Graham Kelly: Football cut corners and missed chance to clean up

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The Independent Football

I received a visit from an investigative journalist the other day. He had mentioned Wembley Stadium when he telephoned, so, ever eager to help shed some light on what has become one of the mysteries of modern times, I jotted down some notes on the sorry sequence of events as I recalled them.

As it transpired, his subject matter was not Wembley at all, but appeared to be the entire stewardship of English football over the last decade or so, with particular reference to the power enjoyed by the Premier League chairmen and, in certain areas, their alleged abuse of same.

The central theme was the looseness or, if you like, the complete absence of financial controls over payments arranged by agents in connection with the transfer of players when I was chief executive of the Football Association.

Now I long ago ceased to have corners to defend, axes to grind, or indeed festering scores to settle, being content with my lot in life, but, in seeking to explain matters I had largely forgotten about years before, midway through the interview I suddenly feared I was sounding gratuitously self-serving.

I recalled that, along with colleagues Rick Parry, of the Premier League, and Gordon Taylor, of the Professional Footballers' Association, I had proposed to the FA executive committee that they should set up a special compliance unit to exercise proper control over such matters, but, that Keith Wiseman, then the representative of the Premier League, had dissuaded the committee from accepting our recommendation on the grounds that the new unit would be unnecessarily time-consuming and expensive.

The clubs were already subject to company law and regulated up to the eyeballs, he argued, no doubt from a well-prepared brief. Most of the problems emanated from foreign transfers, with the agent sometimes taking commission from both clubs and the player as well. In fairness to the English authorities, we had been given absolutely no direction whatsoever from either Uefa or Fifa, who were waging a turf war of their own at the time. As proof, the case of John Jensen, which subsequently led to George Graham's downfall, was the subject of a Fifa commission, which knew that that rules had been broken and turned a blind eye, merely making a financial adjustment between the two clubs concerned in the dispute.

I remembered also that I had made enquiries of Manchester United when it had been alleged that they had employed the agent Dennis Roach in the transfer of Mark Hughes at a time when the rules forbade the use of agents in any way whatsoever, but they had replied that Roach's company had simply been employed for "promotional" work, and there had been no point in my taking the matter further.

I was asked about the report of Sir John Smith, a former deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police who commented on the Premier League "bung" report at the request of the FA executive committee and recommended a much more vigorous attitude towards financial regulation. His report followed my compliance report into the wastepaper basket. The fact that I could not readily bring Sir John's report to mind at this remove would no doubt confirm his suspicion that the FA was not of a resolve to make serious waves in going it alone and setting up independent financial controls in the face of opposition from the clubs.

There were whispers at the time of Inland Revenue investigations and the Premier League's advisers co-ordinated efforts to head the taxman off at the pass. It became common knowledge that a number of clubs had reached special settlements with the Revenue. But had they broken football rules? To me it seemed likely, but there was only one way to be sure, given the accountants and the tax authorities were not talking (openly).

Under its rules the FA could call in the clubs' correspondence with the Inland Revenue. But it again shrank from any major conflict with the clubs, preferring instead to allow Rick Parry to concentrate on formulating new rules governing conflicts of interest for agents and procedures requiring chairmen to self-certify their compliance with football law.

So, football moved on to even greater riches and our conversation moved on too, without really having established where the bodies, if any, lay. I was offered the opportunity to withdraw my support for Terry Venables as England coach, since his disqualification as a company director by the Department of Trade and Industry. Even though the question is now, thankfully, academic, was I wrong to decline, given that I abhor cheating on the field of play and scorn dishonour and lack of integrity off it?

I may indeed be wrong to stand by Terry, but the answer does not seem clearcut.