From the shires to Soho Square: anatomy of football's ruling body

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The Independent Football

For longer than most of its employees would care to remember, the Football Association has lurched from one controversy to another.

As the guardian of standards in the national game, each fresh allegation of impropriety - ranging from vote-buying to squandering of funds to build Wembley - has chipped away at the reputation of the nation's largest sports body.

But the fallout from a decade of difficulties may be as nothing compared to the latest crisis which was triggered ostensibly because two of its leading figures had an eye for the same female colleague and which threatens to turn the 140- year-old institution into a national disgrace.

Already the tangled web of sex and lies has claimed two executive scalps with the possibility of three more to follow and has left many wondering what makes the governing body, which holds sway over two million registered players and an annual 29 million fee-paying fans, such a bad example.

With chief executive Mark Palios gone after 13 months and the position of his spin-doctor untenable, the FA board which decides the future of Sven Goran Eriksson, the England team's coach, on Thursday is riven by infighting.

The FA dates back to 1863 when its 14-point constitution was hammered out among the representatives of 11 public schools and universities in a London pub. Twenty five years later the Football League was established. The FA has gone on to oversee various aspects of the game and its staff of 200 working at the opulent headquarters in Soho Square, central London, are responsible for the national team, the FA Cup, grassroots football and the women's game, among other things.

At the top of the organisation - at least until the Faria Alam affair hit the front pages - is Geoff Thompson, one of the longest-serving members of the FA who was recently elected for a second four-year term.

The role of FA chief executive was held until Sunday night by Palios, who admitted upon his appointment 13 months ago that he was daunted by the task - but could not have envisaged such an end. As a former professional footballer and company salvage expert at one of the country's top accountancy firms he seemed the ideal replacement at a time when the FA was in financial turmoil due to commitments to the Wembley national stadium and reduced income from television.

Under reforms introduced by Palios's predecessor, Adam Crozier, further decision-making powers were handed to the board instead of the unwieldy 100-member FA Council. In theory, the board takes all the big decisions - though not apparently on Eriksson's salary that many believe has provoked the current mess - and is divided equally into representatives of the professional and amateur game.

Among the professionals are powerbrokers such as Arsenal's vice-chairman, David Dein, the Southampton chairman, Rupert Lowe, and Dave Richards, the chairman of the increasingly powerful Premier League.

Although the identities of the amateur representatives will be unknown to most people outside the game, such figures as Barry Bright from Kent FA, and David Henson (Devon) are fiercely committed to preserving the game's grassroots tradition.

Despite a mutual suspicion between the two groups, the feeling that Palios was wrong to increase Eriksson's wages to an annual £4m may have provided a rare cause for unity. Graham Kelly, FA chief executive for 10 years until 1998, said: "The source of the tension this time round is that everybody seems to have been taken for a ride by Eriksson.

"You could say that there is a dichotomy between those on the FA board representing the professional game and the county FAs. They would much rather see that money being spent at grassroots on better facilities."

According to another source many of the professional representatives are sore simply because they have not got value for money in terms of the national team's performances.

Perhaps the biggest challenge to the old order arrived in the early 1990s when the FA, under the then chief executive Graham Kelly, rubber-stamped the establishment of the Premier League, which has grown to become the world's richest.

The FA hoped a reduced-size top flightwould benefit the national side, but the main legacy of that deal was to anger the 72 clubs that missed out on Rupert Murdoch's Sky television millions and were then let down by the collapse of ITV Digital.

The growing financial might of the Premier League clubs has consistently caused problems for the FA. Top coaches such as Arsenal's manager, Arsene Wenger, and Sir Alex Ferguson, his arch-rival from Manchester United, are at constant loggerheads with the FA over the use of their star players for internationals. Club chief executives are also increasingly having to deal with angry sponsors when they see players in the England strip provided by a rival company.

When Palios decided to flex his muscles in imposing a nine-month ban on the Manchester United defender, Rio Ferdinand, for missing a drugs test he was faced with the prospect of a player's strike before an England international.

It is said that managing the England team is the toughest job in Britain but nowadays running the FA cannot be far behind - something that Trevor Brooking, who is on the verge of being appointed as the caretaker chief executive, may do well to consider.