused to agree, and so he was out. He was given a £750,000 pay-off in return for agreeing not to talk about the FA, but friends said he believed the Premier League is on an insatiable crusade for more money and control. To his great credit, he was not prepared to cede the FA's remaining independence. Pattison, the National Game director, also resigned. He has never spoken publicly, but it is understood that he felt betrayed by the Premier League's continuing demands.

In the aftermath, the Premier League showered assurances that it was committed to a 50 per cent share of the FA's "net" income with the amateur game, and want only greater consultation, not total power.

Before Mark Palios' appointment in July 2003, the Professional Game Board was indeed formed. Palios concentrated on the supposed financial catastrophe Crozier left behind and on telling FA staff to be "credible" - before his tabloid outing for his affair with Faria Alam and the awful alleged PR deal attempted by the then communications director, Colin Gibson, to keep Palios' name out of it.

In the chaos after Palios' exit, the Premier League stepped in again, calling for a "structural review" of the FA's organisation. Rupert Lowe, the Southampton chairman and a current Premiership main board representative, then circulated proposals for the Professional Game Board indeed to run the England team, the FA Cup, and Wembley. Relations with the National Game broke down; the professional representatives did not even want a chief executive appointed until after the structural review. Peter Heard, the Colchester chairman, then broke ranks and voted for an appointment.

Heard voted for Barwick alongside the six National Game representatives, and Dein, but did not get the vote of Lowe, David Sheepshanks of Ipswich, Richards and Phil Gartside of Bolton.

Barwick will approach his in-tray with the wary eye of an old stager. The structural review, headed by Lord Burns, is now seen by many as a force for decent reform, for independence on the board and modernisation of the council to include members of ethnic minorities and supporter representatives.

Some who have talked to him say Barwick is aware of the politics, and will be canny enough to wait until Burns' review is complete before making strong moves. He is, in fact, said to be worried he might be perceived to do too little at first. One jaded FA source, awaiting the fourth chief executive in six years, mused that Barwick cannot know the reality which awaits him. "If he did, he wouldn't have taken the job."

From Monday, we will see.

David Conn's book 'The Beautiful Game?' is published by Yellow Jersey Press, priced £12.