Graham Kelly: Picking out the thorns in my bed of roses as FA chief

It was irritating that the lady from the "quality daily" should find it apposite the other day to refer to my rearranging the paper clips on my Football Association chief executive's desk when comparing my tenure with the turbulent times faced by the incumbent, Mark Palios, in his first year. Sepp Blatter, the president of football's world governing body, Fifa, joined the fray last week, criticising "an unnerving trend towards questioning the FA's authority, the rapid decay of the players' morale, questionable conduct on and off the pitch, and completely unacceptable actions such as the recent threat by England squad members not to play against Turkey."

If Palios did not get the support he deserved, said Blatter, English football would face institutional problem on top of the rapid deterioration in discipline on and off the field. "The FA's decisions are being questioned by the very people, managers and players, who are bound most explicitly by its rules," he added.

Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, responded by accusing the authorities of adopting an authoritarian manner.

The FA has now taken up with Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson his allegations that "deals" have been cut with Arsenal over misconduct charges.

Why should I be sensitive at the slightest hint that it was a comparative bed of roses 15 years ago? In my first month at Lancaster Gate, Arsenal's Paul Davis broke the jaw of Southampton's Glenn Cockerill with a punch behind the referee's back. The incident was shown on the television news. Davis was suspended for nine matches and fined £3,000 in a case which established a precedent for the use of video evidence.

A few weeks later, after a 2-1 Littlewoods Cup defeat at Plough Lane, Ferguson said there had been a rumble in the tunnel that had led to one of his players being injured. I told him to put up or shut up, and this led to first John Fashanu and then Viv Anderson being charged with misconduct. Fashanu received a three-match ban and £2,000 fine, and Anderson was suspended for one match with a £750 fine.

In January 1989, the Nottingham Forest manager, Brian Clough, struck two young men who invaded the pitch at the City Ground after a Littlewoods Cup match. Again, the bizarre incident was captured by the television cameras, as was Clough's kiss and make-up meeting with the two victims - or culprits. Although his first reaction had been one of contrition, albeit he had acted "out of the right motives", Clough told the readers of our biggest selling tabloid that he would do the same again.

In February an FA commission fined him £5,000 and he was banned from the touchline for the rest of that season.

There were vultures circling above Bobby Robson's England team. After the European Championship finals in Germany in June in which all three matches were lost, the team kicked off the season with a 1-0 win over Denmark at Wembley watched by only 25,000 spectators; then the World Cup campaign opened with a goalless home draw with Sweden; a headline after the 1-1 friendly with Saudi Arabia in Riyadh read: "In the name of Allah, go".

The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, was in no mood to pour oil on troubled waters. She believed everyone who entered a football ground should carry an identity card and the Minister for Sport, Colin Moynihan, had by no means been deflected from his determination to carry out his leader's bidding by the fighting on the streets of Germany whenever the England team were in town the previous summer. Throughout the season his regular bulletins on the latest arrest statistics enraged the club chairmen.

The game was fighting a war of attrition against the Conservative Government and its salvation from the dreaded identity card was to come in the most unlikely yet dreadful manner. But first, there was a battle to win on another front.

For, on 11 April, Uefa granted our application for the return of English clubs to European competition, with effect from season 1990-91, subject to the consent of the Government. Four days later came the Hillsborough Disaster, and when Lord Justice Taylor's report dealt the final blow to the hated membership scheme English football started the long march to modernisation.

With so much more money in the game now, there is a natural, if unwelcome, tendency for larger teams of lawyers to be employed to negotiate issues through to a conclusion. Whether or not one regards such matters as deals is surely semantics.

The FA can hardly penalise Ferguson, though, for bringing the question out into the open in his usual blunt manner, in the - absence of any clarification from itself, particularly after Arsène Wenger escaped punishment for alleging Ruud van Nistelrooy "provoked and dived".

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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