Graham Kelly: United's lack of voice recalls Charlton's muted power

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The Independent Online

Gary Neville claimed that the Football Association prejudged his team-mate Rio Ferdinand's misconduct case by withdrawing him from the England team prior to the match against Turkey. Moreover, it was prejudicial, he alleged, for the FA's chief executive, Mark Palios, to consult senior councillors from Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers and Liverpool about taking action over the Manchester United defender's missed drugs test.

Whether or not it is true that Palios had to speak to representatives of United's rivals before acting, the absence of England's wealthiest club from the centre of domestic power since Sir Matt Busby left the Football League management committee in 1983 is intriguing. Busby followed his chairman, Louis Edwards, father of recent chairman and chief executive, Martin, on to the League after Edwards was elected in 1968, the year of the club's first European Cup triumph.

For different personal reasons, probably, neither man could be said to have played a major role in the wider administration of football and, at a time when most of the work was carried out in London, both were invariably happy to return to their own milieu in the north. Neither football's politicking nor its socialising held any great attraction for them.

Only later did the politics of the game become even more intense. By that time Busby had gone, David Dein was climbing in the south and the television satellites had been launched. In 1988 Dein and Everton's Philip Carter lost their seats on the League committee because the clubs accused them of conflict of interest over the television negotiations: British Satellite Broadcasting had offered the League a lucrative 10-year partnership, but the big clubs preferred a different sort of security in the form of ITV's guaranteed terrestrial coverage.

Bobby Charlton stood for election to the ruling committee of the Football League that October, repeating the attempt he had made in June. Had he been successful, he would have been catapulted immediately to the centre of English football administration, to a seat on, say, the international and executive committees of the FA, as Dein was when he returned to power via the Premier League.

As it was, the best known English footballer in world history failed miserably to attract support from his fellow directors at the time. They believed, to his chagrin, that he would merely increase the influence of the big clubs and voted instead for Robert Chase of Norwich City and the chairman of Liverpool, Sir John Smith, who also chaired the Sports Council.

Charlton said: "I don't agree with being against people because they are the big clubs' candidates. If they are the right people it doesn't matter where they come from. It's a pity because I think I have something to offer."

Only a fool could have argued that England's record goalscorer, a distinguished ambassador for the nation with more than 100 caps and experience of three World Cup campaigns, had little to contribute. Instead, the game continued to celebrate mediocrity and Charlton managed to gain a lowly place on the FA Council and its more mundane committees as a regional representative of clubs in the North-west.

He was deselected after a short time because either he did not attend sufficient meetings or scratch enough backs. In truth, he approached administration as he played - with impatience. He was anxious to get on with it. He wanted to sweep things forward.

It is a great pity - and a source of no small bewilderment outside these shores - that our Football Association was never able or willing to harness the talents of Charlton in the way the Germans did with Franz Beckenbauer.

Back in the days when Charlton was launching his abortive bid for power, such as it was, the fledgling Football Supporters' Association was helping the game's authorities to campaign against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's dreaded identity card scheme. The supporters didn't have much in the way of resources. In fact, they were a rough and ready lot. Some didn't wear ties (this was before the FA went tieless). They asked for money, and football replied: "There are so many bodies. Go away and sort yourselves out."

Well, now they have, and the funny thing is, the FSA and the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs have merged into one persuasive Football Supporters Federation more quickly and painlessly than the Football Association has modernised its ageing council. The policy-making council, which claims to be representative of the most popular sport in the country in the 21st century, still grants extra membership to Oxbridge and the independent schools but none to the supporters who pay at the gate (nor any funding), nor the players who earn the directors' fees, nor indeed the referees who struggle to maintain order so that the whole lucrative bandwagon can roll.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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