The Football Association is bemused at a bizarre and heavy-handed attack on it by sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe whose threats to withdraw £25m of government funding would have a profound effect on grassroots football.
The Labour minister chose the party political season to attack the FA for not implementing changes recommended by Lord Burns' review and failing to mend its difficult relationship with the Premier League and the Football League. Claiming the FA is still dominated by the blazer brigade – or "the old school" as Sutcliffe described them – is a failsafe option for any politician looking for an easy tap-in.
Curiously, Sutcliffe made no mention of the fact that it is the government whose funding of the Football Foundation is £25m short on targets set in 2003. They are equal partners in that charitable foundation, along with the FA and the Premier League.
There is no doubt that the FA has a dysfunctional relationship with the two leagues but with five representatives of the Premier League and Football League on its newly-configured board they are at least inclusive. Many of the Burns reforms have been implemented, especially with the appointment of Lord Triesman, the organisation's first independent chairman.
Lord Burns' proposals, which were announced in 2005, were never likely to be implemented overnight but many of them have been brought in since. Sutcliffe said that withholding funding could be a "lever" for government to make the FA change but that would involve rewriting legal criteria that the FA has met.
The notion that the FA is still run by football's equivalent of what Sutcliffe said was "rugby's old farts" shows a poor understanding. The county, Armed Forces and Oxbridge representatives still have a place on the FA council but their influence on the big decisions made by Lord Triesman and chief executive Ian Watmore is non-existent.Reuse content